Economic stress and your health

The recession may be putting more than your money at risk. If economic uncertainty has you feeling stressed out, your health may also be on the line.

Chronic stress has long been associated with increased risk for heart disease and other serious health problems. The reason? Prolonged stress, experts say – such as anxiety over the downward economy – can weaken the immune system.

“My best guess is that those most impacted by the economic downturn will be at greater risk,” Sheldon Cohen, a professor of psychology at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, and a leading expert on the relationship between stress and vulnerability to viral infections, told ABC News.

While short-term stressors like a traffic jam or a tight deadline at work cause only small changes in the immune response, chronic stressors such as a bad marriage or ongoing financial strain, can make healthy adults more prone to become ill.

Weathering the storm

Even if we can’t control the rollercoaster stock market, there are some relatively simple ways we can help to reduce stress, according to the International Stress Management Association.

Smile. Even if you think you don’t have much to smile about, the physical act of smiling releases feel-good hormones, while the stress hormone – cortisol – is reduced. Smiling not only helps you feel calm and in control, but it lowers your blood pressure. Best of all, it’s fast, easy – and free!

Exercise . In addition to its other healthful benefits, exercise is highly effective in reducing stress by releasing endorphins, the body’s natural painkillers and feel-good hormones. It also improves blood-flow to the brain, helping you think more clearly.

Get your zzzs . Getting enough sleep is important for maintaining a healthy immune system. Chronic sleep deprivation can also affect your energy and performance at work, which can be a factor in raising stress levels. (Trouble sleeping? Read Seeking the Sandman.)

Think positive thoughts . Even during difficult times, it’s important to try to maintain an optimistic outlook. Negativity only increases stress, and studies have shown that people with a ‘positive emotional style‘ do better at warding off illness. Try to focus on positive steps to find solutions to your problems, whether this means looking for another job or talking to a financial counsellor or health professional.

Reach out to others . If you’re feeling anxious don’t suffer in silence. During difficult times, it’s particularly important to reach out to your network of friends, family, co-workers and other people for practical help or a sympathetic ear.

Practice relaxation techniques . Reduce stress with good relaxation techniques such as yoga, deep-breathing exercises and meditation. Or simply give yourself a relaxing evening by turning off the news and your cell phone, and tuning into a good book or your favourite relaxing music. (Reduce stress with classical music.)

Eat a healthy diet . A nutritious diet is especially important during stressful times. To keep blood sugar levels constant and help avoid mood swings, watch your intake of stimulants such as caffeine and sugar and depressants like alcohol and nicotine. Looking to save on food costs? Cooking from scratch saves money on restaurant and prepared foods and also gives the opportunity to eat more healthfully.

Hug a lot . Make sure you get and give your fair share of hugs. Not only does hugging feel good, it has been proven to help reduce stress levels.



Painless ways to tighten your belt

Laughter is the best medicine

Employment and your health