Northwestern Memorial Hospital Experts Offer Tips to Beat Stress
Suggest Mental Health Self-Assessment Key to Overall Well-Being
A few weeks into the New Year, regular gym attendance and healthy eating pledges might have slowed in their momentum, but the spirit in which these resolutions were made remains. In addition to this increased emphasis on diet and exercise, Northwestern Memorial Hospital experts say the start of the New Year is a good opportunity to take stock of your mental and emotional fitness and offer tips to keep stress symptoms at bay.
“The holidays are over, winter is here, and with the current economic conditions in the world, stress is running rampant,” said Mike Ziffra, MD, a psychiatrist with Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “So it’s important to look at your mood and anxiety levels and see how you’re functioning overall.”
Ziffra acknowledges in the past, mental health was a subject that was not addressed in mainstream discourse.
“We see a willingness to talk openly about improving other areas of life, such as quitting smoking or a new weight loss plan,” said Ziffra. “However, there’s always been this stigma attached to mental health issues.”
“We used to be told to ignore problems and shove stress aside,” said Greg Petersen, PhD, a health psychologist at Northwestern Memorial’s Center for Integrative Medicine and Wellness. “Often times we viewed admitting your problems as a sign of weakness or a flaw in character.”
With an increasing wealth of knowledge regarding mental health, the subject has become far less taboo.
“People are less uneasy about discussing mental health now,” he said. “Society has started to realize that mental health can effect overall health, and vice versa, and that counseling is a well researched tool that can help get your well-being back on track.”
“When you reach for the right tool, it’s not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength,” he added.
Petersen said recognizing the symptoms of stress is key to overcoming them.
“Avoidance can only really work in the short term,” he said.
Physical signs of stress include being unusually tired or fatigued, changes in weight, sleep, or appetite, decreased motivation, feelings of worthlessness or hopelessness, and thoughts of death.
If you or a family member/friend is experiencing these symptoms, Petersen and Ziffra say it’s important to seek professional help, either through your primary caregiver or a counselor.
They also offer several tips to increase mental fitness and keep stress levels low.
“If you’re doing everything you can about a problem but you’re still feeling stressed, you don’t need to try harder, but different,” said Petersen. “Constructive worry is an important thing to practice too—make a plan about what you will do to combat your worry, and when you’re not doing that, let the worry go and focus on other things.”
Ziffra recommends patients maintain a consistent sleep schedule, get regular exercise, and have a healthy diet to build up resistance to stress.
“Make sure you have outlets for socialization too, so that you’re not isolated and can reach out to others during stressful times,” said Ziffra.
“People who have buffers, through being socially and spiritually connected, and those who participate in a variety of activities, are the ones who are going to handle difficulties the best,” said Petersen. “It’s about creating joy in the midst of hardship.”