We're talking to our doctors about our aches and pains, weight loss concerns and how to get back to the gym. But when it comes to reducing stress and managing anxiety, people are keeping quiet, according to a recent study in the Archives of Internal Medicine.
Only 3 percent of doctors' visits involve discussions on how to reduce stress. For some comparison, nutrition counseling happened in 17 percent of visits, "physical activity counseling" happened in 12 percent of visits, and weight counseling occurred in 6 percent of visits, the study found.
It's a shockingly small percentage when one considers that nearly a quarter of Americans have reported feeling "extreme stress," according to a recent American Psychological Association poll. Stress has been linked to any number of chronic health issues, including diabetes, cancer, asthma and heart disease, and researchers said that an estimated 60 to 80 percent of doctors' visits involved some stress-related health issue.
The study examined 34,000 visits to 1,263 physicians between 2006 and 2009. Researchers looked to see if physicians shared information on stress reduction tools like meditation, exercise and yoga. Out of the 34,000 visits, a little more than 1,000 visits involved stress-management advice, the study found.
"The low rate of [stress] counseling points to potential missed opportunities, suggesting that physician counseling about stress has not been incorporated into primary care to the extent of other types of counseling," according to the researchers.
Why aren't more doctors and patients discussing how to manage and reduce stress? According to researchers, it's an issue of time. Doctors may feel like they don't have time to talk about stress management; in fact, those office visits that did include stress management counseling ran longer.
Exercising can naturally help you sleep better by raising dopamine levels, which in turn reduce anxiety and depression. Avoid exercising too close to your bed time, however, as this may make it more difficult to fall asleep soon after. Cognitive hypnotherapist <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/17/10-sleep-tips-to-beat-insomnia_n_1209908.html#s617090&title=Exercise_" target="_hplink">Lesley McCall suggests</a> having at least three hours between exercise and sleep in order to give your body ample time to wind down and prepare for rest.
Watch What You Eat
Avoid devouring <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep/HQ01387" target="_hplink">large meals before bedtime</a>. Along with the discomfort of being stuffed, large meals take the body longer to digest, thus leaving you more tired when you wake. Conversely, going to bed hungry can be just as disruptive. <a href="http://www.oprah.com/health/What-to-Eat-to-Sleep-Better-Nutrition-Advice-from-Dr-Katz" target="_hplink">Dr. David L. Katz</a> recommends fruits, vegetables, beans and whole grains for sound slumber as these "tend to produce a slow, steady rise in blood insulin that helps the amino acid tryptophan enter the brain. Tryptophan is used to make serotonin, a neurotransmitter that helps induce sleepiness along with improving your mood".
Adjust Room Temperature
Try adjusting the temperature of the bedroom for a more optimal sleeping environment. According to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/19/winter-sleep_n_1215136.html#s622068&title=Keeping_The_House" target="_hplink">Jennifer Trachtenberg, M.D., FAAP</a>, you should aim for somewhere between 68 and 72 degrees. For easier temperature regulation throughout the night, ditch the singular heavy comforter and opt for piling on light layers that can be easily kicked off as needed.
Make The Bedroom A Bedroom
According to <a href="http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/sleep/HQ01387" target="_hplink">The Mayo Clinic</a>, the ideal bedroom should be three things: Cool, dark and quiet. It may be time to invest in earplugs, an eye mask or even heavier curtains to block out extra light and sound. Don't be afraid to give fidgeting pets the boot and avoid eating, watching television or finishing work in the bedroom. Instead, make the space strictly for sleep and sex only.
Don't ruminate. Practice <a href="http://www.webmd.com/mental-health/positive-thinking-stopping-unwanted-thoughts#" target="_hplink">"thought-stopping"</a> where you only allow yourself to worry about a problem during daytime hours. Refrain from checking texts and e-mails (physically banish your cell to a different room if necessary!) before and during your bedtime routine. <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.co.uk/2012/01/17/10-sleep-tips-to-beat-insomnia_n_1209908.html#s617081&title=Do_A_Brain" target="_hplink">McCall suggests doing a "brain dump"</a> before bed, in which you spend 10 minutes writing down what is on your mind. Whether you're making a to-do list or merely scribbling by minute eight, leave everything on the page.
Channel Your Inner Yogi
Relaxing stretching and meditative breathing can help reduce anxiety and leave you more at ease and ready to put your body to rest. Follow a gentle sequence, such as the "night time flow" featured in this video, designed to help prepare the body for a restful slumber by quieting the mind and soothing the nervous system. In the clip, <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/01/30/yoga-journal-21-day-chall_n_1240556.html" target="_hplink">Jason Crandell</a> reminds "Practicing with a receptive, non-striving tone is essential for relaxation and moving into a state of sleep."
Start A Sleep Diary
Keeping a sleep diary can both help you maintain a consistent sleep schedule and reveal the possible culprit (or culprits) behind your difficulty falling asleep naturally. Create your own sleep diary following <a href="http://www.webmd.com/sleep-disorders/guide/how-to-use-a-sleep-diary" target="_hplink">a general template</a> and use it in conjunction with a visit to your doctor to discuss any questions or concerns you may have.