Stress is unavoidable, and especially as we move through the uncertainty surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us likely find ourselves stressed in some way. And though stress is not always bad, stress promoted by negative feelings that appears frequently and/or for longer periods of time can be a major health issue. April is Stress Awareness Month and it’s the perfect time to learn more about stress, its effects, and ways to cope with it.
What is Stress?
Stress can be triggered by different things for different people. Some common sources of stress are finances, relationships, work or school. Despite the differences in what might cause an individual to be stressed, the way that our bodies and minds react to stress is the same. According to WebMD, stress “causes hormonal, respiratory, cardiovascular, and nervous systems changes…. known as the body’s ‘fight-or-flight response.’” This response is a necessary adaptation that our ancestors used to deal with stressful situations in their everyday survival.
Some stress can be good. Feeling stress for a short time on a less frequent basis can be the extra push that is needed to finish a project or handle a difficult conversation. However, when stress is promoted by negative feelings and appears more frequently and/or for longer periods of time it can be dangerous to your health and wellbeing.
How Does Stress Affect Your Health?
Bad stress that appears chronically or continues for too long can affect your health in multiple ways, putting a burden on your physical, mental and emotional health. Some common symptoms and health effects are listed below. If symptoms become too intense, speak to a doctor or therapist to seek support.
- Muscle Pain or Tension
- Chest Pain
- Digestive Issues
- Change in Sex Drive
- High Blood Pressure
- Sleep Problems
- Lack of Motivation or Focus
- Feeling Overwhelmed
- Sadness or Depression
- Overeating or Undereating
- Loss of Temper
- Social Withdrawal
- Exercising Less
- Drug/Alcohol/Tobacco Use or Abuse
How Can You Manage Stress?
You can take steps in order to prevent stress and help to alleviate stress. Many stress management strategies are recommended strategies for overall physical, mental, and emotional health so they can be advantageous to adopt due to their overall health benefits and not just to manage stress. Some of those techniques include:
- Eating a Healthy Diet
- Exercising Regularly
- Getting Plenty of Sleep
- Avoiding Tobacco/Illegal Substance Use
- Avoiding Excessive Caffeine/Alcohol Use
Other techniques for stress management that you might consider trying are:
- Practicing Relaxation Techniques (e.g. deep breathing, meditation, yoga)
- Maintaining a Positive Outlook
- Accepting that You Cannot Control Everything
- Setting Limits and Saying No to Certain Situations
- Spending Time with Family & Friends
- Spending Time on Your Hobbies
- Being Assertive About Your Feelings
- Practicing Time Management Skills
- Seeking Treatment from a Therapist, Psychologist, or Other Mental Health Professional