Although April is Stress Awareness Month, stress affects everyone regardless of the year, month or day. Some of us deal with it remarkably well, while others struggle to put their stressors at bay. Regardless of where you fall on this spectrum, it’s important that we recognize and confront our stress in order to maintain our physical and emotional health.
What is stress?
The stressors in your life may be different than the stressors in your neighbor’s, just like how you respond to it may differ as well. That’s one of the interesting things about it; stress is incredibly subjective and personal and for that reason, there is no one definition of it. That said, stress can be described as a physical, mental or emotional strain or tension brought on by a situation when a person feels anxious or threatened.
The strain or tension can be caused by something mild like an alarm clock going off, or more serious like being pulled over for speeding. What’s more, it can be real or imagined; whatever it is, the perception triggers the stress response.
When we encounter stressors, a sudden release of hormones activates the body’s sympathetic nervous system. This stimulates the adrenal glands and triggers the release of catecholamines, including adrenaline. The result is an increase in heart rate, breathing rate and blood pressure.
Along with this very physical reaction to stress, we may experience other reactions too, including:
- Feeling sad and helpless
- Difficulty in concentrating
- Difficulty in sleeping
- Headaches, stomach aches and back pains
How to deal with stress
Of course, the best way to deal with stress is to cut those things out of your life that cause it, but that’s much easier said than done. There are things you can do, however, that will help you deal with it in a healthy manner. While some are easy, others are more difficult but hopefully with practice will become easier.
First, eat well and say no to junk food. When we feel stressed, many of us tend to seek comfort from food and if you fall into this category, resist the urge to reach for a bag of chips and instead reach for an apple, carrots and hummus or another healthy alternative. In addition, get some exercise and move your body. Direct some of that stressful energy toward a good workout, bike ride or walk. It will help you feel better. And while stress can interfere with sleep, try to prioritize getting a night of good rest as well.
Talking about your feelings with a family member, friend or therapist is also helpful. They can help you process what’s on your mind and, if you want, help brainstorm solutions. Oftentimes, we tend to blow things out of proportion in our minds so getting an objective viewpoint can help put things into perspective.
We can’t alleviate stress from our lives, but we can learn to control how we deal with it so that it doesn’t impact our health. If you are concerned about the stress in your life and would like guidance on how to manage it, please reach out to your health care provider. They are there to help.