A new study reports that Americans sought Internet information on stress-related medical conditions considerably more often during the recent recession than in better economic times. Researchers who analyzed Google search patterns from December 2008 through 2011 noted 200 million extra health queries during the down economy.
Inquiries for stomach ulcer indicators rose by a whopping 228 percent, and headache symptom searches went up sharply by 193 percent. Other increases included 37 percent for hernia, 35 percent for chest pain and 32 percent for heart rhythm problems. The study published in the American Journal of Preventive Medicine also noted extra searches for stomach, back and joint pain.
Study author John Ayers, a research professor at the San Diego State University School of Public Health, concluded that the stress of the recession affected Americans’ bodies through their minds. Besides impacting unemployed people, many workers stressed over possible layoffs.
Your Fight-or-Flight Reaction Can Harm Your Health
Losing your income or retirement savings is a major disruptive life change. Instead of avoiding your financial problems by drinking, smoking and overeating, try to remain calm. When your body senses a threat, it initiates your fight-or-flight reaction. This stress response makes your heart rate quicken and your brain’s hypothalamus release stress hormones like cortisol. A quick burst of energy primes you to fight or flee.
Living in a state of chronic stress, however, can cause or exacerbate many medical concerns. But using go-to stress-relief strategies can protect your health. Research shows that smart coping skills can calm your automatic response so you can think clearly, tackle your financial problems and maintain a healthy lifestyle.
Activate Stress-Relieving Techniques
Breathing exercises: Deep breathing quiets your mind, calms your body, relaxes your muscles and soothes tense emotions quickly. It reverses your stress response, so you can be proactive instead of reactive to face upheavals with resilience.
Meditation: When you meditate, your brain enters a functional realm similar to sleep but with extra benefits. Focusing on the present moment keeps your mind from wandering to your problems. Over time, meditation can increase your stress resistance.
Guided imagery: To relax your body, use all of your senses to picture a person, place or time that evokes peace and happiness.
Yoga: This ancient self-improvement practice dates back over 5000 years. Yoga combines breathing, meditation, imagery and movement for stress management.
Visualization: Imagine yourself achieving goals like becoming more relaxed and healthier, excelling at specific tasks and handling conflict better.
Progressive Muscle Relaxation: Tense and then relax one muscle group at a time to calm your body’s stress response.
Sex: Most of the physical benefits of sex relieve stress and tension.
Customize a Financial Plan
Create a budget that matches your current economic situation. Reduce or eliminate luxuries and unnecessary expenses. Clip coupons and shop sales. If necessary, seek professional advice from a credit expert, banker, stockbroker or financial adviser to help you weather financial setbacks.
Don’t Cut Corners on Medical Care
If you experience stress-related symptoms during a financial crisis, you may avoid seeing your doctor to save money. This, however, may worsen your health and increase your medical costs down the road. If you develop a stomach ulcer, you need timely treatment. A prescription medication like Aciphex can bring relief and help you avoid further complications.
Maintain a Healthy Lifestyle
Eat well: When stress is overwhelming, you may worsen your health by skipping breakfast, eating fast food in your car and sneaking snacks loaded with fat, sugar and salt. Research shows that diets low in fats and high in fruits and vegetables hinder the negative effects of stress. A variety of foods and beverages provides calming, soothing benefits. Enjoy complex carbs (whole-grain breads, breakfast cereals, oatmeal and pastas), fatty fish (salmon and tuna), fruits (bananas, blueberries, oranges and raspberries), vegetables (avocados, raw carrots, raw celery and spinach), nuts (almonds, cashews, pistachios and walnuts), dark chocolate and teas (black, chamomile and green).
Avoid addictive behaviors: Drowning your sorrows in alcohol is a common stress reaction. But you need a clear head to overcome your financial hurdles.
Be physically active: Aerobic exercise boosts oxygen circulation and triggers your feel-good endorphins. It provides a distraction from stressful situations and an outlet for your frustrations.
Sleep well: Worry can disturb your normal sleep patterns and quality, making you more vulnerable to stress-related illnesses. It can impair your immune functioning and cognitive abilities, increasing your moodiness. But sound sleep improves daytime functioning while protecting your health. Encourage success by stopping computer and TV usage one hour before bedtime. Take a relaxing bath. Drink warm skim milk or a soothing cup of tea. Practice deep-breathing exercises. Free your mind as you drift off in a dark, quiet bedroom.
Pursue free fun: Giving up your favorite activities from affluent times can be hard when you can’t afford them. But extravagant prices don’t define fun. Enjoy family game night. Take your dog to the park. Explore nature. Visit a museum. Attend free concerts. At your local library, you can check out books, DVD movies or music CDs and attend events or participate in discussions. A wealth of complimentary entertainment possibilities exists — even in hard economic times. And an occasional diversion will lift your mood.
Establish a New Life Strategy
If you learn how to manage stress now, you’ll be able to handle any future challenges to safeguard your health for the rest of your life.