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Living with stress is ubiquitous with being human. Stressors are normal and include everything from too much physical exercise to an imminent work deadline. Successfully meeting that work deadline might land someone a promotion, which is exciting and stressful. Not making the deadline might jeopardize a person’s job, which is scary and stressful.
In other words, not all stress is bad, but bad stress is not good.
April is designated as Stress Awareness Month. Since 1992, healthcare professionals, wellness promoters, and nonprofit organizations have used this month to educate people on the positives and negatives of stress.
This involves teaching people how to spot triggers and minimize the detrimental effects of long-term stress.
“Even though we’ve learned a lot about stress in the past 20 years,” says Dr. Morton C. Orman, director and founder of The Health Resource Network, “we’ve got a long way to go.”
What Are Three of the Highest Causes of Stress?
In 2015, the American Psychological Association reported adults in the U.S. experienced higher levels of extreme stress compared to previous years. The three highest stressors, according to the APA’s survey are:
1. The economy, which also translates into job security and the employment market
2. Personal health concerns as well as wellbeing and health concerns for loved ones
3. Family responsibilities
While short-term stress can motivate a person to perform better or even inspire a healthy “fight or flight” response in dangerous situations, chronic stress over extended periods of time is harmful both mentally and physically.
Everyone responds to stress differently. For example, some soldiers return from combat with the ability to cope with any residual trauma. Others, however, find they continue to experience the trauma, creating a consistent state of duress that can lead to post-traumatic stress disorder.
Seemingly less serious routine stress is capable of causing any number of unhealthy side effects, such as sleeplessness, anxiety, depression, lack of concentration and even a compromised immune system.
Whether it’s routine stress or PTSD, it’s important to employ methods and strategies for dealing with the stress as soon as possible.
Effective Ways of Dealing With Stress
The National Institute of Mental Health suggests several different ways for dealing with various levels of temporary and chronic stress. These include:
- Getting regular exercise. Many studies have shown that even short bursts of intense exercise or 30 minutes to an hour of moderate exercise improves levels of cortisol, a stress-related chemical, in the brain
- Paying attention to the symptoms of chronic stress, such as insomnia, racing thoughts, having low energy, depression or an uptick in using alcohol consumption or other sedatives
- Write lists of goals and priorities. This simple technique imposes a bit of order to an otherwise chaotic schedule and can go a long way toward relieving tension
- Develop relaxation techniques like meditation, yoga, knitting, going to the movies or activities that allow the mind and body to unwind
- Share with a therapist or physician any noticeable symptoms of stress
- Stay connected with family and friends
Stress reduction expert and author, Melissa Heisler, suggests combatting stress with what she calls a State of Gray. These activities give the fun-loving, creative side of the brain a boost, while the other, more practical part of the brain gets a rest.
Remember, a little bit of stress is just part of being human. In April, use Stress Awareness Month as a way to develop strategies and habits that lessen chronic stress, brighten your outlook and encourage others to do the same.