Stress Awareness Month 2021
April is Stress Awareness Month, a good time to reflect on the relationship between your habits and your health.
Stress is our body’s physiological response to pressure, tension, trauma, and/or anxiety. Everyone has moments where they feel high-amounts of stress in their lives, because our bodies need some degree of stress to react to potentially dangerous stimuli. For example, if you’re out walking and encounter a copperhead snake, it’s the stress response that compels you to move out its way so you don’t get bitten.
With the COVID-19 pandemic changing our lives this past year, our stress responses have certainly been taxed like never before. Worries about job loss, our loved ones’ health, our own health, and the extra responsibilities involved while in the presence of other people add up. Even with hope on the horizon thanks to the available vaccines, the increased stress over such a long stretch of time won’t resolve itself overnight—and neither will the side effects.
Stress becomes problematic to your health when it doesn’t go away. A prolonged stress response can lead to anxiety, a much more prevailing (and often irrational) manifestation of stress with numerous potentially damaging side effects.
We know all too well what stress looks like, both as ER staffers and as patients ourselves. The first step to managing stress is becoming aware of it. Once we understand the underlying causes of stress, we can develop habits that allow us to cope with stressful situations without carrying that stress into other areas of our lives.
Recognizing Stress and Associated Health Hazards
Prolonged and unaddressed stress causes multiple negative effects to your mental and physical health alike, and understanding its effects on your body helps you recognize when it becomes a problem in your life.
Untreated stress increases your risk of suffering the following conditions:
- Rapid weight gain due to overeating
- Rapid weight loss due to undereating
- Panic attacks
- Muscle tension and/or pain
- Stomach pain, including acid reflux
- Loss of sleep
- Difficulty falling asleep
- Diminished motivation
- Cardiac problems
It’s important to note that not all stressed-out people will experience all of these side effects at once. Some peoples’ response to stress may include other physiological and mental factors not listed here.
Every body is different, and every body reacts to stress differently. It may take some trial and error for you to recognize how stress impacts you specifically. If you’re concerned that stress may play a part in harming your mental or physical well-being, speak with a medical professional. Together, you can work on a plan that addresses your own unique circumstances to get you back on a healthier, happier track.
How to Manage Stress
Managing stress in a healthy, sustainable way requires a two-pronged approach:
- relieving the symptoms, and
- addressing the underlying causes.
Stress is, at its core, a sickness. Seeking comfort for symptoms won’t make the origin point go away, but it’s still necessary to find respite wherever you’re able. Whether you choose to approach the problem yourself or with the guidance of a doctor and/or mental health professional, it helps to recognize what strategies work best for different situations.
Ways to Relieve Symptoms of Stress
- Doing yoga
- Relaxing breathing exercises
- Scheduling breaks
- Minimizing caffeine consumption
- Minimizing alcohol intake
- Eating a healthy, well-balanced diet
- Staying hydrated
- Practicing self-massage, or scheduling with a masseuse
- Avoiding electronics before bedtime (the lighting can disrupt your circadian rhythm)
- Spending time with pets and loved ones
- Journaling your feelings
- Listening to relaxing music
- Engaging in hobbies
Ways to Address Underlying Causes of Stress
- Regular appointments with a counselor, psychologist, or psychiatrist
- Attending support groups
- Redrawing personal boundaries
- Changing stressors in your environment
- Leaving said environment if the stressors become too overwhelming
- Reprioritizing your responsibilities
- Reconsidering your relationships
Again, it may take some time before you realize which methods work best for you. Have patience with yourself as you learn. Getting frustrated will only compound your stress, not alleviate it. Remember to be kind to yourself.
Helping You Stress Less
Our medical team knows the toll that stress can cause if ignored. We encourage you and your loved ones to take action and prevent problems before they grow too overwhelming. Stress is a multifaceted problem with multifaceted solutions. If you have any questions about how to reduce your stress and take charge of your health, please feel free to contact us by phone at 281-576-0555 or send us a message online. We’re here to help.