Stress Awareness Month has been held every April, since 1992. During this annual thirty-day period, health care professionals and health promotion experts across the country will join forces to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.
Stress can have effects on your mental health, physical health and emotional well-being. Although there is no medical term for stress, stress is very common and affects everyone in some capacity. From everyday routine stress, and stress brought on by sudden negative changes to traumatic stress, all types of stress can affect individuals in different capacities and different severities. Stress in the workplace, stress from relationships and family, financial stress, the stress of a move, lack of sleep, and a life transition such as a new baby, a divorce or a death can all affect an individual. Although some of these stressors can be unavoidable, the way an individual copes with stress can affect the outcome. Individuals who have a strong support system and who practice positive coping skills have a better chance of overcoming negative stressful situations compared to individuals who self
-sabotage and who only focus on their negative stressors instead of positive solutions.
How stress can affect the body
Mental and emotional stress can be carried out in physical forms resulting in headaches, muscle aches and gastrointestinal symptoms. Physical exhaustion is also closely linked to mental, and when many individuals experience burn out at work, they will often be tired and more susceptible to getting sick. When we are experiencing emotional turmoil, either at work or in our personal lives, our cortisol levels are sky high which puts our bodies under stress. High levels of cortisol enable us to work under pressure for a short amount of time but over time our bodies become depleted of energy and our immune systems become weakened.
Our brain is a muscle in the sense that it requires energy in the form of food and rest in the form of sleep. When we over exercise our bodies, our muscles become sore, and as a result, we are at risk for injuries such as shin splints and torn ligaments. Our brain, although not technically a muscle, is not different and can be overworked when we neglect our bodies by eating poorly, engaging in negative social interactions or not obtaining adequate sleep on a nightly basis. Health problems can occur if the stress response goes on for too long or becomes chronic, such as when the source of stress is constant, or if the response continues after the danger has subsided. With chronic stress, those same life-saving responses in your body can suppress immune functions, digestion, sleep cycles, and reproductive systems, which may cause them to stop working normally. Individuals who are under chronic mental or emotional stress are more likely to have high blood pressure, heart disease, “obesity”, diabetes, stroke, gastritis, reflux, skin and hair problems, sexual dysfunction and mental health disorder such as anxiety and depression.
Stress is a part of life. What matters most is how you handle it. The best thing you can do to prevent stress overload and the health consequences that come with it is to know your stress symptoms and learn how to avoid and manage them in a healthy way. The following are healthy ways to manage stress:
Prioritize what must get done and what can wait
- Set realistic goals
- Exercise daily
- Eat a healthy balanced diet
- Sleep 8-10 hours a night
- Form healthy positive relationships
- Engage in an activity that makes you happy
- Stay connected with people
- Learn your stress triggers
- Avoid negative people and situations
- Get comfortable spending time alone to help you “reset”