~ by Richard Sgaglio
Stress Awareness Month has been recognized every April since 1992, but this year it seems particularly important. Although with COVID-19 vaccinations here, some of the stress associated with the pandemic may be dissipating – or at least we can hope.
Learning to cope with our stress and finding healthy ways to deal with these situations can go a long way in living a healthy and productive life.
What Causes Stress?
We all experience stress—at any age and throughout life. You may be stressed about work, school, kids, money, your relationship, life changes, a health issue, or something else. The right amount of stress, like a looming deadline, can be motivating and just what you need to get energized. But too much stress can affect your health and well-being and can cause symptoms such as sleep problems, stomach aches, headaches, irritability, and feeling anxious, to name a few.
A 2022 article in Forbes Health lists money as the biggest cause of stress for Americans. A whopping 72% of those surveyed stated that money worries was their single biggest stressor in life. These were followed by job pressures, overall health, relationships and poor nutrition.
Affecting More Than Just Our Mind
Long-term stress can prove to be more than just a mental issue. From headaches to stomach disorders to depression – even very serious issues, like stroke and heart disease, can manifest as a result of stress.
When you are placed in a stressful situation, specific stress hormones rush into your bloodstream leading to an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels. This is helpful in emergency situations, but having this “rush” for extended periods of time can be dangerous. Stress can also make existing problems worse according to the Institute for Behavioral Medicine Research. In one study conducted, for example, approximately half the participants saw improvements in chronic headaches after learning how to stop the stress-producing habit of “catastrophizing,” or constantly thinking negative thoughts about their pain.
Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or the overeating, drinking, smoking, and other bad habits people use to cope with stress. Job stress is associated with an increased risk of coronary disease, for example. Other forms of chronic stress, such as depression and low levels of social support, have also been shown to put us at increased cardiovascular risk.
Know When to Seek Help
If you’re not sure if stress is the cause of your health issues, see your doctor. He or she may want to check for other potential causes. Or, consider seeing a professional counselor or therapist, who can help you identify sources of your stress and teach you new coping tools.
If you have chest pain, especially if it occurs during physical activity or is accompanied by shortness of breath, sweating, dizziness, nausea, or pain in your shoulder and arm, get emergency help immediately—these may be warning signs of a heart attack and not simply stress symptoms.
Don’t Waste Time on Issues You Cannot Change
Sometimes the stress in our lives is not something we have the power to change – it is during these times that Federal Occupational Health recommends you change your approach to situations.
- Recognize when you don’t have control of an issue and let it go.
- Avoid getting anxious about situations that you cannot change.
- Take control of your reactions and focus your mind on something that makes you feel calm and in control.
- Develop a vision for healthy living, wellness, and personal growth, and set realistic goals to achieve them.
Tips for coping with your stress
The CDC provides some basic ideas to help you cope with stress:
- Take care of yourself – eat healthy, exercise regularly, get plenty of sleep, give yourself a break if you feel stressed.
- Discuss your problems with a parent, friend, or another person you trust.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol or other behaviors that may be abused or used to numb feelings.
- Recognize when you need more help – know when to talk to a psychologist, social worker, or counselor if things continue.
For resources to help facilitate a discussion about stress, see the “Tips” section on this CDC webpage.
And, be kind! A little kindness seems to go a long way in helping reduce 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, we could reduce stress all round.
Stress is a part of life and nothing we can do can completely block it out or make it go away. However, the way we deal with our stress can make all the difference. This April, take a look at how you deal with your stress levels and learn ways to reduce its impact on your life. You’ll be glad you did.
The information in the above article is not intended nor implied to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition.