April is Stress Awareness Month, a time when the health and wellness community focus on raising the public’s awareness of what causes stress, how dangerous it is to our health, and how to beat it.
The American Institute of Stress’s 2014 research shows that, in the U.S., the effects of stress are serious: 77% of people have physical symptoms linked to stress, and at least 73% have psychological symptoms. The top causes of stress? Job pressure tops the list, followed by money, health, relationships, poor nutrition, media overload, and sleep deprivation.
Everyone knows that stress is bad for your health, but it’s something you can simply quit like any other unhealthy habit. Stress is the body’s response to what it perceives as a life-threatening situation. While we aren’t often required to run from a predator or escape a burning building, we do face constant sources of low-level stress at work, on our commutes, at home, and in our relationships with others.
The tricky thing is that our bodies don’t know the difference between these daily stresses and life-threatening ones, and the fight-or-flight reaction it triggers hurts us both mentally and physically.
So, just what are the physical symptoms of stress?
When we’re in real or imagined danger, it triggers our bodies to release powerful hormones that halt non-essential body functions like digestion and immune system functions, throwing all available resources into pumping blood to our lungs and limbs. It’s no wonder, then, that common physical symptoms of stress include stomach problems, headaches, high blood pressure, and frequent sickness. Continued stress can even lead to more serious physical conditions like ulcers and heart disease.
What to Do About Stress
Fight the battle in your mind. Fighting stress starts in the mind. When you start to feel anxious, worried, or out of control, remind yourself to focus on the positive things that are within your control. Staying positive and handling workplace stress by stepping away, breathing deeply, and moving outside the moment to see the big picture (is it worth getting upset about?) can help.
Change what you can. It also helps to take steps to change what you can about your environment that’s causing consistent stress – things like a job you hate or a workload you can’t handle, a schedule that’s too packed, or maybe a habit of always running late.
Exercise! Stress starts in the mind, but it also extends to how you treat your body. Exercise is one of the greatest ways to combat stress. Spending some time in the fitness center can make you feel more in control of your life and health, work out pent-up frustrations in a positive way, and feel positive about how your body looks and what it can do.
Secondly, it has an immediate, physical anti-stress response: endorphins. Exercise releases the “feel-good” chemicals we sometimes call the runner’s high, and they’re a great antidote to harmful stress hormones. Some researchers even think exercise helps you deal with the mental effects of stress. In other words, make it a point to get to the fitness gym any time you’re feeling extra stressed.
Relax and recharge. Sometimes your body and mind just need to rest. Doing something for yourself for just 15 minutes a day can make a huge difference in how you handle and recover from stress. Go for a walk, listen to some music, do some yoga, read a book – whatever you find relaxing and enjoyable.
Stress is an inevitable part of life, especially as sources of stress continue to accelerate around us. Don’t ignore the dangers of stress – treat your mind and body right with positive thinking patterns, working out at the fitness gym, and finding time to relax and rejuvenate.