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Health Fusion: Slow down, destress or the party's over

We live in a stressed-out world. And it can kill you. In this Health Fusion column for NewsMD, Viv Williams talks to a Mayo Clinic expert about the health consequences of too much stress and he offers three tips to help you decompress and improve wellbeing.

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Even if you feel just slightly burned out, you can switch the way you’re managing your routine. (Dreamstime/TNS)
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As I was writing this article, I took a quick break to join a video conference with some college friends about an upcoming reunion. One participant said she felt "tsunamied" with stress. Her task load was overwhelming and she was short-circuiting because of it. Sound familiar?

The statistics on stress for adults in the U.S. are startling. An online article by the American Institute of Stress outlines the numbers. I was particularly stunned by three of them.

  • 77% say they regularly have physical symptoms caused by stress
  • 73% say they regularly have psychological symptoms caused by stress
  • 54% say stress has caused them to fight with people close to them

Dr. Edward Creagen , a Mayo Clinic oncologist and author, says stress has reached new heights in our society and everyone experiences it.

"Whether you're a butcher, a baker or a candlestick maker, you've got to get stress levels under control," says Creagan. "Otherwise you won't be able to go the distance. Our lives depend on our basic wellness and stress has the potential to erode our physical and mental health."

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Dr. Edward Creagen, a Mayo Clinic oncologist and author

Between work, money, family and all of the other obligations people have, how is it possible to even begin to destress? Creagan has a plan of attack that he calls the "A, B, Cs of Stress Reduction."

A stands for "athlete."

"We are all performers," says Creagan. "We all need to participate every day for our entire lives. So we need to care for our bodies as if we're endurance athletes. We need to stay fit or the party's over."

What does that mean? Creagan says people need to:

  • Get restorative sleep, 7 hours per night.
  • Eat healthy foods on a regular schedule and avoid processed foods.
  • Stay hydrated with 40 ounces of fluid daily
  • Get regular exercise. Starting at age 30, people lose 1% of muscle mass every year. Moving more can help prevent that.

B stands for "boundaries."

"We have to have the courage to say no," says Creagan. "We only have a certain amount of energy and vitality available to us each day. If we don't prioritize, you'll end up not completing tasks and those you do finish won't be done well. You simply don't have that much energy. Without boundaries, you'll be exhausted, unhappy and you'll wind up in a heap."

Can you learn how to prioritize? Creagan says yes.

  • Make a list of what you need to accomplish the next day and focus on the most important one first.
  • Simply say no. He says you might feel bad about it at first, but it will save you from being overloaded and people will respect you

Creagan gives an example of how a lack of boundaries has the potential to make you physically and mentally sick. One of his friends, a high-powered executive, worked day and night for her company. She put herself last. She developed autoimmune diseases -- lupus, rheumatoid arthritis and fibromyalgia. Medical treatment helped some. But when she later went to a psychiatrist to address stress-related mental health issues, her overall health improved greatly.

C is for "concentration."

Creagan says that the enemy of concentration is multitasking.

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"We all do it. We think it's cool," says Creagan. "But if we toggle back and forth all of the time, it can be catastrophic to our health and productivity. Data shows when we try to do more than two things at once, we'll have 50% more errors, 50% less retention and it will take us 50 % longer to do it."

Creagan says every time you're interrupted by the doorbell, a barking dog or inquiring colleague, it takes 25 minutes to get back on task. Frustrating, inefficient and a huge waste of time.

"Goldfish have attention spans of 12 seconds," says Creagan. "Humans' attention spans only last 8 seconds. We need all the help we can get to stay on task."

How can you improve concentration?

  • Go back to the list
  • Turn off devices
  • Take breaks. People can focus on tasks well for 90 minutes. So take a break, get up and stretch or walk around the block

"These tips are not just suggestions," says Creagan. "People really do need to destress and focus on their own mental and physical health first. Otherwise, you might not be healthy enough -- or even still on the planet -- to enjoy your family, friends and retirement plans.
Vivien Williams is a video content producer for NewsMD and the host of "Health Fusion." She can be reached at vwilliams@newsmd.com .

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Viv Williams

Related Topics: NEWSMDHEALTH FUSION
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