Since 1992, the month of April has been observed as “Stress Awareness Month.”
With the added stress of dealing with a second year of Covid-19 on top of the daily stresses we regularly face, now is a good time to take note of exactly what stress is, how it can impact us physically, mentally and emotionally, and how we can best manage or reduce stress in our lives.
The American Institute of Stress defines stress as tension that can negatively affect our physical, mental or emotional well-being. When people experience various levels of stressful events, some of their common reactions may include:
*Disbelief, shock and numbness.
*Feeling sad, frustrated or helpless.
*Difficulty concentrating and making decisions.
*Headaches, back pain or stomach problems.
*Smoking or the use of alcohol and drugs.
Left unchecked, stress can result in some significant long-term physical and emotional consequences. Among them are frequent headaches, stomach and related digestive disorders, depression, stroke and heart disease.
The Cleveland Clinic provides some of the common examples of how to recognize stress and become more aware of what it can do to our overall state of health. Among the most common symptoms of what stress can do to us physically are:
*The onset of aches and pains.
*Chest pain or feeling like your heart is racing.
*Exhaustion or trouble sleeping.
*Headaches, dizziness or shaking.
*High blood pressure.
*Muscle tension or jar clenching.
*Trouble having sex.
*A weakened immune system.
Dr. Lauren Moak, MD, Family Medicine Practitioner with Brevard Health Alliance, outlines three suggestions to help manage stress.
Focus on gratitude: write three things daily that you’re grateful for. Keep them in a journal, or share them with a friend or loved one
Get moving: research shows that exercise can lower stress levels and increase levels of hormones that help you feel calm and happy. Plus, it can counteract the negative effects of stress on your body. Start with just 10-15 minutes a few times a week. You could try walking, biking, or swimming ; you could play a sport with your kids or friends; you could check out yoga or dance videos on Youtube and follow along. Find something that you enjoy, which will make it more sustainable.
Talk to someone: seeking help through counseling is a great way to learn tools to manage stressors when they come up, and help you work through the ones that are already affecting you. BHA has an awesome team of mental health professionals that you can meet with both in clinic or via televisit.
Moak added that adults are not the only ones who suffer from stress and provides some examples of what parents and adult supervisors should monitor in children and young people.
“Frequent and unexplained abdominal pains and headaches, reluctance to attend school, missing assignments and slipping grades, along with lack of engagement in tasks at home and substance abuse are some of the signals to look for,” she said.
Moak, who treats both adult and pediatric patients, suggests a healthy diet, complete with fruits and vegetables while absent of sugar, caffeine and highly processed foods, are other measures to reduce stress levels.
And she encourages those dealing with stress to understand they need not deal with stress in a vacuum.
“You don’t have to deal with stress alone! Anyone experiencing stress can reach out to BHA’s medical and mental health team for support at any time. That said, it is especially important to reach out for help if you have any thoughts about wanting to end your life, self-harm, or suicide, or of violence towards others.
“If you have symptoms or stress, anxiety or depression that last more than 2 weeks straight, or if you notice yourself having a progressively harder time trying to get out of bed or leave the house, seek help as soon as possible so it doesn’t get worse. Also pay attention to how your stress is affecting your family and loved ones. It may be helpful to try counseling together as a family.”