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By Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D.

Are you feeling overwhelmed by 24-hour cable and Internet news, with vivid pictures, highlighting the dreadful effects of the massive earthquake, tsunami and nuclear meltdown in Japan? These horrors have pushed the world’s psyche into overload, causing increased levels of anxiety. If you‘re feeling vulnerable, you‘re not alone.  

The palpable distress created by shocking news reports has added to the already high levels of stress identified by a national survey conducted by the American Psychological Association. The study found 75% of the general population experiences at least some stress every two weeks, with half of these rated at moderate or high levels, leaving people emotionally exhausted. And stress levels have increased over the past five years, impacting both physical and psychological health.

Without the effect of outside events, the most frequently cited sources of stress in the APA survey were money, work and the economy. Over one-half also noted that family responsibilities and relationships were significant causes of stress. Now added to that, people are experiencing additional anxiety, though out of harm's way themselves, because of the uncontrollable events that have hit Japan.  

How then to begin to recover your equilibrium? To reduce your stress levels and take better care of yourself, here are eight tips to help manage the pressures you face:

1. Focus on what you can control, not what you can't.  While you often can't influence circumstances, you can control how you handle them. To move away from frustration, let go of negative thoughts and unrealistic expectations. Keep a journal to aid in the process of coping with your anxiety. Clearly define your goals or aspirations and keep focused on them. A positive accomplishment can often come out of a negative situation. Giving a helping hand does wonders - it provides aide to those in need and makes you feel useful too.

2. Maintain balance in life between your family, your job and your own needs.  Don't over commit yourself - rather, attempt to retain a normal routine. Carve out some special time for yourself even in the midst of caring for your growing children and aging parents. Get enough rest and sleep to allow your body to recover from the stresses of the day. Over 40% of the APA respondents reported lacking energy and feeling fatigued on a regular basis.

3. Draw on your strengths.  Survey respondents readily admitted their lack of willpower in creating a healthier lifestyle, but 70% believe they can improve and institute the changes they have identified. Use the personal strengths you have relied on in the past as well as those you have developed more recently. Brainstorm new ways to apply the abilities you have in a novel way as you generate new opportunities for yourself.

4. Practice relaxation techniques.  Set aside time for a regular routine of deep breathing, guided imagery, meditation or other stress reduction methods. Decide to put off worrying - much of what you may fear never actually happens anyway. Remember to be open to the healing effects of laughter.

5. Exercise several times a week.  Only one-quarter of Americans surveyed by APA were satisfied with their level of physical activity. To increase yours, find an activity that you enjoy and stick with it - walking with friends, water aerobics, dance or yoga classes, training at the gym.  

6. Eat sensibly.  Resolve to maintain a balanced diet of healthy foods rich in nutrition that serve as a natural defense against stress. Avoid the use of drugs and alcohol to self-medicate and limit your use of sugar, caffeine and cigarettes as they can contribute to anxiety.  

7. Be patient.  Know that you will recover balance and serenity at your own pace. As long as you keep taking steps to move forward, you will eventually reach your destination. Like one-half of survey respondents, you may find that listening to music, exercising, spending time with family or friends and reading are comforting ways to manage stress.

8. Reach out to your support system.  Ask for help. Talk about your thoughts and feelings with family and friends - they can validate your emotions. Consult a professional counselor for a non-judgmental ear and guidance in sorting out your concerns.  

Close to one-half of those surveyed by APA said they experienced irritability and anger as a symptom of stress. You can reduce such negative emotions and become more resilient when you practice these strategies. Nevertheless your emotional recovery, like the Japanese, will take time. Support - both for yourself and what you provide to others - is valuable as you begin the process of rebuilding and restoring hope in these difficult days.  

© 2011, Her Mentor Center

Rosemary Lichtman, Ph.D. and Phyllis Goldberg, Ph.D. are family relationship experts who have developed a 4-step model for change. If you are coping with acting-out teenagers, aging parents, boomerang kids or difficult daughters-in-law, we have the solutions that make family rifts disappear. Visit our website, [Link Removed] to receive practical tips and our free e-book, “Courage and Lessons Learned.”


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