By Abby Lecates, Johanna Mercurio, and Maggie Rosenthal
April is National Stress Awareness Month! Stress is most commonly described as physical, mental, or emotional strain. Stress can have adverse effects on your physical and mental health. Finding positive ways to cope with stress is important for leading a long, healthy life.
What exactly is stress? Stress is a common reaction to a situation which makes a person feel anxious or threatened. Biologically, when you are placed in a stressful situation, specific stress hormones rush into your bloodstream, causing an increased heart rate and blood pressure. Stress can occur in response to positive situations, such as getting a promotion, and work to keep us alert. However, stress can also be negative such as when a person faces continuous challenges without any break or relief. When this occurs, a person often experiences stress-related tension. Physical symptoms of negative stress include headaches, an upset stomach, high blood pressure, chest pain, and difficulty sleeping. Sometimes, stress can also exacerbate existing physical illnesses. In addition to such physical symptoms, stress can cause feelings of fear, anger, sadness, and frustration as well as difficulty concentrating.
Sometimes, when a person experiences stress, they might increase their usage of alcohol, tobacco, or illegal drugs to cope. Using such substances to relieve stress actually does the opposite, tending to keep the body in a stressed state rather than relaxing it. Instead of using substances to cope, there are several healthy ways to cope with negative stress in your life.
• Take care of your body. There are several ways to take care of your body including eating plenty of fruits and vegetables, going to sleep around the same time each night (this can help you sleep better!), getting physical activity (even a little bit goes a long way!), take deep breaths or meditate when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed, and continue with regular health appointments.
• Make time to unwind. Try to take time out of your day to do something you enjoy such as taking a walk or reading a magazine. If you don’t have enough time in your day to do so, try to imbue daily moments with gratitude. Or, take a small moment each day to close your eyes and breathe deeply.
• Connect with others. It can be very helpful to talk with people about how you’re feeling rather than bottling up your stress. Additionally, close friends or family might be able to reduce your stress through reassurance or taking something off your plate.
• Connect with your community or faith-based organizations. Again, other people can be a tremendous relief when you’re experiencing stress. Remind yourself that there are people around you who care and can help.
Stress can be a very difficult thing to manage. However, small changes can make a difference in how you approach the stressful situations in your life. It’s important to recognize the things that are and aren’t in your control. We hope these tips are helpful to you! All of the information in this article came directly from WebMD and the CDC. If you have more questions about how stress might be affecting your health, be sure to ask a healthcare provider.