Some Unexpected Good News About Stress

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The latest edition of the American Psychological Association’s annual report called Stress in America reports that young adults between 18 and 33 are the most stressed among us. Up to age 47, the main sources of worry are jobs and money. And for those who are older, the spectrum of concern shifts to health issues–both one’s own and those of friends and relatives. Stress isn’t going away anytime soon, but that’s hardly news.

So here’s some good news. If you don’t have symptoms but you’re thinking of asking your health care provider to order every test under the sun to assuage anxiety about cancer, heart disease, or almost any disorder you can think of, consider this: It turns out that you needn’t bother. That’s according to a recently published review of 14 clinical trials that included over 3,000 patients who were given screening tests (CAT scans, MRIs, stress tests, etc.) for exactly this purpose, and who had a very low likelihood of finding anything serious. When the negative results were conveyed to the patients, they proved to have no impact on such measures of stress as nonspecific anxiety, worries about specific illnesses, and stress-related symptoms. In other words, unless you have specific symptoms, you most likely won’t need a screening test. In the absence of symptoms, the best thing you can do is to manage stress and anxiety.

One other health-related issue you don’t have to worry about: the putative link between stress and cancer. An analysis of 116,000 men and women found no correlation between on-the-job stress and the incidence of cancer.

Keep in mind (literally!) that we’re able to able control our reactions to stress to some degree. Through exercise, yoga, meditation, or practicing mindfulness techniques, we can gently accept stress as an inevitable part of life but refuse to let it control us. However, when–despite your best efforts–your blood pressure climbs, and you feel your heart pounding and your stomach churning, one simple solution may simply be to step outside into the fresh air in the nearest park or woods. In a small but fascinating study from Scotland in which subjects wore mobile devices for recording brain activity, researchers discovered that walking outside in a natural, green environment lowered frustration and arousal, and enhanced feelings of quiet contemplation. Strolling down an urban street didn’t have the same effect. So grab your lunch, step outside, find some greenery, and breathe!

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The One Medical blog is published by One Medical, an innovative primary care practice with offices in Boston, Chicago, Los Angeles, New York, Phoenix, the San Francisco Bay Area, Seattle, and Washington, DC.

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