The effects of stress on health, well-being, and even creativity were the focus of the Forum at Harvard School of Public Health (HSPH) this week.
In collaboration with the Huffington Post, the March 6 webcast event addressed the American Psychological Association’s latest Stress in America survey, which found that the majority of Americans report experiencing higher stress levels than they believe are healthy. One in three Americans reports living with extreme stress.
Chronic stress has been linked to health problems ranging from heart disease to asthma to ulcers, and the cardiovascular health risk it poses is not dissimilar to the risk conferred by cigarette smoking, said panelist Laura Kubzansky, associate professor of social and behavioral sciences at HSPH. (See the full list of panelists here.)
Representing a diverse array of approaches to stress and health, from psychology to nutrition science, the expert panelists explored the underlying causes and consequences of stress — particularly the “physiological wear and tear” incurred by repeated periods of stress. They singled out the role that mindfulness plays in combating stress and choosing healthy behaviors.
“We eat less thoughtfully when we are stressed,” said David Eisenberg, associate professor in the Department of Nutrition at HSPH, and “when we are in a good place emotionally we make better choices.”
Lilian Cheung, editorial director of The Nutrition Source at HSPH and an expert on mindfulness, shared her “three steps to bliss”: “mindful breathing, mindful eating, and mindful movements.”
Addressing stress from a public-health orientation is key to setting up systems that will better prepare people to cope with stress, according to the panelists. Stress is pervasive in American lives — and yet no systematic medical approach exists to prevent and treat it. Among the panelists’ recommendations: Doctors need to be trained to better recognize and respond to stress in their patients and to help patients practice healthy habits, and to look carefully at childhood development, creating structures that allow children to develop the adaptive tools they need to more effectively manage stress.
Read the live Tweet coverage here.