Stress Awareness Month
“We are facing a national mental health crisis that could yield serious health and social consequences for years to come.”
So says the American Psychological Association (APA). They’ve been conducting an annual “Stress in America” survey since 2007.
The survey measures the sources of stress. As well as its intensity and how people are responding to stressors.
Would it surprise you to learn that Americans are now feeling more stress than ever? Probably not.
Pandemic Worsened the Problem
The survey determined that Americans were “profoundly affected by the coronavirus pandemic.”
And that the “external factors that Americans have listed in previous years as significant sources of stress remain present and problematic.”
Among those previous stressors were personal finances, job responsibilities and relationships. Plus political conflict, crime and violence. As well as racial issues and the future of our country.
The APA goes on to say this. The combination of these stressors is having “real consequences on our minds and bodies.”
April Is Stress Awareness Month
Looks like the timing for Stress Awareness Month couldn’t be better. April was selected for this designation in 1992.
It’s a month when healthcare professionals and health promotion experts join forces. Their goal is to increase public awareness of the causes. And offer ways to deal with the modern stress epidemic.
They inform people about the dangers of stress. And warn of harmful misconceptions and offer successful coping strategies.
Now, there is no single definition for stress. Mainly because it affects people for different reasons in different ways. But unfortunately, we all know what it feels like for us.
The Physical Side
The American Institute of Stress defines stress this way. It’s a physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension. Sometimes it’s all three. The physical results of stress – especially long-term stress – are not pretty.
They can involve everything from headaches and stomach disorders to a weakened immune system. Plus high blood pressure, stroke and heart disease. Stress can also affect our digestive, muscular and reproductive systems. Why does this happen?
When we face a stressful situation, stress hormones are ordered to rush into our bloodstream. The hypothalamus in the brain issues the order. These hormones increase our heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels.
Now, these increases can help us in a fight or flight situation. If they are temporary.
But when we experience this adrenaline rush for extended periods of time, it can be dangerous. We can become susceptible to these physical problems.
Mental and Emotional Stress
In addition to the physical effects of stress, we have emotional and mental issues.
Chronic stress can wear people down to the point where they become depressed. And that can lead to insomnia.
Other emotional and mental symptoms of ongoing stress include irritability and anxiety.
What often follows are unhealthy behaviors in an attempt to combat stress. These can include overeating or not eating enough. Also, social withdrawal and alcohol or drug abuse.
Based on what’s going on in the world, I think it’s obvious that stressors are not going away on their own.
That makes it important to learn how to handle stress in ways that will not negatively affect us. Physically, mentally or emotionally.
First a few general suggestions from the Federal Occupational Health agency. I realize these recommendations are easier said than done.
- Recognize when you don’t have control and let it go.
- Avoid getting anxious about situations you cannot change.
- Take control of your reactions and focus your mind on something that makes you feel calm and in control.
If we all could easily follow that general advice, we wouldn’t need Stress Awareness Month. So, let’s get specific about healthy ways to handle stress.
Take care of yourself. Eat healthy and exercise regularly. Get plenty of sleep and give yourself a temporary break from responsibilities. Exercise lowers your body’s stress hormones and can improve sleep quality.
Take time for meditation. This can mean different things for different people. Some meditate on Bible passages, others on relaxation techniques. Some practice yoga to relieve stress. Deep breathing exercises can lead to calmer feelings.
Laugh often. Laughter releases endorphins that promote a sense of wellbeing. It triggers healthy physical and emotional changes in your body. Those changes strengthen your immune system and boost your mood. It can also improve the function of blood vessels.
Discuss the reasons for your stress with a spouse, parent or trusted friend. Sometimes just talking about stress can help alleviate some of it. You’ll quickly learn you’re not the only one dealing with it. And you may receive helpful advice.
Recognize when you need additional help and reach out to a trained professional. We all have some issues that affect us more than they do others. If stress is one of yours, don’t hesitate to get the assistance you need to deal with it.
Stress did not go away when we turned the calendar to 2021. It’s here to stay. But it’s an enemy we can defeat if we don’t give in to it.