It’s officially April! So, we’re here to wish you Happy National Stress Awareness Month.
What is National Stress Awareness Month?
You may be thinking, “Happy Stress Awareness Month?”. The mental and physical toll that stress takes on our daily lives, and the growing stress epidemic across the United States is far from cheerful.
But the fact that healthcare professionals and other individuals across the country have been spreading awareness about:
- the causes of stress
- the (often debilitating) effects of stress, and
- the best ways to handle stress
...every April since 1992 is something worth celebrating, in our book!
Stress is something we all experience, at some point in our lives. It is our body’s natural reaction to a harmful situation (real or perceived).
Researchers have discovered there are two main types of stress - “distress” i.e., negative stress (caused by e.g., a work deadline, messy breakup, or family drama), and “eustress”, stress that can be positive and even improve performance (e.g., first day nerves at your new job, or wedding day jitters).
Symptoms of Stress
It’s very important to learn how to prevent and handle stress effectively, to avoid mental and emotional distress, as well as accompanying physical and behavioral symptoms such as:
- Upset stomach
- Chest pain
- High blood pressure
- Cold or sweaty hands and feet
- Clenched jaw or grinding teeth
- Heart Disease
- Decrease or loss of sex drive
- Changes in appetite
- Nail biting, fidgeting, and pacing
So, let’s get down to it. Here are 12 great ways to prevent and handle stress in 2022:
12 Great Ways to Prevent and Handle Stress in 2022
1. Identify your stress triggers.
“Knowledge is power”, as Francis Bacon once said. Becoming truly aware of the things that raise your stress levels is an invaluable tool; you can try to decrease your interaction with them, avoid them altogether, or, if neither are possible, you can at least know in advance what may trigger a stress response from you. This can make you better prepared to deal with it.
2. Learn and practice relaxation techniques - yoga, deep breathing, and meditation.
These three common relaxation techniques are favored all over the world, as a way of calming the mind, lessening tension, relieving stress and improving general well-being. Centering your focus on patterned breathing exercises and movements can bring you back to reality in highly stressful moments, stopping negative thoughts in their tracks to avoid spiraling and overwhelm. Try these useful yoga and meditation tools to enhance your practice.
3. Talk to someone about your feelings, or write them down.
Sometimes, we just need to let it all out. Confiding in a trusted friend, family member or licensed professional about a stressful situation we are experiencing can allow us to better process what we are feeling, and help to take some of the load off. The same goes for putting pen to paper; this can signal to the brain to let go of our negative thoughts.
4. Get moving - exercise regularly.
One of the healthiest lifestyle habits for managing stress is practicing regular exercise. Try and find a form you enjoy – the options are endless! Running, boxing, dance, team sports, and swimming are all great ways to get the heart pumping, improve self-esteem, and release those all-important endorphins to relieve stress.
5. Avoid alcohol, nicotine, and other drugs.
While some people consider having a couple of drinks, smoking cigarettes, or taking recreational drugs an easy way to relax, these things do not work to relieve stress in the long term. These activities can disrupt sleep, lead to dependency, and do not allow your brain to properly process your feelings and emotions, which can interfere with your mental health coping strategies over time.
6. Eat a healthy diet and manage your weight.
Eating a varied and balanced diet full of fresh foods is a natural and medicine-free way to combat stress (aka your body’s “fight or flight” response). The less processed foods and sugar you consume this Stress Awareness Month - and throughout the year! - and the healthier weight you are able to maintain, the better.
7. Learn to say "no" without feeling guilty.
With increasingly busy schedules, many people nowadays find themselves overwhelmed with mounting social and work commitments. A key stress management tool, not to be underestimated, is learning to say “no” to requests or activities that do not serve you. This allows you to clear extra space in your schedule for self-care and relaxation, and helps you to avoid stressful experiences.
8. Set realistic expectations.
Perfection is the enemy of happiness. When we focus on things being 100% perfect, 100% of the time, we will inevitably become distressed when they go wrong (often due to factors completely beyond our control). Once we set realistic expectations for ourselves, we are better placed to take on the unexpected. We are also able to handle things not going the way we planned.
9. Get plenty of sleep.
At Sunday Citizen, we know all too well the transformative power of a good night’s rest and/or a delicious afternoon nap. A lack of sleep makes it difficult for us to process and deal with stressful situations, and can increase anxiety and depression. Investing in comfortable, soft bed covers and sheets can vastly improve your nighttime experience. If you struggle to fall asleep, natural aids such as weighted blankets and eye masks are there to help you.
10. Do something you enjoy.
Life can sometimes feel like all work and no play. When you feel stressed or anxious, try a recreational activity that makes you happy. It can be as simple as listening to your favorite song at top volume, spending time outdoors, getting involved in your community, or cooking up a new dish. This Stress Awareness Month, why not try picking up a new hobby, or even join a class? Learning a new skill and taking time out to do something you love, just for you, is a great stress reliever.
11. Watch your posture, and smile.
It may surprise you to know that there are two very simple, but very effective actions you can take to counteract the effects of stress. Did you know: studies have shown that people with poor posture tend to feel more stressed and anxious, with lower self esteem? Take this as your sign to straighten that back (and try to stay that way!)
Smiling also has real, measurable stress-relieving benefits. When you smile, your brain releases tiny molecules called neuropeptides that help fight off stress. It also releases endorphins, serotonin (aka the happy chemical), and it may even bring your heart rate down!
12. Know when to seek support from a medical provider or mental health professional.
Our last tip is a very important one, if you find yourself overwhelmingly and debilitatingly stressed on a regular basis. If depression or hopelessness sets in and/or you are using substances to cope with stressful situations, causing problems in other areas of your life, seek support from a licensed professional. You are not alone, you should not feel embarrassed, and there are always ways to make improvements when it comes to mental health issues.
So, there you have it...
As you can see, there are many ways to prevent and manage stress. This April, try out some of the physical/mental techniques mentioned above, in honor of stress awareness month. Coping strategies are a great way of combating life's most overwhelming moments, and don't forget -a little can go a long way.