CAM and stress: Can CAM help you cope with stress?

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Stress is not necessarily a negative thing: it can push you to perform better and faster than you might normally have done, leaving you with a great feeling of accomplishment. In dangerous situations, it may even extend your life. At least one study even suggests that a small amount of short-term (“acute”) stress may help boost your immune system!

What is bad is long-term (“chronic”) stress, a state of constant stress-arousal that depletes your energy and, in the long term, weakens your health.

There are different causes of stress: internal or external, long-term (chronic) or short-term (acute), big stressors and small stressors. External stressors include major life changes (births, deaths, marriages, moving, quitting smoking), environmental stressors (noise, poor air-quality, overcrowding), unpredictable events, family relationships, workplace stress, exam stress and social stress (such as public speaking or large gatherings). Internal stressors are pressure you put on yourself: fears, uncertainty or doubts, negative attitudes such as blame and unrealistic expectations are all stresses people place on themselves. Other factors, such as a poor diet or a lack of exercise or sleep, also contribute to the level of stress in your life.

Work is a major source of external stress for Canadian: a 2007 StatsCan survey found that more working women (28%) reported having a high-strain job than did men (20%). It also found that one-third of women felt quite a bit, or extremely, stressed most days at work, compared with 29% of men. The same survey also suggests that people who make less money tend to have higher levels of stress: almost 28% of workers with incomes of less than $20,000 had high-strain jobs, compared with only 18% of workers earning $60,000 or more.

So, are you too stressed? Here are a couple of warning signs to watch out for:

  • Thoughts: Do you have trouble concentrating or remembering things? Are your thoughts constantly racing, or do you feel anxious a lot of the time?
  • Feelings: Do you feel tired, anxious, stressed? Do you have mood swings, or feelings of despair?
  • Physical symptoms: Do you get headaches, have trouble sleeping, feel tightness in your chest or feel constantly exhausted?
  • Behaviour: Are you drinking more coffee or alcohol? Are you eating too much or too little? Do you tend to overreact? Are you having problems with your family or friends, or having trouble keeping up at work or at school?

To cope with stress, make sure you have strong social supports (friends, family or people you can trust). Next, practice saying “No”: turning down unwanted extra work or social engagements can give you more time to relax and recharge, helping you cope.

More and more people are turning to CAM modalities to help deal with the stresses of everyday life and, increasingly, research is showing that they may be on the right track. While there is no substitute for taking steps to reduce the stresses you put on yourself and others put on you, certain CAM modalities help you turn off the stress response, reducing the health effects of both long and short-term stress. Research suggests that mind-body therapies may be particularly effective.

Some FACT practitioners specialise specifically in stress management. To see a list of FACT practitioners who specialise in stress management, click here.

Which CAM modalities does research show most alleviate the negative effects of stress?

Have you ever used a CAM therapy to counteract the stress in your life? Tell us about your experience! If you are a practitioner, would you share some recommendations or advice with your fellow members? Remember, you can get more information on these and other CAM modalities (or add to the information that already exists) in our [link removed] Community section.