April is Stress Awareness Month
When feeling overwhelmed or stressed, it helps to remember that stress is your body’s way of protecting you. Stress keeps you alert, focused, and responsive to threats. Stress can even save your life in an emergency – by triggering your fight or flight response. Say you’re driving down an unfamiliar back road at night, and suddenly a deer appears in your headlights. The deer freezes unexpectedly, leading you to slam on your brakes, and luckily, you narrowly avoid hitting the deer. In that split second, your body assessed and responded to a threat that ultimately saved your life.
Stress stops being helpful when it starts causing major problems to your health, mood, productivity, relationships, and overall quality of life and goes on unaddressed. Too much stress can negatively affect your mental health and can cause sleep and weight problems, irritability or aggression, fatigue, and concentration or memory problems which can then lead to depression, anxiety, and burnout. So how can we ensure that we can manage stress? The CDC has good advice on healthy ways to cope with stress, listed below:
- Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including those on social media. It’s good to be informed but hearing about traumatic events constantly can be upsetting and can trigger a stress response. Consider limiting news and social media consumption to just a couple of times a day and disconnecting from phone, tv, and computer screens for a while.
- Take care of yourself. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep, and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out.
- Make time to unwind. Try to do other activities you enjoy to take your mind off of things.
- Talk to others. Talk to people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor, or pastor.
- Connect with your community- or faith-based organizations.
- Avoid drugs and alcohol. Substance use creates additional problems and magnifies the stressors you are already feeling.
- Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor.