Throw the book at stress

Physical therapist recommends exercise, reading to combat negativity

January 31, 2015

Anne Mejia-Downs

Remember that terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day when everything went wrong? Not the book, the real day. There is a solution to avoid the anger, the sadness, the frustration, says Anne Mejia-Downs, a physical therapist who shared her research on the subject with ALA Midwinter Meeting attendees Saturday in a session titled “Stop Running on Empty! Build Up Your Reserves” sponsored by HRDR.

Mejia-Downs began with some eye-opening statistics: Negative health effects of chronic stress can lead to increased cholesterol, damage to arteries and cells, short-term memory loss, and premature aging. The good news is that everyone has the capacity to be more resilient to stress, and you can start now to build your physical and emotional resilience, she said.

“You are your own superhero and can unlock the secret to protect yourself from stress,” she said. The secret is to build resilience through tools such as increasing optimism, incorporating humor, establishing a purpose for living, supporting a positive affect, seeking social support, and increasing physical activity.

For attendees who thought they couldn’t build these traits, Mejia-Downs offered time for each participant to share and practice the techniques.

To build optimism, she suggested catching yourself being negative, and inserting or rewriting the scenario into a positive spin. The point is not to force being impossibly optimistic, but to try not letting the everyday negative overwhelm life by dwelling on it. Mejia-Downs said she limits how much news she watches because it tends to drag her down.

To build humor, try reading a funny book before bedtime, watch comedies, and increase interactions with people who make you laugh.

To build a purpose for living, identify your core values, and verbalize them in a personal mission statement.

To create more positive affect, find ways to “pay it forward” and practice gratitude. She recommends a gratitude diary, in which you write down three things you are grateful for, for at least a week. The practice helps you to look for those special moments in each day. She also said practice the “Loving Kindness Meditation,” in which you repeat the following about yourself, about another person, and even a person you don’t like, to increase your positivity: “May I be happy. May I be well. May I be safe. May I be peaceful and at ease.”

To build social support, send texts, email, and communicate often with the people who make you feel great. Notice the people who make you feel happy, and nurture those relationships. Conversely, limit  interactions with negative people.

Finally, Mejia-Downs recommended increasing physical activity because studies have shown that it releases brain derived neurotropic factor (BDNF), a substance that improves brain health. Park farthest away from the store, take the stairs instead of the elevator, wear a step counter — anything that increases your activity throughout the day.

At the end of a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad day, it’s best to “tell yourself it’s not the end of the world. Call your friend who makes you laugh. Take deep breaths and count your blessings, and exercise,” says Mejia-Downs. These are the simple, daily steps that build resilience and offer the reserves you need to get through those chaotic times.


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