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Make 2016 the Year of Less Stress


Lately, it seems like everyone I know is under a lot of stress. Loved ones to care for, events to plan, finances to balance, and paperwork to complete – these are just a few of the culprits behind their stress. No one can prevent stress, and a little bit can actually be good for you because it can motivate and help you get things accomplished. But too much of it and for prolonged periods of time is unhealthy and can even cause us to age faster. Chronic stress can cause psychological complaints like anxiety and depression, and physical complaints like headaches, fatigue, muscle aches and even ulcers and high blood pressure. There are studies that show chronic stress can even reduce the volume of the brain which results in impaired thinking and emotional regulation.

We can't prevent stress, but we can learn to manage it. There are a variety of ways to relieve stress, and what might work for some, may not work for others. Some people might require something that provides more of a physical outlet like cleaning the house, gardening, or running. Others may find listening to music, reading a book or taking a warm bath to be more beneficial. There are those that find activities like crocheting or doing puzzles engage them and take the focus off their concerns. Rewarding or pampering one's self with a massage, pedicure or a nice dinner is another route people choose for relaxation.

Mindfulness meditation is becoming an increasingly popular way to decrease stress, increase focus and appreciate the moment. Taking a few minutes to focus only on the present moment, and on your breathing is something that everyone is able to do. It can be done alone or with others as part of a class.

Volunteering is also another great stress buster. Being able to help others not only makes a person feel good, but also takes the focus off their own concerns. Talking with a trusted family member or friend or journaling about your feelings and concerns are also ways to help a person deal with difficult emotions which may be causing a great deal of stress.

Remember that chronic stress left unchecked can be unhealthy, so take the time to "de-stress" in a way that works for you. Over time, you will be glad you did. For more information on mindfulness and stress reduction contact a University of Illinois Extension family life educator at

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