We all have a sidekick that accompanies us daily—sometimes it is obvious and intense, and sometimes it’s rather subdued. But it is there, none the less, and can have a huge impact on our minds, bodies, and lives. That sidekick is stress. We all experience stress to one degree or another. It may be influenced by age, personality, background, financial status, health condition, marital status, and other factors. But stress affects us all.
Stress is closely related to worry and anxiety. Worry happens in the mind; stress happens in the body. Anxiety happens in both. In small doses, worry, stress, and anxiety can be positive forces in our lives. They can be helpful if they are short-lived and lead to positive changes. But research shows that most of us are TOO worried, TOO stressed, and TOO anxious. In 2017, a study showed that 40 million Americans suffer from an anxiety disorder. (https://www.NewYorkTimes.com).
Stress is a physiological response to an external event. There must be a stressor, such as a work deadline or a scary medical test (Greenberg, 2020). There are two types of stress: acute–a person experiences a short-lived flood of adrenaline and cortisol (the stress hormones) until the stressor has gone. Examples might be: racing through heavy traffic to an appointment; or finishing an important work project at the final hour. Physiological symptoms resolve, and the individual returns to his non-stressed condition.
Chronic stress – occurs when the body stays in the “fight or flight” mode continuously (usually because the situation does not resolve, as with ongoing financial stressors or a challenging boss). Chronic stress is linked to health concerns such as digestive concerns, increased risk of heart disease, weakening of the immune system, and cancer. (NewYorkTimes.com) Stress is a biological response that is a normal part of our lives. But it must be managed, or it can have far-reaching negative effects on our mental and physical health.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so attention is focused on ways of coping with potential stressors that are all around us daily. The ill effects of stress may show up as the following symptoms:
- Disturbed sleep cycles
- Frequent headaches
- Lack of appetite; sudden weight loss or gain
- Loss of interest in daily activities
- Lonely feelings or withdrawal; constant irritability
- Poor concentration
These symptoms can further lead to depression, substance dependence, and physiological issues. Also, due to consistently high levels of cortisol and adrenalin, prolonged stress increases the risk of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, and stroke. (healthwebmagazine.com)
Here are some suggestions for managing stress:
- Jot down everything you are feeling or keep a daily journal, identifying what your key stressors are in order to develop coping ideas.
- Spend more time outdoors. Vitamin D and outdoor exercise are some of the best ways to fight stress and anxiety.
- Avoid caffeine and alcohol (or at least try to reduce). They may give a short-term high but can worsen your mental health in the long run. Replace them with water, coconut water, or green tea. Eat more fruits and green vegetables to boost vitamin intake and stay energetic all day long.
- Get enough sleep. Studies have established the link between poor sleep and stress. Inadequate sleep leads to depression, anxiety, and other mental disorders. This is because sleep is the time when your body restores and repairs itself for the next day.
- Indulge in relaxing activities—STAY AWAY FROM SCREENS! Aromatherapy, meditation, swimming, massage are some examples. Anything that allows downtime for the part of your brain that is stressed would be relaxing.
- Make time for your hobbies. Intersperse your weekly routine and activities with something you simply enjoy.
- Laugh more often. According to studies, laughter is an effective “medication” for mental disorders. Your mind gets tuned to being happier, and this will encourage a positive mindset.
- Let go of what you cannot change. Do what you can to help global problems that you stress over. If you cannot solve it or influence it, accept it, and move on. Sometimes it is helpful not to watch the news or social media about certain problems because those activities heighten stress and unceasingly expose us to them.
- Follow a routine daily. The more you plan your day in advance, the more stress-free and smooth it will be.
- Take regular vacations. Have a healthy work/life balance. Our bodies perform better after a break.
- Reach out to loved ones. If you are unable to find coping strategies on your own, don’t be afraid to reach out to your loved ones. Let them support you.
- Seek professional help, if needed. One goal of this year’s Stress Awareness Month is to normalize seeking professional help for stress and anxiety, just as we do for physical disorders. If your stress is chronic and manifests itself as mental or physical issues, seek help from a professional immediately. (healthwebmagazine.com)
We are living in what might be the most stressful time of our lifetimes. And, globally, this stress has affected our mental, emotional, and physical health. No age group is exempt. There are many things that we CAN do to reduce our personal stress and create healthier lifestyles for ourselves and our loved ones. These changes may not be what we WANT or have time for, and they may be very difficult to do. They demand sacrifice. But, if we want better mental and physical health, these changes are mandatory. Let us start now to incorporate healthy ways to manage stress into our everyday routine before we face a possible crisis in which we have no choice.