By: Parshae Robateau
Stress– a natural human reaction towards tension or a threat. It’s something we don’t always know that is happening to us. It’s the body’s natural defenses which kick into high gear in a rapid process known as a stress response. As a way for the body to protect itself, it sends a message throughout the nervous system to help us stay focused, energetic and alert. Stress can be mental and/or physical. It varies person to person and can affect your body, your thoughts and feelings, and your behavior. It’s important to learn some strategies for coping with this particular silent killer and knowing what to look out for to recognize symptoms before it gets worse. Life sometimes involves constant change ranging from a change of living to adapting to major changes like divorce, work load or death of a loved one. There is no avoiding stress.
A small amount of stress once in a while is a good thing, it means you are working hard and you care about what you are doing. Everyone falls under stress from time to time, especially as we are given more responsibilities as we get older. However, too much stress can cause us to feel frazzled and overwhelmed, and that’s when it’s time to gain control. National Stress Awareness Month is sponsored by The Health Resource Network, The Stress Management Society and other non-profit health educational organizations. Together they bring in an effort to educate people about the dangers of stress, successful coping strategies and common misunderstandings about stress in our society.
Stress is such a major health concern in today’s society because most people are unaware of this silent killer and the impact it may have on their mental and physical health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, stress can be detriment to one’s overall health, but it can also change the physiology of the brain. It comes in a variety of forms: short-term, long-term and chronic. When recurring conditions cause stress that is both intense and sustained over a long period of time, it becomes toxic towards the brain. Chronic stress is the most problematic form because of the significant amount of harm it can do to the functioning of the body and the brain.
Just like stress is perceived differently by all of us, it affects us all in ways that are unique to each individual. One person may experience migraines, while the other person may experience stomach issues. One may also experience any number of symptoms like depression, anxiety or even heart palpitations. Most people have the ability to control and manage their symptoms themselves but prolonged physical symptoms should be checked by a doctor in case it’s on the verge of becoming life threatening.
Creating a stress management plan is often suggested to help for overall wellness whether it be mental and/or physical. A few simple changes could help reduce stress levels: exercise, relax, avoiding caffeine and alcohol, and time management. Stressful situations increase our levels of stress hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol in our body. Going for a 20-30 minute walk and getting some fresh air will help calm the stress hormones, and help calm the mind and body back into a relaxed state. The physical activity will release endorphins and help improve quality of sleep. Avoiding caffeine, as well as excessive alcohol before bedtime also plays a big role in helping the body relax because excess sugar before bed could trigger the brain into staying alert. If that doesn’t work, practice yoga and meditating with a stress reduction technique such as chanting. Relaxation is a skill that needs to be learned and will improve with practice.
There are times we feel like we must get everything done on our ‘To-Do’ list which has become a common cause of stress though it’s important to know everything cannot be done at the same time. Creating priorities and organizing tasks is the first step to not making ourselves overwhelmed with things to do. The American Institute of Stress has more information regarding different types of stresses and their triggers to best diagnose any underlying issues one may have. Visit the American Institute for Stress website to take their short test to find out what specific stressors are affecting your mental and/or physical health.