Dealing With Your Stress
July 6, 2014

Dealing With Your Stress

Everyone gets stressed out from time to time. It’s a part of life. One of the many less-than-fun parts, to be sure. Everyone deals with stress in their own way. Me, I tend to read, watch movies, or play some of my more involved video games in order to get my mind off it. In short, I try to detach myself from the world, leaving whatever is causing me stress behind where I can deal with it later. Is this the best approach to dealing with stress? No. Far from it. Still, as I said, everyone copes differently. This is why it is so important to note that various coping techniques may actually be making things worse for you. Recent studies have shown that various stress coping methods may actually increase your risk of insomnia.

We have all had those restless nights where we would just lay awake worrying about something. Sometimes we are able to fight past it and get to sleep. Other times, not so much. Vivek Pillai, PhD, lead author of this study, and research fellow at the Sleep Disorders & Research Center at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, Michigan, noted, “Our study is among the first to show that it’s not the number of stressors, but your reaction to them that determines the likelihood of experiencing insomnia. While a stressful event can lead to a bad night of sleep, it’s what you do in response to stress that can be the difference between a few bad nights and chronic insomnia.”

For their study, the team used a community-based sample of 2,892 “good” sleepers without any history of insomnia. At the start, each participant reported the number of major life events that were causing them stress that had happened during the past year. Examples include getting a divorce, serious illnesses, financial problems, or the death of close family members. Each participant also reported their perceived severity and duration of each said event. The researchers also measured the levels of cognitive intrusion and identified what sorts of coping strategies the participants may have engaged in during the week following these events. After a full year, a follow-up assessment was made that identified which participants had insomnia disorder, which was defined as having symptoms of insomnia occurring a minimum of three nights per week for at least a month or longer, along with associated daytime impairment or distress.

What this shows, according to the study’s authors, are potential targets for therapeutic interventions to improve coping responses to stress that could help reduce the risk of insomnia. Most notable of these were mindfulness-based therapies, as these showed considerable promise in suppressing cognitive intrusion and improving a subject’s sleep.

So, according to this, what should you not be doing? According to their study, things like behavioral disengagement — where you give up on dealing with the stress — or the use of alcohol, drugs, or any form of self-distraction – read: my own preference of using books, movies, or video games to deal with stress — can actually increase a person’s chances of developing insomnia. Likewise, so could just worrying about what is causing you stress. In fact, it was believed that just “stewing” on the problem could account for up to 69 percent of the total effect of stress exposure on insomnia.

So what does this mean? It means that there are a great many of us out there who might need to rethink how they deal with their stress.

Image Credit: Thinkstock

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