Navigating Stress: A Guide to Coping Strategies During Stress Awareness Month
April marks Stress Awareness Month, an important occasion to examine the effects of stress on our bodies and learn effective coping strategies. Since 1992, Stress Awareness Month has aimed to raise awareness of the causes and treatments for the stress epidemic affecting our modern society. This month provides a valuable opportunity for open conversations on the impact of stress, and to eliminate the shame, guilt, and stigma associated with mental health. It's a chance to discuss stress, its consequences, and share our mental and emotional states with friends, family, colleagues, and professionals.
In support of Stress Awareness Month, the American Psychological Association (APA) conducts annual surveys across the United States to gather data on the sources and intensity of stress and how people respond to stressors both mentally and physically.
Let’s start with a few statistics:
According to The American Institute of Stress:
About 33% of people report feeling extreme stress
77% of people experience stress that affects their physical health
73% of people have stress that impacts their mental health
48% of people have trouble sleeping because of stress
Unfortunately, for about half of all Americans, levels of stress are getting worse instead of better.
Top Causes of Stress
Depending on a person’s thinking patterns and coping skills, almost anything can cause stress. Some of the most frequently cited sources of stress include:
Personal health issues
Family health problems
Stress Can Lead to a Decline in Health
Our bodies are well equipped to handle stress in small doses, but when that stress becomes long-term or chronic, it can have serious effects on your body. Not only does it affect our Nervous system but it also changes the way our Reproductive, Respiratory and Cardiovascular Systems function, only to name a few.
While we all feel stress from time to time, when it’s long lasting or chronic, it may begin to affect not only our physical health, but our mental health as well. A few important ones to mention are:
High blood pressure
High stress levels can often also lead to substance use. When stress is high and a person is desperate to relax, they may turn to alcohol and other drugs. Paradoxically, drugs and alcohol often increase stress in the long run, especially if an individual develops addiction or dependence.
Coping With Stress and Anxiety
Learning what causes or triggers your stress and what coping techniques work for you can help reduce your anxiety and improve your daily life. It may take trial and error to discover what works best for you. Here are some activities you can try when you start to feel overwhelmed:
Keep a journal.
Download an app that provides relaxation exercises (such as deep breathing or visualization) or tips for practicing mindfulness, which is a psychological process of actively paying attention to the present moment.
Exercise, and make sure you are eating healthy, regular meals.
Stick to a sleep routine, and make sure you are getting enough sleep.
Avoid drinking excess caffeine such as soft drinks or coffee.
Identify and challenge your negative and unhelpful thoughts.
Reach out to your friends or family members who help you cope in a positive way.
Recognize When You Need More Help
If you are finding it difficult to cope or if the symptoms of your stress or anxiety persist, it might be the right time to seek help from a professional. Psychotherapy, also known as talk therapy, and medication are the primary treatments for anxiety, and a combination of both often proves helpful for many individuals.
When stress starts to impact your daily life and prevents you from doing the things you enjoy, it is important to take action and prioritize your mental health. Asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but rather a courageous step towards a healthier and happier future.
If you or someone you know has a mental illness, is struggling emotionally, or has concerns about their mental health, there are ways to get help. Find your local Federally Qualified Health Center, as they may be a low-cost way for you to meet with a professional. Read more about getting help.
NIMH: Anxiety Disorders
NIMH: Tips for Talking With a Health Care Provider About Your Mental Health
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: Anxiety and Depression in Children