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    National Stress Awareness Month: April 2023

    April 17, 2023

    April is recognized as National Stress Awareness Month. The month was founded to bring attention to the negative impact of stress and promote stress management techniques. Managing stress is an essential component of a healthy lifestyle. Knowing how to manage stress can improve mental and physical well-being as well as minimize the likelihood of developing stress-related health conditions like high blood pressure and becoming overweight. National Stress Awareness Month is a great time to reflect on the many ways in which stress affects our health and wellbeing. This blog will discuss some of the major signs of stress, what we should know about how our body reacts to stress, and what we should avoid in order to manage our stress levels.

    What exactly is stress?

    Stress is how we react when we feel under pressure or threatened. It usually happens when we are in a situation that we don't feel we can manage or control. Sometimes, a small amount of stress can help us to complete tasks and feel more energized. But stress can become a problem when it lasts for a long time or is very intense. In some cases, stress can affect our physical and mental health. There are 3 main categories of stress:

    • Acute stress happens within a few minutes to a few hours of an event. It lasts for a short period of time, usually less than a few weeks, and is very intense. It can happen after an upsetting or unexpected event. For example, this could be a sudden bereavement, assault or natural disaster.
    • Chronic stress lasts for a long period of time or keeps coming back. You might experience this if you are under lots of pressure a lot of the time. You might also feel chronic stress if your day-to-day life is difficult, for example if you are a carer or if you live in poverty.
    • Episodic acute stress is when a person experiences acute stress frequently. If you have episodic acute stress, you may feel like you are always under pressure or that things are always going wrong. This can be exhausting, both physically and mentally.

    There are many ways we can experience stress in our daily lives: as an individual, for example when you have lots of responsibilities that you are struggling to manage. You can experience stress as part of a group, if your family is going through a difficult time, such as bereavement or financial problems. Stress can also happen due to your community, such as belonging to a religious group that is experiencing discrimination. And simply as a member of society, natural disasters or events like the coronavirus pandemic can make stress prominent amongst anyone.

    What are the warning signs of stress?

    Stress can affect our emotions, our body, and how we behave in lots of different ways. Sometimes when we are stressed, we might be able to tell right away. But at other times, we might keep going without recognising the signs. The hormones that our bodies produce to respond to stressful situations can have many physical effects. These effects might include:

    • Difficulty breathing
    • Panic attacks
    • Blurred eyesight or sore eyes
    • Sleep problems
    • Muscle aches, headaches, and fatigue
    • Chest pains and high blood pressure
    • Indigestion or heartburn
    • Constipation or diarrhea
    • Feeling sick, dizzy or fainting
    • Rapid weight gain or weight loss
    • Developing rashes or itchy skin
    • Overeating or not eating enough

    With high levels of stress, these physical effects can get worse. This can also happen if you experience stress for a long period of time. In some cases, stress may cause more severe or long-term physical health problems including high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes; especially if the stress is left unmanaged. 

    How does stress affect the body?

    If you're constantly under stress, you can have physical symptoms, such as headaches, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and problems with sex and sleep. Stress can also lead to emotional problems, depression, panic attacks, or other forms of anxiety and worry. If you feel stressed, it might make you:

    • Struggle to make decisions
    • Unable to concentrate
    • Constantly worry or have feelings of dread
    • Snap at people
    • Bite your nails
    • Pick at or itch your skin
    • Grind your teeth or clench your jaw
    • Eat too much or too little
    • Smoke, use recreational drugs or drink alcohol more than you usually would
    • Restless, like you can't sit still
    • Cry or feel tearful
    • Not exercise as much as you usually would, or exercise too much

    How can I reduce stress?

    While there is no easy way to completely avoid stressors in our lives, there are things we can do to help manage them. Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, and coping strategies and symptoms will vary from person to person. Here are a few tips to help manage your stress and avoid new or worsening health conditions:

    Keep a daily routine- Having a daily schedule can help us use our time efficiently and feel more in control. Set time for regular meals,sleep,  time with family members, exercise, daily chores and other recreational activities. 

    Get sufficient sleep- Getting enough sleep is important for both body and mind. Sleep repairs, relaxes and rejuvenates our body and can help reverse the effect of stress. Most adults need 7 or more hours of good quality sleep on a regular schedule each night. Good quality meaning you fall asleep within 30 minutes or less and sleep straight through the night. 

    Eat Healthfully- What we eat and drink can affect our health. Try to eat a balanced diet and to eat at regular intervals. Drink enough fluids. Eat lots of fresh fruits and vegetables if you can. And be mindful of the amount of caffeine you consume, as this can cause stress symptoms in the body. 

    Exercise regularly- Regular daily exercise can help to reduce stress. This can include walking, as well as more intensive exercise like biking, yoga, jogging, or weight lifting.

    Limit media exposure- Spending too much time following news on television and social media can increase stress. Limit the time you spend following the news if it increases your stress. Instead, try to calm your mind with light meditation. Or, if you need some stimulation, try reading a book or writing in a journal


    Ultimately, stress is just a part of life. You can't always avoid it, so your best bet is to do your best to manage it. Study yourself, and learn what triggers your stress, and the healthiest way to cope with these unique situations. Take time out of your busy schedule to really consider whether or not the things you're currently stressing about really matter, and if they do, what you could do right now to minimize those stresses. Doing so will help you lead a happier, healthier life and leave less stress in your wake. Keep this in mind during National Stress Awareness Month, and your efforts won't go to waste.

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