Stress Awareness Month
At times, stress is a helpful tool capable of boosting energy and attention. Most of the time though, stress is a negative force in a person’s life that triggers a host of unwanted effects. Stress is a nearly universal human experience, so every person can benefit from learning about the condition. By understanding just how widespread and harmful stress is, a person can begin to act against its effects.
How Common Is Stress?
Regardless of age, sex, ethnicity, and religion, no one is immune to the burden of stress. According to The American Institute of Stress, about 33 percent of people report feeling extreme stress, 77 percent of people experience stress that affects their physical health, 73 percent of people have stress that impacts their mental health and 48 percent of people have trouble sleeping because of stress.
Unfortunately, for about half of all Americans, levels of stress are getting worse instead of better. The Global Organization for Stress reports that 75 percent of Americans experienced moderate to high-stress levels in the past month, stress is the number one health concern of high school students and 80 percent of people feel stress at work. People who tend to experience particularly high rates of stress include ethnic minorities, women, single parents, and people responsible for their family’s health care decisions. Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) and acute stress disorder are stress disorders triggered by traumatic experiences. Currently, 3.5 percent of adults in the U.S. have PTSD during a given year. Acute stress disorder affects as many as half of all people exposed to a serious or life-threatening stressor. Depending on a person’s thinking patterns and coping skills, almost anything can cause stress. Some of the most frequently cited sources of stress include money, work, the economy, family responsibilities, relationships, personal health issues, housing costs, job stability, family health problems and personal safety. The most common symptoms of stress include irritability and anger, fatigue or low energy, lack of motivation or interest in things, anxiety, nervousness or worry, headaches, feeling sad or depressed, indigestion, acid reflux or upset stomach, muscle tension and appetite changes. People may also experience sexual problems, weight changes, diarrhea or constipation, forgetfulness, and lack of attention. Stress affects the entire body and is linked to many co-occurring mental and physical health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, depression, and anxiety. High levels of stress can often also lead to substance use.
Become More Aware of Stress and Stressors
The most important thing with this month is that people are focusing on their physical, mental, and emotional health and wellbeing. For some, this might mean putting themselves first for a change and focusing on bringing those stress levels down in whatever ways are possible. Simply endeavoring to pay more attention personally to where stress comes from, and its adverse effects is the perfect start to observing Stress Awareness Month.
Practice Stress Reduction Techniques
Try out some of these simple practices that have been known to help people reduce the negative impact of stress on their lives:
- Breathing Exercises. One of the easiest ways to bust stress is by pausing to focus on the breath. Whether breathing slowly while counting, or using visualization techniques, the internet is full of ideas for reducing stress by taking everything back to the breath.
- Laugh More. Some studies have shown that people are more relaxed and have an improved mood when they practice laughing. Even when nothing is funny! Laughter yoga might be a practice worth checking out to reduce stress.
- Exercise. One of the best ways to minimize the impact of stress on the body and mind is through good, old-fashioned exercise. Sweat the stress away! It helps to improve sleep, balance hormones, increase endorphin and fosters relaxation following the workout.
- Reduce Stress Triggers. Take this month to become aware of what triggers tend to cause stress and anxiety. Is it to do with being late? Procrastinating? Terrible traffic? A messy house? Look at the ways that stress begins and then aim to resolve those with life skills such as time management, hiring help around the house, leaving the house sooner, or other solutions.
Help Others Who Might Struggle with Stress
Talking about stress can be helpful, and it might be worth reaching out to those you trust or seeking professional help where necessary. This is a great time to encourage others to talk about their feelings too, and always try to be there for individuals who may appear to be overwhelmed. People all tend to cope with stress differently, so sharing personal experiences of coping might also help someone else.
Valley Professionals is Here to Help
If you are struggling to manage stress despite attempts to manage symptoms on your own, the Valley Professionals Behavioral Health team is here to help! We currently offer a pre-therapy group, individual, couple, and family therapy, group therapy, addiction services, case management, and psychiatry services. Contact your primary provider through Valley to discuss a referral to behavioral health services.
By: Lacey Skwortz, MSW, LCSW