Stress Awareness Month
Posted by Christy Karr on Apr 22, 2020
Stress levels are up throughout America. Even without recent events in the news, 44 percent of Americans reported increased stress levels over the past five years, according to a 2011 report from the American Psychological Association. That level has only increased as time has passed, and especially with the addition of a global pandemic and forced soft quarantines across the country. Stress impacts people’s health and well-being, causing increased sickness and psychological distress.
April is Stress Awareness Month, and with this month comes opportunities to learn more about what causes you stress, and how you can lessen stress in your life. By taking control of your stress levels, and learning to smile just a bit more, you can make your life significantly more pleasant.
Understanding the Negative Impacts of Stress
Before discussing what you can do to improve your stress levels, you should first understand the negative impacts of stress on your health and wellness.
According to the Mayo Clinic, stress has a direct impact on your health. If left unchecked, it can contribute to high blood pressure and heart disease. It also increases your risk for obesity and Type 2 diabetes. All of these increase your risk of complications from the current global pandemic.
Some signs that stress is having this negative effect on you include:
- Muscle tension
- Chest pain
- Sleep problems
Stress also impacts your mood. You may feel restless or anxious, be prone to angry outbursts, or find your eating habits changing.
Clearly stress has negative effects on your body. Finding practical stress management techniques is critical, not just for your comfort, but also for your health.
Practical Ways to Reduce Stress
While getting a massage or taking a week-long vacation may reduce your stress levels, these aren’t practical stress management techniques for all times of life, especially during a global crisis or times when you’re trying to save money. This April during Stress Awareness Month, look for easier ways to reduce your stress. Here are some practical ideas.
- Get Some Exercise
Stress creates increased adrenaline and cortisol levels in your body. These need a release, or the negative effects of stress start to build. Exercise helps you release and metabolize these hormones in a healthy manner.
Exercise doesn’t have to mean a trip to the gym. You can take a walk outside and get the same benefit. A simple workout video streamed online can do the same if the weather is poor. Look for physical activity every day to improve your mood and lower your stress levels.
Sometimes it’s hard to sleep when you feel stressed, but lack of sleep will create more problems. In order to encourage better sleep habits, try to relax in the hours before bed. Rather than working until bedtime, find some ways to de-stress in the hour before you head to bed. Limit screen use and do not bring your phone to bed with you. Read a book instead, and you may have an easier time falling asleep.
- Write It Down
Keeping a stress diary can help you pinpoint what in your life might be causing you stress. Write down the date, time, and place of stress-inducing events. Then, note how you rate the stress. Soon you will have a record of events that are making you stressed, and can take measures to avoid those events that you are able to avoid to better cope with stress levels.
- Practice Mindfulness
Mindfulness uses measures to anchor you to the present. Meditation, yoga, and cognitive therapy can all help you increase mindfulness in your life. Mindfulness helps you combat anxiety by focusing on what is real and true, which can transform negative thinking and, in turn, reduce your stress levels.
- Get More Physical Touch
Hugs, kisses, and cuddles actually reduce stress. Grab your kids or your significant other for a cuddle session. It lowers your blood pressure and heart rate, which, in turn, lowers your stress levels. You can get a similar response by spending time petting a dog or cat. Positive physical contact actually lowers cortisol levels and releases the happy hormone oxytocin.
- Crank up the Tunes
Soothing music has a relaxing effect on the body. Peppy music can energize you and prepare you for exercise. Choose carefully, because intense music can actually create a stress response, but find some soothing or peppy options to help relax your body and reduce your stress levels. If music isn’t your thing, listening to nature sounds can help.
- Practice Deep Breathing
Deep breathing activates the parasympathetic part of your nervous system. This part is responsible for your relaxation response. To practice deep breathing, sit in a quiet place and breathe in slowly through your nose until your lungs are fully expanded and your belly rises. Then, breathe out slowly in the same manner, pushing out all of the air. Repeat a few times until you feel calm and focused.
- Manage Your Time
Learn to manage your time effectively. If your “to-do” list feels overwhelming, it will add to your stress. Often writing down what you need to accomplish, and when you will accomplish it, will actually make you feel less stressed or overwhelmed. It will also show you if you need to say “no” to a few responsibilities.
Stress is a normal part of life. It is your body’s natural way of defending against perceived danger. However, chronic stress has a negative effect on your health. By practicing these ways to reduce stress, you will be able to enjoy life better. So stress less, smile more, as we enter Stress Awareness Month.