We are all too familiar with the nationwide opioid epidemic, but statistics show that “benzos,” prescribed to treat stress and anxiety, are also on a deadly rise. The number of deaths involving benzodiazepines like Xanax, Klonopin, and Valium increased eight-fold from 1999 to 2016. Also alarming: The number of benzodiazepine prescriptions increased 67 percent from 1996 to 2013.
April is National Stress Awareness month and experts say it’s time we examine how to handle stress and anxiety in our lives without resorting to drugs.
Stress can be deadly according to the American Psychological Association. It is linked to the six leading causes of death: heart disease, cancer, lung ailments, accidents, cirrhosis of the liver and suicide. More than 75 percent of physician’s office visits are for stress-related ailments and complaints.
“But [because of] the economics of our modern medicine, doctors no longer have the time to sit and listen to their patients and find out the root cause of their stress,” Dr. Judy Kuriansky, a renowned clinical psychologist and professor at Columbia University tells Newsmax Health. “They are quick to write a prescription for sedatives but deny their patients the crucial right to get things off their chest. Just talking about a problem can often help resolve the situation.”
Kuriansky says that social media has accelerated our feelings of stress. In fact, 44 percent of Americans feel they are more stressed today than they were five years ago.
“We are constantly connected and yet we don’t communicate,” notes Kuriansky. “Our messages are short and superficial.”
Dr. Heidi Hanna, executive director of the American Institute of Stress says that drugs actually exacerbate our stress response.
“For a long time, we’ve leaned on drugs designed to speed us up to get more done or push through the pain and anxiety to get though another day,” she tells Newsmax Health. “But no matter how much we try to hack the human system, the nervous system continues to take a beating as we become more and more frazzled.
“We live in a world that is constantly connected, desperate to be in the loop but find it impossible to keep up. We are more irritable and agitated than ever before, lashing out at fellow drivers on the road and snapping at our loved ones. This situation is not caused by a mood disorder but by our constant need to be jacked up on stimulants and unable to relax even when we have a moment to catch our breath.”
Hanna says that stress “is more contagious than the flu, spreading through an email, a text message or even our favorite characters on a screen.”
While healthy or natural alternatives may not be as glamorous as popping a “chill pill” and may take longer to be effective, they do offer radical differences.
“There are no side effects and rather than putting a Band-Aid on a wound that continues to fester under the surface, mind-body techniques that train the brain to develop new skills enable lasting changes,” says Hanna, best-selling author of Stressaholic: 5 Steps to Transform Your Relationship with Stress.
Here are some suggestions:
*Breath work. This is by far the most important technique to reduce stress and soothe the parasympathetic nervous system, says Hanna. Research has shown that breathing at a pace of about six breaths per minute — inhaling to a count of five and exhaling to a count of five — is optimal for engaging the relaxation response.
*Exercise more. Dr. Fabrizio Mancini, the best-selling author of The Power of Self-Healing says that even if you feel tired or depressed, turn off the TV and take a walk outdoors. Mood-lifting chemicals in your brain start to circulate the longer you walk. “Your heart strengthens and your metabolism revs up for up to 48 hours afterward,” he tells Newsmax Health.
*Listen to soothing music. Hanna is a firm advocate of the power of relaxing or inspiring music to soothe body, mind and soul.
*Lend a hand. Helping others can be an excellent and effective way to reduce your own stress, says Hanna.
*Sleep longer. “Practice good sleep hygiene to help your body regenerate,” says Mancini. Go to bed at the same time and turn off all electronics an hour before bedtime.
*Maintain a healthy body weight. Eating whole foods and shunning processed foods and sugar can help you shed those extra pounds that put stress on your body. You may even reduce your blood pressure or diabetes medication.
*Hug often. Both Hanna and Mancini believe in the power of a hug to heal and reduce stress. Research has verified that the simple act of reaching out and hugging another person slows down the heart rate, reduces high blood pressure, and even helps you recover from illness.
*Laugh. Laughter is a great stress reliever so try and tune into TV comedies instead of dramas or socialize more to lighten up. Socialization can be helpful to reduce the feelings of isolation and loneliness caused by stress.
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