Effective Stress Relief May Be One Mouse Click Away
A Cleveland Clinic study shows online stress-management programs can be as effective as person-to-person relaxation training.
Chronic stress is a known contributor to conditions such as high blood pressure, arrhythmias, obesity, diabetes and other serious health problems. Likewise, a recent diagnosis of heart disease or recent heart surgery can greatly increase an individual’s stress levels. But a new study suggests that people who learn coping strategies online can better manage the stress in the lives.
Researchers, led by Michael Roizen, MD, Chief Wellness Officer for Cleveland Clinic, put 300 adults through an eight-week internet-based stress management (ISM) program. ISM employs online relaxation practice materials, strategies to help cope with everyday stressors, and daily inspirations to help participants stick with their relaxation and meditation practices.
The program used in the study was Stress Free Now, an online program developed at Cleveland Clinic. It’s available to anyone.
At the end of the program, study participants reported significantly reduced stress and improved emotional wellbeing, compared with a control group of adults who did not go through ISM. The study, published earlier this year in the Annals of Behavioral Medicine, was done in partnership with GE, as part of the company’s employee wellness initiative.
“Our recent findings provide individuals and employers with a new option to consider for themselves or their employees’ stress management,” Dr. Roizen says. “Unmanaged stress causes some of the highest healthcare costs for employers and has a lasting impact on everyone. This study implies such health effects may be greatly reduced.”
Researchers in this study used the Perceived Stress Scale, which measures a person’s stress on a scale of 0 to 40, with 0 representing the optimal or best sense of wellbeing. Study participants’ stress levels prior to the program averaged 23.05, which was significantly higher than the U.S. norm (13.7 for women, 12.1 for men). When compared to the control group, study participants’ scores dropped an average of 4.04 after eight weeks. Those who completed five meditations per week (compared to one a week) saw an average decrease of 6.12.
Dr. Roizen notes that the results of ISM were comparable to those achieved through face-to-face stress management programs that tend to focus on techniques such as massage therapy, acupuncture and yoga.
Simple, but consistently utilized changes in your lifestyle can also help manage stress. Exercising for 30 minutes a day has been shown to help reduce stress. Eating a healthier diet with plenty of fruits and vegetables is also helpful in improving one’s outlook.
Another, often overlooked, stress management essential is sleep. If you are consistently getting less thanseven hours of sleep a night, or if the quality of your sleep leaves you tired during the day, consider talking with your doctor or making adjustments to your sleep routine, such as keeping your room cooler, darker and quieter at night, and turning off the television or computer an hour or so before you try to fall asleep.
It’s also important to avoid unhealthy behaviors to cope with stress, such as alcohol and drugs. If you find yourself consuming more than one or two drinks per day, or turning to prescription medications or other drugs, to deal with the pressures in your life, seek counseling.