Since 1992 The Health Resource Network (HRN) has sponsored Stress Awareness Month in April, with National Stress Awareness Day observed on April 16th. Stress affects all of us, so take this time to learn how to identify your stressors and familiarize yourself with the tools for coping with stress.
Kinds of Stress
There are two forms of stress: acute and chronic. We all face acute stress each day – from the traffic on the way to work to the realization that you didn’t prepare for tonight’s dinner. Acute stress is highly treatable and manageable.
Acute stress can even be exciting (remember your first roller coaster?). Stress initiates our fight or flight response, sending chemicals through our brains and bodies that help us react. For example, think about the last time you were in a car and someone cut you off. How did your body feel? What was your physical reaction? How about verbal reaction? This is stress triggering your fight or flight response.
When stress becomes frequent and negative, it is known as chronic stress. This kind of stress takes a toll on our bodies. Chronic stress can raise blood pressure, increase heart rate, cause stomach problems and headaches, and the development of feelings of anger, anxiety, or depression. Eating habits may become poor, substance use may increase, and physical activity may decline.
Addressing chronic stress may be challenging, especially when stress is associated with poverty, chronic health problems, abuse, or other potentially traumatic life situations.
What to do?
Reflect and recognize your stressors
Take an account of your stressors. What makes your heart jump? Is it your alarm each morning, your commute, or perhaps that assignment you cannot find the time to get around to? What keeps you up at night? Are you frequently trying to fall asleep but notice you’re playing out the day’s events in your head or mentally preparing for the next day? How are these stressors impacting you? If you’re unsure, try taking a quick screening.
Ask for help
Some stress can be managed individually, but when stress becomes too much, ask for help. This doesn’t necessarily mean professional treatment, but simply seeking out a supportive friend or family member to talk to or to ask for help with your specific stressors.
For me, trash night was stressful – trying to get all the cans emptied and the trash to the curb after cleaning up dinner and preparing two kids for bed. If the trash didn’t get out, it meant a race to beat the garbage truck in the early morning. To help with that stress, I’ve recruited my four year old to help. His excitement for the task makes it fun and it has cut down the time the chore takes, which eliminates the stress of the responsibility.
While at a conference years ago, I heard a proverb that went something like this: ‘If you are too busy to meditate for twenty minutes a day, you should meditate for an hour each day.’ The more stress you have, the more time you should spend re-energizing.
Taking time to calm your body through relaxation reduces the impact of daily stressors. Try out a few techniques to find out what works best for you, such as:
- Consider a popular clinical approach, progressive muscle relaxation, which guides you through tensing and releasing muscles in your body
- Try a few breathing techniques when you get in your car or once you arrive home after a long day. You can even try it out while commuting on the train.
- Head outside, look around at architecture or nature. If you have allergies, try virtual reality (VR) to achieve similar effects without the sneezing.
- Make mindfulness a work event thanks to Jefferson University Hospitals.
Stress can hold us still through indecision, anger, or substance use, but as the saying goes, “an object in motion will stay in motion.” When we use stress to improve, it is beneficial; but when stress holds us back, we need to take action. Find fun activities to increase physical fitness and release beneficial chemicals in your body that combat stress.
- Take a walk during lunch
- Get dirty in the garden
- Find a low-cost yoga class
- Take the stairs instead of the elevator
- Play or dance with your kids
- Use the City of Philadelphia’s Parks & Recreation finder
- Take part in an activity you once enjoyed as a kid
As an instructor for Mental Health First Aid I encouraged people to reconnect with activities they once enjoyed. One day I took that advice and played hockey for the first time in over 10 years. Reconnecting with hockey introduced me to new people and has encouraged additional healthy behaviors.
Stress Awareness Month is a reminder that we all face stress each day, so use this time to learn relaxation techniques, improve relationships, get active, and connect with your community. We can beat stress with self-care, taking action, and recognizing when we need help.
If you need help managing your stress and mental health, contact CBH at 888-545-2600.
Author: Dave Monico, MPH