Sitler column: Don’t let stress get you down

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Stress is something we all have in our lives and it often gets a bad rap. We need stress – it’s what excites and motivates us. It’s when stress becomes overwhelming – or turns from eustress, the good variety, to distress that it can cause problems which can affect ability to work, participate in normal activities, and engage in satisfying relationships.

Stress can take a heavy toll on us, adversely affecting us physically, emotionally, and behaviorally. The effects of stress can actually be painful, causing headaches, back and neck pain, and stomach issues. We can become irritable or angry, to the point of lashing out at those we care about.

There are ways to manage stress so it doesn’t control us. Paying attention to key components of our overall wellness will help. We should eat healthy foods and get plenty of rest and exercise. Relaxing our emotions will go a long way toward reducing stress.

How do you relax? Many people run, work out, ride bikes or take long walks. I encourage you to take time each day to do something you love. My personal favorite relaxing activity is knitting. Not everyone is going to love to do the same thing, but everyone should have that thing that they love to do. Maybe you prefer weight lifting, reading, journaling, art or woodworking. Whatever your passion is, it should be relaxing. I consider knitting to be therapeutic and I get great joy from creating something beautiful out of luscious fibers while I slow down my constantly humming mind. It’s a repetitive motion which allows my mind to settle down and quit racing.

Research shows that there are stress-reducing benefits of knitting or any hobby that helps you relax. The Craft Yarn Council launched #StitchAwayStress on April 15, 2015, to coincide with National Stress Awareness Month and one of the most stress-inducing days of the year: Tax Day. Of 3,100 plus crocheters and knitters who participated in consumer research, 85 percent reported that these crafts reduced stress; 68 percent said they improved their mood.

Carol Caparosa founded nonprofit Project Knitwell at MedStar Georgetown University Hospital after using knitting to calm herself there during her infant daughter’s heart surgeries. She began volunteering to teach parents and older children to knit, ultimately expanding her work to the hospital’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. Subsequently, two Georgetown oncology nurses incorporated Project Knitwell into their thesis research. Compassion fatigue/burnout is common for oncology nursing staff. The students measured burnout before and 13 weeks after nurses learned to knit. All 39 participating nurses showed some degree of compassion fatigue prior to learning. Each nurse was taught to knit and kits were kept on the oncology floors, so nurses could knit anytime. The results were significant, with all scores improving, especially those whose burnout scores had been the highest.

There is plenty of other anecdotal evidence that rhythmic and repetitive motions like knitting elicit the relaxation response, a state in which heart rate and blood pressure fall, breathing slows and stress hormone levels drop. I hope that each of you has an activity that relaxes you, since there is no health without mental health and relieving stress will improve your health. It’s time for me to go knit a few rows.

Penny Sitler is Executive Director of Mental Health America of Licking County.

Found in The Newark Advocate April 16, 2016

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