Stress is a Serious Health Hazard
A certain amount of stress is necessary. It motivates us, keeps us active and engaged and helps us grow by learning to be flexible, resilient and in developing our problem-solving skills. Medical scientists and evolutionary biologists believe that a certain amount of stress is expected and the body is able to manage it. It’s long-term, chronic stress that is a serious health hazard, and that’s the kind the modern world places upon us. A recent NPR poll conducted in conjunction with the Robert Wood Johnson Foundation states that 25% of Americans experienced a lot of stress in the last month. 50% of Americans, about 115 million adults had a major stressful event within the past year. Psychologist Eldar Shafir of Princeton University told NPR, “Everything I know suggests that this is a pretty massive underestimate.” The reason is the poll only measures the stress that people experiencing it are aware of. There is also “hidden” stress which we experience subconsciously. This has to do with cognitive capacity, the amount of input the human brain can handle and juggle at the same time. Shafir says, “We have very limited bandwidth. There’s only so much you can attend to at any one time.”
When we are trying to deal with multiple situations at once Shafir explains, “It’s like driving on a stormy night. You’re focused completely on the thing that’s capturing your attention right now, and other things get neglected.” Chronic stress then can start to chip away at one’s financial well-being, relationships and health. Executive director of the Harvard Opinion Research Program at the Harvard School of Public Health Robert Blendon who conducted this poll says, “These are not just the people who say they have some stress day to day. These are the share of Americans for whom it really makes a big difference. It affects their ability to sleep and to concentrate. It leads them to have more arguments with family members. It affects their health.” The problem is many Americans don’t know how to properly cope with stress. Says Shafir, “The notions of self-reliance, self-sufficiency, which are so strong in the American culture, sort of lead you to say that if you have problems you should take yourself by the bootstraps and start working on it.” Some of the best ways to manage stress are to ask for help. Talk to friends and family. Set aside a little time to relax each day, even if it’s only 25 or 30 minutes. Yoga, meditation, counseling, exercise, playing an instrument, taking up a relaxing hobby such as woodworking or model building, reading, and listening to music are just some ways to alleviate stress.