January 28, 2021 | by Charlotte Grainger
We can’t stress enough what a major role stress plays in our everyday lives, yet we seldom talk about it. Finding the energy and courage to speak out during a stressful period can feel impossible, but ignoring stress can lead to a whole host of health problems. Since April marks the annual Stress Awareness Month, it’s time we talked about the “S” word.
What Is Stress Awareness Month?
Sponsored by The Health Resource Network (HRN), National Stress Awareness Month is an annual campaign that began back in 1992 and has taken place every April since.
During this month, health care professionals unite to raise awareness of what effects stress has on people’s everyday wellness, and what can be done to combat it. Public forums, discussion groups, and other informative community events are employed to shed more light on the health impacts of stress.
What Can You Do During Stress Awareness Month?
If you’re hoping to get involved with this year’s events, look at local groups to see what activities they have planned. For example, you may find that fundraising events are going on near you. Take the time to consider what you could offer.
If you prefer not to get involved in organized events – perhaps because you find them stressful – there are still some things you can do as an individual to manage your own stress and to reduce the stress of those around you. Here are a few ideas:
Share Your Story
If you experience stress or anxiety, April could be a good time to share your story, perhaps via social media. Mental health issues have been considered taboo for far too long, but this is changing, and you can help to change it too.
Seek Professional Support
If you think that stress is harming your health, but you’ve been putting off doing anything about it, now could be a good time to seek some support. Talk to your doctor and (if necessary) let them refer you to the right professional for the right care.
Reach Out to Your Social Circle
Regardless of whether you want to share your story with the whole world, and even if you seek (and get) professional support, there’s no time like the present to engage with your close social circle. As the old saying goes, “a problem shared is a problem halved.”
Perfect Your Personal Coping Mechanisms
We’re all unique and, as individuals, we all cope with stressful situations in different ways. If you’ve suffered from stress before, you may already know what you need to do to take the edge off your stress responses. Now could be the time to perfect your personal coping mechanisms, perhaps by getting ideas from other people and sharing your stress-reduction techniques with them.
Kindness seems to be something more people are talking about in regards to stress. It costs nothing but could make a huge difference in people’s lives. By being kind to each other in April – and every month before and after that – we could reduce stress all round. This can only be a good thing.
How Does Stress Impact Your Health?
Stress can affect you physically as well as mentally, so let’s look at some of the physical manifestations of failing to effectively manage your stress.
Stress and Your Heart
Having a healthy heart should always be a top priority. The American Heart Association says that more research is needed to determine the part that stress plays in your heart health. However, experts agree that periods of stress can lead to behaviors that increase the risk of developing heart disease. Maybe you eat more, drink more alcohol, or smoke more when you’re stressed. None of these things are good for your cardiovascular health.
Stress and Your Digestion
Do you know that your gut is lined with more than 100 million neurons, meaning that – in a sense – it has its own brain? So if stress can affect the mental health of your main brain, maybe it can affect your digestive mental health too. According to Harvard Health, psychological stress can cause ongoing digestive problems, such as constipation or (at the other end of the scale) diarrhea.
If you experience such symptoms for no obvious reason, you should see a doctor sooner rather than later to see if the cause could be psychological rather than physiological.
Stress and Your Weight
One of the most visible ways that stress can affect your health is through weight gain. Research published in the Biological Psychiatry Journal suggests that everyday stressors can cause your body to metabolize substances slower, which means you burn fewer calories throughout the day.
According to the National Health Service, obesity and even simply being overweight have been linked to a myriad of health concerns, including type 2 diabetes, coronary heart disease, certain kinds of cancers, and strokes. To avoid these things, there is one clear course of action: look for the signs of stress and start taking the steps to control it.
What Are The Signs of Stress?
We all experience some form of stress from time to time. Mental and physical problems arise when this occasional “acute” stress turns into long-term “chronic” stress. Learning to spot the signs of stress could help you keep it in check. According to the Mental Health Foundation, we should be looking out for the following signs of stress:
Some of the physical manifestations of stress are headaches, sickness, and indigestion. You may also experience weight loss or gain. While all these things could be symptomatic of something else, it could be worth consulting with a doctor if you experience a combination of these physical changes.
Stress will impact your mental state. You could find yourself becoming irritable, inflexible, short-tempered, or snapping at people. Stress can also be linked to a lack of sleep and (subsequently) difficulty concentrating. Seek some help if this becomes the norm rather than the exception.
Similar to the mental changes, stress can wreak havoc with your emotional state, and you could start feeling anxious, fearful, frustrated, angry, or sad for no apparent reason. Search for some professional answers if your feelings lead you to be oversensitive and emotional.
Out-of-control emotions can lead to unusual behavior, such as becoming overly reliant on substances such as caffeine, alcohol, or other drugs. Changes to your appetite and sleep patterns could also indicate an issue. Be aware of how you usually – or used to – behave, and ask for advice if anyone tells you you’re not acting like “you.”
3 Simple Tips for Reducing Stress
Having determined if you are susceptible to stress or are already stressed (as if you didn’t know), are you ready to reduce your stress? Many of the stress tests we’ve listed come with recommendations on how to keep your stress in check. Here are a few stress safety tips that you can include in your stress management toolkit:
Keep a Journal: It can help to write things down. So, if you’re experiencing a broad range of emotions and struggling to cope, buy a notebook to try journaling. Research from the University of Rochester suggests that spending ten minutes per day jotting down how you feel can help lower stress, relieve anxiety, and allow you to better cope with depression.
Exercise: Don’t discount the power of exercise. Physical activity causes your body to produce powerful endorphins. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, these hormones can help you sleep and (in turn) lower your stress levels. Whether hitting the gym or simply walking to work, try to incorporate regular exercise into your daily life.
Talk to Your Friends: When you’re stressed out, it can feel as though the whole world is against you, which is certainly not the case. Take the time to express how you feel to the people around you. Opening up about your struggles might mean you get some extra social support, clarity on the situation, and advice from the people who matter the most.
The Final Takeaway
Here’s our takeaway to help take away your stress:
If you experience stress in your own life – like most of us do – or you know other people who are stressed, you should take the time to make a positive change. This could include getting involved with events or simply talking to those around you about this important subject.
Stress Awareness Month is an opportunity to start some serious conversations about stress, but you shouldn’t stop talking about it when April has come and gone.
Stress Awareness Month: https://stressawarenessmonth.com
The American Institute of Stress: https://www.stress.org/
Anxiety and Depression Association of America: https://adaa.org/
Harvard Health, Articles on Stress: https://www.health.harvard.edu/topics/stress