April is National Stress Awareness Month
April 11, 2022 ~ It’s no secret that for many of us, these are stressful times! There is an ongoing pandemic with an ever-changing virus, political divisions, war in Ukraine, rising gas prices, inflation, and ever-increasing day-to-day responsibilities.
As April is Stress Awareness Month, there is no doubt that our mental health can be negatively affected due to the many challenges and stressors many of us are experiencing today, said Dr. Britany Alexander , a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “As such, now is a good time to stop and do a ‘stress check’ and adjust our toolkit to combat this common problem which can have consequences if left unaddressed” , she said.
Biologically speaking, stress is a complex response that our body uses to keep us safe, Dr. Alexander explained. Our bodies are well designed to deal with acute stress, but the chronic stress we are all subjected to is a different story.
“Common signs of excessive stress include irritability, poor concentration, low energy, sleep problems, increased or decreased appetite, weight changes, and excessive worry,” noted the Dr Alexander. “There may also be other subtle signs such as hair loss, nail biting, nervous energy and restlessness, clenched jaw, headache, nausea and bathroom issues. These signs can present in a mild form that could be managed with a few simple tools and lifestyle adjustments, however, if severe, they might require more intervention.
According to Dr. Alexander, a healthy lifestyle will go a long way in managing stress. A healthy diet low in processed foods and artificial sugar, high in green leafy vegetables, fibrous fruits, lean proteins and healthy fats – especially omega 3 fatty acids – will help you manage your stress levels.
Getting the recommended 30 minutes a day of exercise five days a week is also a great stress buster. Plus, incorporating a little mindful meditation into our daily or weekly schedule — even doing a one-minute meditation every few days — can make a difference.
Finally, having a routine sleep schedule — going to bed and waking up at the same time, yes, even on weekends — avoiding caffeine, minimizing alcohol intake, and turning off devices about an hour before bed can help if insomnia became a problem.
It’s also incredibly important to set healthy boundaries at home and at work, Dr. Alexander continued. “As much as possible, avoid bringing work home or being ‘on call’ at all hours of the day and night,” she said. “And don’t be afraid to practice the art of saying ‘no.’ You don’t have to make three dishes for the bake sale this year. You could choose not to be part of this committee this time around. You could make dinner a potluck instead of cooking everything yourself.
It is also important not to underestimate the value of leisure in our lives.
“We all have different resources at our disposal, but I encourage myself and others not to neglect your hobbies and fun, relaxing activities,” Dr. Alexander explained. “Take the time to read. Host a safe meeting with friends and family; pull out a board game. Go see a concert if you can. Singing is free! Dancing can also be practiced almost anywhere. The message here is: “Don’t forget the fun!” ”
If your stress-related symptoms last longer than two weeks, or if you or your loved ones begin to think the symptoms are interfering with your daily functioning, it may be time to seek professional help, notes Dr. Alexander. There are many treatment options that could include a one-on-one conversation with a trained professional, group therapy, or speaking with your primary care doctor or psychiatrist to consider taking medication.
“Ultimately, yes, stress can be part of our daily lives, but it shouldn’t get in the way of our ability to feel good about ourselves and function well,”
says Dr. Alexander. “Taking the right steps to maintain good mental health is critically important to our overall good health.”