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Posted: September 15, 2006

Spiritual Caregiving

Three Strategies for Dealing with Stress

Stress is an all too frequent companion to elder-caregivers, sapping energy and mood as one goes about their multiple tasks, combining the actual care-giving and managing the rest of life (kids, career, husband or wife).
To alleviate the pressures and the toll they exact on you, consider these three proven approaches to dealing with general stress: 

1. Use Your Values to Psych Up for a Big Test

  Before undergoing a series of stressful experiences -- e.g., giving a speech about their job qualifications or being rushed through a challenging math test -- 80 students at UCLA reflected on values they had identified in response to a questionnaire.
One group focused on values they found meaningful, whether religious (God, the Bible, their religion) or secular (political and social values, such as community service). The other group focused on values they said were unimportant to them. Both had similar levels of the stress hormone cortisol before the study.
Upon completion of the stressful challenges, however, the group that first reflected on meaningful values had significantly lower levels of cortisol. "Self-affirmations can be a very good stress-combater, especially under conditions of chronic stress," says Shelley E. Taylor, a leading expert on the health effects of stress and one of the study's authors. "It's helpful to remind yourself you're a good person with talents, and remind yourself what's important to you. That can be hard to do when you're going through something really awful."
2. Put on Your Angry Face When It's Justified

In this study, from Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, 92 participants were given a stressful math exercise, while being harassed by an experimenter urging them to go faster. To determine their biological responses to stress, their blood pressure, heart rate, and stress hormone levels were measured. When the participants' facial expressions were analyzed, those with angrier facial expressions had lower responses to stress. In contrast, participants with more fearful facial expressions had more-pronounced biological responses to stress.
"Anger can sometimes be adaptive," says Jennifer Lerner, Ph.D., who ran the study. "We're showing for the first time that when you are in a situation that is maddening and in which anger or indignation are justifiable responses, anger is not bad for you."
This paper furthers previous research by Lerner following the terrorist attacks on September 11, 2001, which showed that anger could trigger feelings of optimism, certainty, and control. In that study, those who reacted to the attacks with anger were the most optimistic two months later.
3. Know Your Inflammatory Style
This large-scale study, published in the Journal of Occupational Health Psychology, shows that different emotional states in men and women kick off inflammation that can result in cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and other illnesses.
For men, depression is most likely to kick off the biological markers of inflammation such as the C-reactive protein, which is linked to increased risk of heart disease. Women, on the other hand, have high levels of these bio-markers when they experience job burnout -- a sense of meaninglessness and the feeling of being depleted by work.
Identifying the sex differences in the impact of emotions on health could help prevent disease among men and women, according to the study's author, Sharon Toker, Ph.D. "This information can be used to help medical and mental health professionals design more appropriate stress management interventions for each sex and hopefully prevent long-lasting health consequences," she says.

This article originally appeared in Spirituality & Health magazine, For subscriptions call 1-800-876-8202 or see Editor Stephen Kiesling and his staff contribute weekly columns, features and articles published every Friday as "Spiritual Caregiving" at Contact staff directly via email at

© 2006 Pederson Publishing, Inc. All Rights Reserved.
Commercial use, redistribution or other forms of reuse of this information is strictly prohibited without the prior written permission of Pederson Publishing.

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