April is Stress Awareness Month. Stress Awareness Month has been held every April since 1992 to raise awareness of the causes and cures for modern-day stress.
Stress is a physical and psychological reaction to perceived challenges or threats and part of our natural “fight or flight” response. We all have it!
Sometimes a little stress or anxiety can be helpful: it can motivate us to take action, to achieve our goals, to grow and learn. It’s the stress we feel when starting a new job, preparing for a marathon, undertaking new studies, or planning celebrations for a big life event.
There is also stress that comes with traumatic events or ongoing challenges in our personal or professional lives. Examples can include dealing with chronic health problems – either your own or a family member, losing a job, financial difficulties or going through a divorce.
Chronic or excessive stress can cause high blood pressure, increased risk of heart disease, anxiety and depression and negatively impact our overall quality of life. This kind of stress can leave us feeling unwell and susceptible to serious health impacts.
Here are some tips for stress management from the team at Whole Heart:
Go for a walk
Physical activity not only provides a healthy distraction from stressful thoughts, it improves mood and overall health. Exercise not only reduces the levels of the stress hormones in the body, it releases natural chemicals in the brain that promote feelings of well-being.
Practice mindfulness or other forms of meditation
Mindfulness has been scientifically proven to reduce our stress response by helping us train our awareness away from stress-inducing thoughts. We can learn to focus on the present moment, rather than fixating on the worries that come from thoughts related to past events that we can’t change or future possibilities that we can’t predict or control. Mindfulness and meditation also provide awareness of our response to stress in real time, so that we can start to develop strategies to create calmness in the body and mind even when the situations may be challenging.
Eat nourishing foods
There’s a strong relationship between food and stress; from what we crave to how it can make us feel. It’s important to have foods that you enjoy and that provide comfort. There are also foods that can provide important support for your immune system when coping with stressful events. A nutritionist can provide you with helpful guidance.
Cultivate enjoyable hobbies and activities
Having interests that provide a healthy distraction away from sources of stress is important.
Hobbies don’t have to be complicated or expensive. Turn on some music and dance, read a book, colour or create crafts, cook or bake or go for a bike ride or shoot some hoops. Hobbies and activities not only divert your attention away from stress, they often combine other stress management techniques – such as physical activity and time spent with friends and family.
Connect with friends and family
Sometimes when we are “stressed out” we move away from seeing and speaking to friends and family because we feel we are too busy or that we are physically or emotionally exhausted. Leaning on a supportive network is important to keep your mood up and prevent you from feeling isolated. Call a friend, go out with friends or family for a meal. Give yourself a break and get the support and boost that comes from talking to and being with loved ones.
Identify challenges to prioritization
If you’re feeling stress due to constant competing tasks it may be an opportunity to review how you manage your time or prioritize. Sometimes it’s as simple as looking into skills training – for example, Whole Heart runs a study skills group to help students prepare for exams, which includes time management and prioritization skills. Other times, the inability to manage time or prioritize can be tied to a condition like ADHD. If you or a member of your family is experiencing chronic stress tied to time management or prioritization you may want to seek out a consultation from a mental health professional.
Get a good night’s sleep
When we are dealing with stressful periods, we may be getting less sleep at a time when we actually need more and better-quality sleep. The quality of sleep we get impacts our physical, mental and emotional states. Look to relaxation and meditation to help prepare you for sleep. Limit screen use before bed, avoid large meals, caffeine and alcohol before bedtime, and ensure your sleep space is quiet, dark, and at a comfortable temperature. Recognize that you can function better if you are well-rested.
Seek support from a mental health professional when needed
If you feel that you need more help, don’t hesitate to contact us at Whole Heart Mental Health and Wellness. Not sure where to begin? Reach out and let us help guide and support you: https://wholeheartmentalhealth.com/contact/
Stress Awareness Month is an important reminder about the impact of stress on our lives and the importance of learning effective strategies for managing stress so that we can improve our well-being and prevent the negative health consequences of bad stress.