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home : health : health January 16, 2019

2/28/2012 1:46:00 PM
Hard times in Sisters Country: Learning to cope with stress
By Jim Cornelius
News Editor

No doubt about it, these are hard times in Sisters Country.

Lost jobs, lost homes, shrinking incomes, anxiety about the future - the litany of stresses brought on by the worst economic crisis since the Great Depression is familiar to everyone. And stress is a killer. First it robs you of joy, then it starts to wear you down physically; then it can kill you through a heart attack or other health crisis.

No one is immune to stress. As Robert Sapolsky, author of "Why Zebras Don't Get Ulcers," notes, the stress response evolved to save our lives, helping us respond to immediate threats to our survival. But in a modern context, we find it hard to shut off the stress response and prolonged exposure to stress can be downright dangerous. You may not be able to avoid stress entirely, but there are things you can do to cope.

Take control

Whether it's negotiating with creditors, enhancing your education and your job prospects or getting a handle on household finances, taking action by itself helps relieve the feeling of helplessness that can bring profound psychological stress. We're all buffeted by fate to a certain extent, but the more you do to control your own destiny, the better you'll feel.

Get involved

A sense of purpose is vital, especially to those who have lost a job or had their career derailed. Sisters Country has many opportunities for volunteers, from helping out at the Sisters Kiwanis Food Bank to assisting one of the many local nonprofits in the multitude of events and activities on offer here. Volunteering keeps you connected with other people, gives you a sense that your time and skills are still viable and valuable - and the connections you make could help you find a new direction in life.

Tune out

This may sound contradictory, but there's a time to tune out and shut off the noise of the world. We are inundated with information: the news is at your fingertips, on your computer, on your phone, on your TV and your radio. Politics and world affairs can be depressing - watching horrible images from Syria or listening to politicians talking about how far we've gone off the tracks probably isn't going to help you feel less stressed.

Find a release valve

Blowing off steam in a constructive way can do wonders for your mental and physical wellness. Vigorous exercise has chemical effects that combat stress and helps build your body's defenses against its debilitating effects. Some physical activities are particularly great for helping you cope with stress.

Master K of Outlaw Martial Arts notes that taking a martial arts class is good for mind and body - and kicking a bag is a great way to safely channel and let out the aggression that builds up in all of us, especially when things aren't going well.

"It's a great way to keep your mind clear," he says. "It really keeps your mind young."

The arts - whether it's playing music or quilting or painting - can be very soothing and can help you work through feelings of stress and loss. Some people find cooking relaxing and creative - and you can craft healthful meals that enhance your physical ability to cope with stress.

Spiritual solace, whether you find it in prayer or a walk in the woods, is important to managing your stress. Focusing outside yourself and your problems can help you cut those problems down to size.

Seek help if you need it

Sometimes things can really be too much. It's OK - in fact, it's imperative - to seek help, including medical help.

In hard times, "what are normally effective coping mechanisms are pushed to their limit," says Megan Osborn of Wellness at the Mountainside.

Osborn has a psychiatric practice that brings together medicine management and cognitive behavioral therapy to help people cope.

She believes that, for some people, medical intervention can help them get to a place where they can deal effectively with their problems.

"The pills don't do it for you, but it makes it possible to have a more full thought process," she says.

She has seen a significant increase in depression and anxiety brought on by hard times.

"Economic strain is huge as far as the negative impact on the mind and body," she says.

People who have been managing serious conditions such as bi-polar disorder can find that they are no longer able to cope effectively.

It's important to recognize when you really need help. The earlier you act, the sooner you can begin to feel like yourself again.

"I like to encourage people not to wait till you feel you are at rock-bottom," Osborn says.

The good news is that it is possible to find your way through the hard times.

"When people are finding themselves in places where they've never been before... to look at it as short-term is hard to do," Osborn notes. "But it is. It's just a temporary thing."

And if you work at taking care of yourself in mind, body and spirit, you can feel OK, even when things aren't so good.

"It's all about quality of life," Osborn says. "We can be unemployed and still feel well and have a balance."

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