April has long been designated as Stress Awareness Month by the Health Resource Network (HRN), but given the circumstances during April 2020, it’s more important than ever before to raise awareness about the negative effects of stress as well as healthy ways to cope.
April 16, the day normally following Tax Day, is typically National Stress Awareness Day, but just because Tax Day has been postponed this year doesn’t mean that we’re not still dealing with heightened stress. In fact, stress during the coronavirus pandemic is likely at an all-time high for many individuals.
First, let’s be clear that stress is normal and not always bad. The body naturally responds to fear, which can be life-saving in dangerous situations. However, when we’re consistently in fight-or-flight mode brought on by stress, both the body and mind suffer. Feelings of being overwhelmed and/or out of control go hand in hand with depression and anxiety. We also decline physically as research shows battling stress on a regular basis can raise blood pressure, increase risk for stroke and heart disease and weaken the immune system.
Because it tends to be a part of daily life, we aren’t always aware of stress, how long we’ve been experiencing it or the effects it may be having on our physical and mental well-being. For most Americans, prolonged stress is the result of challenges concerning work, family and finances. Now, with the growing health and economic concerns of COVID-19, we’re experiencing stress on a whole new level.
That’s why we’ve joined the effort to raise awareness about stress—specifically, we’re providing information about the signs and promoting healthy stress management techniques.
Remember that acute (short-term) responses to stress are completely normal and expected. What we’re looking for are signs of chronic (long-term) exposure to stressful situations, meaning you consistently experience any of the following: headaches, fatigue, panic attacks, irritability, abnormal sleep patterns, difficulty concentrating, digestive problems and substantial weight gain or loss.
So, set aside some time in the near future to evaluate your stress level and determine what affects it. Identifying triggers and how you respond to them is key in managing chronic stress. Then, consider ways that you can mitigate stressful situations in your life. Although social distancing and work/school closures may cause additional worry, you can also use the downtime to create a calmer, more centered environment in your home. Below are some suggestions for handling stress in your life.
Physical activity not only combats the negative effects of stress on heart health, weight and sleep patterns, but it also releases endorphins—hormones that improve your mood. If you can’t go to the gym right now, check out these simple ways to increase physical activity at home.
Deep breathing positively impacts both mental and physical health by calming the mind while lowering blood pressure. Choose a quiet time of day—perhaps early in the morning or during the kiddos’ naptime—and try meditation, yoga or prayer.
Studies show laughter reduces stress hormones and increases “good” HDL cholesterol, so plan game nights or turn on a funny movie or classic sitcom to end the day with a healthy laugh. Here are some additional fun activities to enjoy with your family.
Take a moment to escape from the demands and concerns of email, social media and the news. Put down the phone or remote and pick up something you enjoy, like a good book or favorite hobby.
Draw a bath or turn on some music. Get outside and go for a walk. Clear your head and focus on what is good in your life. Avoiding all of the chatter and grounding yourself in something simple and pleasant can momentarily relieve anxiety.
Reaching out to your support system may look a little different right now, but thank goodness for technological advances that allow us to still communicate with family and friends. Set up regular video calls with loved ones to remain connected while socially distanced.
Healthy stress management means doing whatever you can to mitigate stressful circumstances and alleviate their effects. Of course, if the above suggestions aren’t enough, please seek professional help. Our team at Families, Inc. is still seeing patients, both in person and via telemedicine—just give your local office a call. We’re here, as always, to guide you through coping with stress in your life and help you thrive in your new normal.