April is Stress Awareness Month — a time where mental health professionals campaign to increase our understanding of stress and how to improve our stress-coping skills. Stress Awareness Month was launched in 1992 in response to the growing rate of chronic stress in America.
This year, Stress Awareness Month comes at a time when most people around the world are experiencing unprecedented levels of significant life stress. Job loss, financial strain and the risk of yourself and loved ones falling ill is raising collective anxiety levels and taking a toll on mental health. Stress-management isn’t just about your mental wellness — it also affects your physical health.
To help guide our customers through these difficult times,we’ve created this guide to assessing and coping with personal stress. Here is the four-step process for developing your stress-management toolkit.
It’s important to note thatstress and anxiety are different things. If you are experiencing high or persistent levels of anxiety or depression, and these symptoms are affecting your daily life, consider speaking with a mental health professional to advise on specific coping skills for your unique situation.
Stress Awareness Month was launched in 1992 in response to the growing epidemic of chronic stress in America. Though our wealth, opportunity and accessibility to health care have grown substantially in the last 100 years, our collective mental well-being and happiness levels have dropped. While there are different theories as to why, the fact remains that over 75 percent of adult Americans are experiencing chronic stress symptoms. According to the American Psychological Association’s 2019Stress in America Survey, nearly half of us have severe sleep disturbances due to stress.
Chronic stress is not just devastating to our emotional health, but it also puts us at an increased risk of developing chronic diseases. Heart disease, asthma, diabetes and cancer are all correlated with higher levels of stress.With these stressful times upon us, it’s as important as ever to prioritize our mental and physical health practices.
Understanding the nature of stress is essential to overcoming its grip on life. Mental health experts suggest that stress is a vicious circle — the more stressed you are, the more difficult it is to do stress-relieving activities, likeexercise andrelaxation techniques. The less we do these things, the more stressed we become. Learning how to interrupt this vicious circle is essential to living a better quality of life.
From family to work to our uncertainty about the future, there’s plenty to be stressed about. Stress is inevitable, but our ability to identify key causes of stress in our lives and learn healthy coping skills can increase our life satisfaction.
It is possible to change the way we deal with stress, but it takes time, commitment and the right tools. Let’s walk through the steps of putting together your stress-management toolkit.
For many, theeffects of stress are so widespread that they’re difficult to identify — they’ve become a way of life.According to the Mayo Clinic, it’s possible to experience chronic symptoms but attribute them to illness when they might actually be caused by stress. Some of the common effects of stress include:
In addition to the physical effects of stress, there are also behavioral signs to watch for. Irritability, sudden angry outbursts and lacking the motivation to do the things you normally enjoy can indicate that you’re overloaded.
Spend time thinking about how stress affects your life. List some of the ways that stress impacts not just your health but your self-esteem too. Next, think about how your life might improve if you didn’t carry a heavy stress burden. Think about the ripple effect of how your stress impacts those around you, like your family, friends and co-workers.
Get clear on what’s causing you stress. Stressors are the triggering events that cause stress effects. These could bework-related stressors like reduced income or job loss.Or they could be personal challenges such as caring for aging parents or the inevitable stress of raising a family.
Once you’ve identified your stressors, notice the physical and mental symptoms they produce. Scan your body for signs like muscle tension and quickened heart rate, and observe the thoughts running through your mind. This process is like stress-training — you’re conditioning yourself to associate stressors with negative symptoms. Practice non-judgmental self-awareness, which allows you to see your stress cycles without getting caught up in them.
The more awareness you develop about your personal experience with stress, the more you can take control and develop healthy coping skills.
Being aware of and having a way to track your stress is helpful in behavior-change. Keep a daily or weekly log of your stress. Note the triggering events, the thoughts and physical sensations you felt and any outcomes from the stressful event.
Over time, as you record your stressors, you can become more aware of the ways in which you naturally deal with stress. Monitoring your stress can help you make smarter decisions about your health and well-being. If you know a particular type of work or commitment triggers stress, you can identify ways to either limit that stress or prepare for it.
Not all stress is bad, so managing stress isn’t about eliminating it. Rather, it’s about how to better handle it when it does arise. There are two broad ways to deal with stress — directly and indirectly. Direct stress-coping skills address the underlying cause of stress. Skills like time management, organization, assertiveness and asking for help can directly improve many of life’s situations.
Indirect stress-coping skills help you feel better despite your stress. Regular exercise has provenbenefits for relieving stress and improving our ability to cope. Physical activity gives you more energy and improvessleep quality, which helps build your resilience to stress. Other indirect stress-coping tools include spending time in nature, regularly engaging in social activity and taking time to relax every day.
Remember that skills aren’t built overnight. Your ability to cope with and manage stress is a process that takes time. A lot of stress-coping has to do with fundamental life habits — sleep, diet and exercise, as well as engaging in your community and taking time to do the things you enjoy.
If you think you need support dealing with a particularly significant life event, you can seek mental health services. Talking to someone who is a trained listener can help you feel understood and allow you to see your situation with a fresh perspective.
Stress-management requires a multi-dimensional approach. Not only do you need to practice self-awareness, but you also need the right tools to tackle your stress. Stress-relieving solutions should help relieve physical tension, slow down mental chatter and boost your mood and energy levels. Taking time for daily relaxation is key to offsetting stress.
Relax The Back has wellness solutions that encourage relaxation to relieve stress. Our stress solutions are designed to address total body wellness — a calm body means a calm mind (and vice versa). Here are some suggested solutions to add to your stress-management toolkit: