April is Stress Awareness Month, and you may need it this year more than ever! The COVID-19 pandemic has significantly disrupted life for more than a year now, and it’s taken its toll on mental health. Social distancing guidelines have left many feeling lonely and isolated. Working, learning, and parenting all have become more complicated than people ever could have imagined before all this began. Many people have been sick with COVID-19 or have cared for someone with the virus. And long-hauler coronavirus survivors continue to experience long-term symptoms like brain fog, body aches, and crushing fatigue. Suffice it to say it’s been a really tough twelve or thirteen months. Even when people do their best to stay balanced and relaxed, it all begins to add up and overwhelm.
If you’re not taking active steps to manage your stress level, now is an excellent time to start. And I’m here to help! Here, I’ll explain more about stress awareness, how stress affects you, and, most importantly, how to reduce stress. Let’s figure out how to take some weight off your shoulders.
- What is Stress Awareness Month?
- The Side Effects of Stress on Your Mind and Body
- Stress Management Techniques that Work
- Make Every Month Stress Awareness Month
What is Stress Awareness Month?
In the U.S., Stress Awareness Month has been sponsored by the Health Resource Network (HRN), a Maryland-based nonprofit that focuses on mental and emotional health, since 1992. HRN founder Dr. Morton C. Orman coordinates with healthcare organizations to increase awareness of the effects of stress and share strategies for coping. Doctors and other care providers share this vital information with patients and clients to promote improved mental wellness. If you visit a mental health care practitioner this month, chances are good they’ll mention the initiative or have some useful material available.
Stress isn’t exclusive to the U.S., of course. The Stress Management Society of the United Kingdom observes Stress Awareness Month in April, too, as does Canada. Regardless of where you live, learning to manage your stress is an essential part of your daily self-care.
The Side Effects of Stress on Your Mind and Body
During Stress Awareness Month, I want to focus on how stress affects your overall wellness. You’re no doubt familiar with the short-term effects of stress. Think of the last time you were stuck in traffic or had to give an important presentation at work. You may have felt sweaty and shaky, with a racing pulse and elevated blood pressure. You might have had a dry mouth, an upset stomach, or even a nasty case of heartburn. And you probably felt agitated, irritable, and ready to bite someone’s head off. Everyone experiences situational stress, and feeling some tension and anxiety from time to time is normal. It’s chronic stress that causes serious problems, and many people are unaware of just how stressed they are. If you suffer from depression and anxiety, poor sleep, and frequent headaches, it’s likely you’re experiencing chronic stress.
Sometimes people wear stress like a badge of honor in the twenty-first century. You know what I’m talking about—people who seek to outdo friends, colleagues, and family when it comes to responsibilities and obligations. For some reason, society tells people that it’s admirable to take the maximum number of college courses and to have the heaviest workload at the office. People labor under the delusion that getting enough sleep and having some time to relax are lazy, self-indulgent habits. But the fact is that no one wins a prize for being the most stressed. Here are just some of the effects that long-term stress has on your health:
- Hypertension (high blood pressure)
- Increased risk of stroke and heart attack
- Elevated glucose (blood sugar) and a higher risk of type 2 diabetes
- Gastroesophageal reflux disease (GERD)
- Constipation or diarrhea
- Muscle tension, headaches, and body aches
- Low libido, erectile dysfunction, and fertility issues
- Irregular or painful menstrual periods
- Weakened immune system
- Longer recovery from illness and injury
- Depression and anxiety
If you’re serious about protecting your physical and mental health, it’s crucial to learn how to handle stress. It’s a key part of living your best life.
Stress Management Techniques that Work
Let’s check out some of the most successful stress reduction techniques and habits. You’ll likely feel a little less stressed as soon as you try them out. For them to be truly effective, however, you’ll need to make them part of your daily routine.
Any exercise is excellent for stress reduction, but gentle yoga, with its focus on deep breathing, is especially useful. Try some simple pranayama yoga techniques for centering and relaxation during this Stress Awareness Month. You don’t have to be an advanced yogi to benefit from these easy poses.
Stress pulls your mind in a thousand directions. Bring yourself back to the present moment with mindfulness-based stress reduction. This evidence-based practice reduces anxiety and depression and can even help with chronic pain. Check out twenty-five mindfulness exercises to help you get started.
It’s time to stop thinking of self-care practices like taking a long, hot bath or curling up with a good book as lazy and self-indulgent. If lighting a scented candle, watching a funny show, or practicing your skin care routine help you to relax, they’re essential habits. Make time for them every day, just as you make time for meals, exercise, and rest.
When you feel overwhelmed, you may find that it helps to record your thoughts on paper. Journaling for mental health can help you to manage your stress, anxiety, and depression. There’s no right or wrong way to do it—whatever helps you to decompress and calm your mind is a habit worth keeping.
Make Every Month Stress Awareness Month
April is a great time to be more aware of your stress level, especially since we’re now at the one-year mark of the pandemic. Going forward, be mindful of how you’re feeling on a regular basis—even when the threat of COVID-19 has passed. Practicing simple stress-relieving techniques can help you to stay more relaxed, focused, and happy, even when life throws you curveballs.
What do you do to keep stress at bay? Is there a special technique or habit that works well for you? Let me know in the comments!