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YOUR NEIGHBOR

In stressful times, helping others reduces your stress, too

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Write a Your Neighbor column

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Wednesday, May 8, 2013 - 12:01 am

Editor's note: Katie S. Brown lives in Fort Wayne and writes regularly about spirituality and health. She is also a Christian Science practitioner and teacher and the media and legislative liaison for Christian Science in Indiana.

Lately, I've been considering how people handle stress in their lives, not only every day stress, but also traumatic stress.

With the recent Boston Marathon bombings, stress has been in the news. Will Americans feel stressed at public events with the threat of random acts of terror looming over them? Maybe; maybe not. But studies show that every day stress is on the rise.

Experts agree a simple way to manage stress is to take control of your life. That is what Bostonians are showing us. We are seeing they have the resilience to overcome trauma.

“Trauma is a completely natural response to an unnatural event, and most people are resilient,” Lloyd Sederer, medical director of the New York State Office of Mental Health, said in an April 16 Huffington Post article ( www.huffingtonpost.com) after the Boston Marathon. “But you need to help people understand what happened, that these are predictable symptoms and that there are ways to take care of yourself.”

The key words to me in Sederer's statement are “there are ways to take care of yourself.” One he mentions for Bostonians, but it can apply to all of us, is to talk to your own family and members of your community, because they are likely to understand what you have gone through.

Identifying the sources of stress in your life, keeping a journal to record stress, what caused it, how you felt, how you acted and how you dealt with it can help, it said under tips on stress management on the website Helpguide.org ( www.helpguide.org). Additionally, taking a walk, spending time in nature, watching a comedy and listening to music are other ways to manage stress.

While looking for solutions to stress, many people these daysfocus greater attention on taking control of their thinking. This makes sense, given that it's where stress begins.

Physicians practicing in integrative medicine centers are increasingly recommending meditation to mitigate or manage the symptoms of a wide variety of physical and mental problems, according to “Doctor's Orders: 20 Minutes of Meditation Twice a Day,” an April 15 article in the Wall Street Journal. Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction, devised at the University of Massachusetts Medical School, is the most common type of meditation recommended by doctors.

Studies don't really tell physicians how meditation works on the body. Studies on how prayer works similarly offer no telling results.

But that isn't stopping people from using prayer to manage stress — today or over the centuries. It's a method I've used for many years. Prayer and Bible study have brought me peace and comfort — relief — from both everyday and traumatic stress

Everyday stress, such as feeling frustrated angry, or nervous, can come from things like starting a new job or school, money pressures, retirement, moving to a new home, getting married, media overload (social media, Internet, iPhones), relationship problems, and an illness or injury to you or a loved one. Stress is also common in people who already feel depressed.

Research from the American Psychological Association shows that 77 percent of people regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, such as dizziness, fatigue and headaches, the website Statistic Brain ( www.statisticbrain.com) reported. Seventy-three percent of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress, such as irritability, nervousness and lack of energy. These statistics indicate the need to find solutions to coping with stress.

However, research shows those who help others enjoy higher levels of mental health, it says in “How Helping Others Can Reduce Stress and Increase Happiness,” a Dec. 2011 article on http://stress.about.com. Altruistic giving brings more gratitude for what you have, a good view of oneself and less stress over the daily rat race.

As each one of us learns how to cope with stress, it would be my hope that we can help others, too. In fact, that's what we saw play out in Boston after the explosions, isn't it? There were everyday people, under stress, reaching out to help others.

This could be our best way to deal not only with moments of extreme stress, but also those everyday challenges that push our buttons.