Stress happens to everyone at some point in their lives; it’s a natural, automatic response to perceived dangerous situations. The problem comes in when you’re stressed for weeks or months at a time, and your body never gets a chance to calm down and recover. Being stressed for longer time periods is becoming more common, and many people tend to accept this as normal. They try to keep functioning normally, unaware how much strain their bodies are taking, which is why April is Stress Awareness Month.
The stress response is like an alarm system for your body and is good for things like having quick reflexes when you’re swerving to avoid a car crash. Your body is flooded with stress hormones which elevate your heart rate, blood pressure and glucose levels, and which make you more alert and able to deal with whatever emergency is happening. It also causes your body to temporarily suppress things like digestion and your immune system. This wouldn’t be an issue except that work conflicts, worrying over debt, and anxiety can also cause stress. When you’re consistently stressed, and your digestive and immune systems aren’t functioning properly, that can raise your risk for different conditions such as hair loss, skin conditions, chronic headaches, sleep disturbances, stomach disorders, depression, and even stroke and heart disease, causing even more stress, and getting you stuck in a loop.
Symptoms and warning signs of stress include:
- Memory problems
- Difficulty concentrating
- Feeling anxious or irritable
- Random aches and pains
- Digestive problems
- Chest pains
- Frequently feeling overwhelmed
- Procrastinating and/or neglecting obligations and responsibilities
- Relying on other substances to relax, including drugs, alcohol, and/or food
In cases where you can’t remove yourself from the situation causing your stress, it’s important to try to change the way your body reacts to the situation. Try to change your body’s responses by recognizing when you’re in control of a situation, and when you’re not. Try not to get as anxious about things you’re not able to change. Practice focusing your mind on calming thoughts that make you feel more in control of yourself. Setting realistic goals for your health and wellness and achieving those goals can also help you feel more in control of your life.
Finding some time in your day to recharge can also help to alleviate stress. Even if it’s only 10-15 minutes a day, try to give yourself a break and do something you enjoy. Going outside to walk around or play sports, reading a favorite book, and spending time with friends and family are all ways to try to help your stress levels. If you’re feeling particularly bad you could try meditating and doing yoga. The Federal Occupational Health website has some basics for learning how to meditate which can be found at http://foh.psc.gov/calendar/stress.html. More information about stress can be found at http://www.helpguide.org/mental/stress_signs.htm.