Stress Awareness Month
Author: be well™ with Big Y® Registered Dietitian Team
April is National Stress Awareness Month. Not all stress is the same from one day to the next, or person to person. What matters most is being aware of when a little bit of enjoyable stress becomes a whole lot of detrimental stress. Learn more about the impact stress can have on your health and ways to weave in opportunities to offset any excess you may be feeling.
What Happens When You’re Stressed?
When you are stressed, regardless what the cause is, you react physically. Specifically, your heart rate, blood pressure, respiration and muscle tension increases. If left untreated, living in a constant state of stress could lead to digestion, sleeping, psychological and immune system problems. Therefore, your long-term health depends on the ability to cope with both daily stress and stressful events.
For a concise rundown, the American Psychological Society offers a complete breakdown of how stress impacts your body, system by system, in the “Stress Effects on the Body” article on their website.
Solutions to Managing Stress
When you’re feeling overwhelmed by the amount of stress you feel, what are you to do? The ups and downs of life happen and there's no way around it. How you react to the curve balls (and opportunities) of life is within your control.
There are a number of ways to help relieve the stressors of your life, but it all depends on what you like and what works best for you.
Here are ideas to get you started in feeling more balanced…which ones speak to you?
Talk to Someone When Feeling Stressed
Whether it's a counselor, psychologist, friend, family member or favorite pet, being able to express yourself verbally for the different situations you find yourself in may feel therapeutic. Plus "talking it out" could bring you to solutions you otherwise may find yourself avoiding…and thereby ending up feeling even more stressed.
Laugh the Stress Out
Sometimes a good laugh can provide all the relief in the world. Hence, the saying “If I didn't laugh, I would cry." Attend a comedy show, watch movies that tickle your fancy or read works from your favorite comedic and/or satire authors.
Let the Stress Roll Off You
What's the point in being uptight and serious all of the time? Act silly and have fun. Do you think of your life as a journey or merely an attempt to reach a better destination? If you take simple pleasures in everyday silliness, you just may find yourself enjoying life a bit more.
Relaxation is a Practice
For many, especially after living through the pandemic, letting go and trying to relax may feel like yet another “to do” missed on your checklist. What if you take the “should” or “do” out of the equation and simply practice relaxing…over and over again until it becomes your norm?
There are many wonderful ways we can practice relaxing- breathing exercises, hypnosis, massage therapy, meditation, journaling, visualization and imagery, energy work, yoga, tai chi, forest bathing and Qigong are just a few!
Cultivate Mindfulness with a New Hobby
Hobbies that allow you to express yourself, burn off steam, or both, are excellent for your personal growth as well as reducing stress. From dancing and singing to pottery making and (finally!) learning how to play that ukulele—the choice is yours. Pouring your energy into your own emotional bucket and expanding your skills is an awesome way to weave a mindfulness practice into your days without officially setting out to.
Sleep the Worries Away
It may seem so arbitrary to say, but constantly burning the midnight oil can have serious effect on your ability to cope with stress, let alone maintain your health. Aim for an average of 7-9 hours of shuteye each night to help your body unwind, recover and rebuild from the day's events.
Get Social Offline
Get out of your own bubble and expand your social support network! Although many of the ideas listed above can be done alone, opening yourself up to opportunities of friendship with old and new acquaintances, creates even more prospects for laughing, practicing hobbies, talking and being playful. Plus, research shows being in friendship may be one of the MOST beneficial behaviors for longevity and vitality.1
1 Mineo, L. Health & Medicine: Good genes are nice, but joy is better. The Harvard Gazette. https://news.harvard.edu/gazette/story/2017/04/over-nearly-80-years-harvard-study-has-been-showing-how-to-live-a-healthy-and-happy-life/. Accessed 3/24/23.