Stress awareness is an important part of managing stress levels and learning when to take some time out to care for yourself. Stress is among the leading causes of illness in the United States. A person’s stress level can be a direct link to certain health conditions like obesity, chronic illness, depression, heart disease, and insomnia to name a few.
One of the biggest problems of stress is people don’t know how to manage it or how to eliminate it completely. And, some people don’t even realize when they experience it. This can be a problem when stress starts to have deleterious effects on a person’s health.
April is stress awareness month, and that means learning ways to cope with stress to keep it from affecting your health. Keep reading for more on how stress affects your health and what you can do to manage it better.
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The Stress Response to Stimuli
The stress response evolved in humans to help get them out of dangerous situations. Stress causes the body to release cholesterol and triglycerides into the bloodstream. It increases heart rate and blood flow and floods the system with cortisol in preparation to fight or flee. Unfortunately, the body’s response to a life or death event is the same as its response to a boss reading us the riot act. It gets ready to run away or kick some butt.
This response was necessary when humans regularly faced life-threatening situations like meeting a saber-toothed tiger head-on or chasing down a caribou for dinner and clothing. Now, the response is almost unnecessary and can result in negative effects when it’s over-active.
Yes, there are still a few situations that warrant a stress response like being in the military on the battlefield, or when you see a car speeding toward you as you’re standing, waiting at a red light. But it’s unlikely that you’ll have run for your life from your boss or fight him. It’s more likely you’ll endure a berating and go on to seethe under your breath, wishing you’d stood up for yourself while trying to hold on to your job.
Do you see why stress is multi-faceted and leads to so many problems? Excess cortisol and triggered stress hormones can harm your body if left to run rampant.
Stress Comes From Various Sources
The American Stress Institute has several stress inventories people can take to determine what stresses them, how they react to stress. The stress load test helps users determine what areas of their lives cause them the most stress so they can learn to make changes in those areas.
On the stress meter, there are a few things that are guaranteed stressors. These stressors change as people transition into different stages of life. This list includes:
Chronic health issues
Children leaving home
Losing a job
Starting a job
Family obligations, family changes
Everyday responsibilities – bills, housework, etc.
Many Antelope Valley residents commute to work daily. Stress awareness is critical for these people.
They probably wake up early, often skipping breakfast to get on the congested 14 freeway and sit in traffic for up three or more hours, depending on where they work. Then they get to work only to have to deal with heavy workloads, demanding bosses, and coworkers.
Beyond that, some commuters might not see their families during the week as they’re out of the door before the kids wake up and they arrive home just as the kids are getting to bed. Others potentially, spend weeknights managing family crises and paying bills but never spending any quality time.
Stress Manifests in Many Ways
At times, people can experience stress without knowing it. They might not feel like they’re under any stress, or they might not recognize certain people, situations or events as stressors. It’s not like affecting them.
Symptoms of stress manifest in different ways, and many believe the symptoms are caused by something else. For example, a person who suddenly can’t get over a cold might think it’s the strain of cold they have. After two weeks of guzzling cough suppressants and antihistamines, you still don’t feel better.
Moreover, without stress awareness, you don’t recognize that stress is the cause of many chronic ailments and leads to things like psychological disorders, substance abuse, and even cancer. Symptoms of stress include:
Sudden, mysterious pain
Loss of appetite
Eating more (comfort eating)
Drinking alcohol more frequently
Smoking more frequently
While some symptoms are more troubling than others, it helps to recognize whether you’re experiencing them. If they persist, it may be time to speak to healthcare professionals to help determine where your stressors and learn ways to manage them. Sometimes it’s just removing yourself from situations, other times it’s something that may require deeper examination and intervention.
Negative Effects of Stress on Your Health
With the symptoms of stress come physical evidence. If you’ve noticed you’ve put on a few pounds that can be attributed to comfort eating or lost a few pounds because your appetite is non-existent, you might want to find other ways to cope. The same goes for drinking to stress or any other behavior that affects your physical well-being.
One of the less obvious effects can have is your blood pressure. So it is the reason that high blood pressure we called this is a silent killer. Many people don’t realize their blood pressure is high, and don’t know how long it’s been elevated which can cause organ failure, heart attack, and stroke. This is why stress awareness is important.
Common stress-related health issues include:
Mysterious aches and pains
High blood pressure
Stress Awareness and Ways to Treat Stress
Stress doesn’t have to be a pervasive health threat. There are ways to manage stress, and for some to even eliminate it altogether. While there are times when stress is so severe that some people require anti-anxiety medication, others are able to manage stress by modifying their behaviors and/or surroundings. This is known as self-care.
Some self-care methods include:
Exercise – Walk, Run, Bike, Yoga
Personal days from work
Self-Care is important, yet many people forget to take care of themselves. They make sure everyone else has what they need, or is cared for, but they neglect their own personal needs. Some things you can do to take care of yourself are: get a massage, mani-pedi or a facial. Get your hair done. Buy a new outfit.
Meditation is a popular stress management tool. It doesn’t require any equipment and can be done anywhere for any length of time. The act of being in the moment, focusing on just your breath can delivery feelings of calm and inner peace.
If you’re new to meditation it may take some work to silence your inner voice and let go of external distractions, but daily meditation can help. There are a plethora of free resources available from phone applications that offer guided meditation to help you stay in the moment, to YouTube channels dedicated to meditation.
Once you build your practice you can also add comfort items and tools to help set the mood and put you in the right headspace to let everything else drop away.
Get a Pet
Studies have proven that animal companionship can help reduce stress. There’s a reason dogs have become the go-to for PTSD management as well as guiding those with vision loss. They’re loyal, caring and have therapeutic properties. Not to mention, they’re just so darn adorable.
Fish tanks also have calming effects, which is why you can find them in doctors’ and dentists’ office waiting rooms. They’re low maintenance and self-contained, so you can enjoy their therapeutic effects without having to interact with them if that’s your preference.
Family obligations can be high stressors at times. When you’re busy taking care of everyone and everything else, you forget that you’re important too. Call a moratorium on cooking, cleaning, parenting and spousing and care for only yourself.
Do nothing (binge-watch a favorite show for a few hours, take a personal day.) It may be hard to let go of the reigns for a while, but a break from the daily grind–whatever it maybe– can do wonders your stress levels.
Go on a mini-getaway for a day. A benefit of living in the AV is you can hit the surf and the snow on the same day and you can be at each locale in just a couple hours. Take a drive to the beach or take in a new view.
Recognize When You Need Help
Sometimes it can be hard to recognize when it’s time to get help. And, some cultures may frown on therapy and medication. But, in extreme cases, stress can lead to self-harm or the harming of others.
Severe stress can also lead to chronic anxiety, panic attacks, and panic disorder. The conditions require professional diagnosis and treatment. And, when combined with the aforementioned behavior modifications can be managed effectively.