It is the 30-year anniversary of Stress Awareness Month, which began in April 1992.
The aim was to raise awareness of the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic, and the last 2 years have been some of the toughest in living memory, causing increased stress levels.
The Impact of Stress on our Nervous System, plus 5 Ways to Ease Stress
What is Stress?
Firstly, it is important to make it clear that stress is not always a bad thing – it can help us perform better, and alert us to danger. However, since stress is predominantly a physical response, when it is prolonged, it can be detrimental to our health.
When stressed, our body thinks it is under attack and our nervous system switches to fight, flight, or freeze mode. The knock-on effect is a cocktail of hormones and chemicals that flood our body (adrenaline and cortisol to name two), which prepare the body for action. Blood is diverted to muscles and other bodily functions are de-prioritized, like digestion and brain function. Our heart beats more quickly, our breathing accelerates and we get a boost of energy, which enables us to respond quickly to the perceived threat or danger.
Elevated cortisol for prolonged periods of time can cause an increase in sugar and blood pressure and a decrease in libido. We can feel more aggressive and agitated, which could in turn impact our personal relationships. Prolonged stress can cause a mental and emotional breakdown, such as I personally experienced.
Stress is also linked to serious illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, and an increase in blood pressure; and it is generally accepted that stress creates an environment in the body that is hospitable to cancer.
If we can recognize when we are under stress and raise our awareness, we can act and make lifestyle changes.
How to actively manage personal stress
You don’t have to be an athlete to get benefit from exercise. A daily walk outdoors will have a significant impact on stress and mental health, helping to give you perspective and improve your mood. Exercises such as meditation, yoga, walking, and swimming are among the best stress-reducing forms of exercise we can do.
2. Reduce Social Media
One thing that helped me the most is to use settings on my ‘phone to limit hours spent on social media. Through the pandemic, I found my habits increased, as a way of staying more connected through the lockdown. Perhaps now is the time to look at our habits. These are choices we can make for ourselves – do we have to be a slave to email and social media? It’s up to us.
3. Food for Well-being
According to www.stress.org.uk answering no to most or all these questions indicates you could benefit from help to ensure your diet is not causing or increasing bodily stress:
· Do you have a healthy balanced diet?
· Do you eat regular meals (at least 3 a day)?
· Do you eat breakfast?
· Do you eat 5 portions of vegetables a day?
· Do you eat red meat less than twice a week?
· Do you eat fresh, home-prepared meals more than pre-prepared ready meals?
4. Learn to Prioritize Yourself and say No
If you feel you are taking on too much, rushing from one thing to another and feeling overwhelmed, then you may need help being more assertive and saying no. Saying no is healthy, allowing you to focus on your health and well-being. It also enables you to focus on other more important things or make necessary changes to your lifestyle.
5. Get enough Sleep
Lack of sleep is one of the biggest contributors to coping with daily stress. Getting 7-9 hours on average per night helps to improve memory, immunity, and our ability to focus.
Avoid caffeine, 6 hours before sleep. Ensure you have a period of wind down at least 1 hour before bedtime, switch off your ‘phone or TV, and read, meditate, write a journal, make a camomile tea, or have a relaxing Epsom salt bath.
Stress is a physical bodily reaction. Stress is not always a terrible thing, but prolonged stress has been linked to chronic illnesses, such as cardiovascular disease, and an increase in blood pressure, as well as being indirectly linked to cancers.
Raising our self-awareness of how we are feeling, enables us to consciously make lifestyle changes. These could include prioritizing more sleep, adjusting our diet, cutting down on social media use, taking a daily walk, or learning to no.