Stress Awareness Month has been recognized every April since 1992, but this year it seems particularly important. Adapting to enormous shifts and worries brought on by COVID-19 has taken a toll on all of us.
According to The American Institute of Stress, about 33% of people report feeling extreme stress, 77% are experience stress that affects their physical health, and 73% have stress that impacts their mental health.
First things first, what exactly is stress?
Our bodies are biologically designed to trigger a series of adaptations to help mobilize its resources to deal with threatening circumstances. When faced with danger or acute stress, the body’s sympathetic nervous system is activated by the sudden release of hormones. The sympathetic nervous system then stimulates the adrenal glands, triggering the release of catecholamines (including adrenaline and noradrenaline).
This chain of reactions results in an increase in heart rate, blood pressure, and breathing rate.
This “fight-or-flight” represents the choices that our ancient ancestors had when faced with danger in their environment. They could either fight or flee.
When a person has long-term (chronic) stress, continued activation of the stress response causes wear and tear on the body. Physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms can develop, including:
- Aches and pains
- Chest pain or a feeling like your heart is racing
- Exhaustion or trouble sleeping
- Headaches, dizziness or shaking
- High blood pressure
- Muscle tension or jaw clenching
- Stomach or digestive problems
- Trouble having sex
- Weak immune system
- Anxiety or irritability
- Panic attacks
Put simply, it’s critically important to control and manage our stress levels.
So take this month to practice these six stress-managing solutions and form some healthy habits for your future.
6 Stress Managing Solutions
Study after study shows that engaging in physical activity helps reduce stress levels and improve mood, while sedentary behavior may lead to increased stress, poor mood, and sleep disturbances.
Eating a diet full of fresh, whole foods helps the body combat stress naturally, while sugary foods and caffeine incite stress. Focus on eating a balanced diet of protein, fruits, vegetables and healthy fat.
Get Your Sleep
Missing sleep or disturbed sleep makes it difficult to deal with stressful situations and can increase anxiety and depression. Strive to get at least 7 hours of sleep regularly.
Minimize Screen Time
Multiple studies have linked excessive smartphone use with increased levels of stress and mental disorders. Too much screen time in general is associated with lower psychological well-being and increased stress levels in both adults and kids. Put down the phone and go for a walk or to the gym.
Being social and part of a community is an innate need for humans. This gives us a support system, reinforcement, resources to learn from and guidance. Without it, we can easily become stressed and depressed. Make sure you are getting your fair share of socializing and human interaction.
Taking on too much causes mental and physical stress immediately. Create boundaries and parameters for yourself as a form of self-care and you’ll reap all kinds of benefits. It’s often hard to say no, but making it a habit is important for your wellbeing.