National Stress Awareness Day is traditionally observed on April 16 – the day after taxes are due. Taxes certainly are stressful, yet in 2021 Americans have far more to worry about than our tax returns.
With the coronavirus pandemic, a year of layoffs, and the general uncertainty about the shape of the future, Americans have never been more stressed – and they’ve never had more reason to be.
This National Stress Awareness Day, we’ll be discussing the effects of stress on the body, the stressful climate that we live in, and a few easy ways to alleviate stress – so you can get back to enjoying your life.
What are the negative health implications of stress?
Stress manifests itself in many ways. According to the Mayo Clinic, stress can affect your body through headaches, muscle tension, fatigue and sleep issues. It can affect your mood, causing anxiety, restlessness, a lack of motivation and depression. It can even affect your behaviors – stress can result in drug, alcohol or tobacco misuse, social withdrawal, eating issues and even angry outbursts.
Prolonged stress has even more severe consequences and can contribute to high blood pressure diagnoses, heart disease, obesity and diabetes.
Stress and coronavirus
America has never been so stressed out. According to research from the American Psychological Association (APA), 78 percent of surveyed adults said that the coronavirus pandemic had been a significant source of stress in their lives, and 67 percent of respondents have experienced increased stress throughout the pandemic. Increased body tension, irritability and unexpected mood swings are all ways that this stress has manifested itself.
This reaction is understandable – the coronavirus pandemic has changed our lives dramatically. However, when stress compounds, it becomes even more dangerous. The APA also reports that 65 percent of adults find the current uncertainty that America faces to be stressful. What does this mean? We face a stress crisis, and it has never been more essential to make stress – and stress reduction – a priority.
How can I alleviate stress in my life?
We’ve already established that we live in a stressful climate. However, the good news is that there are active steps we can take to alleviate the stress we feel. Below are some effective tips for reducing stress:
- Stay hydrated: one of the most accessible ways to reduce stress is to drink water. Why does water matter so much? Dehydration releases cortisol, and it mimics the symptoms of chronic stress (headache, fatigue, increased heart rate, nausea). It’s not a complete cure, but drinking more water will certainly begin the process of soothing stressful feelings.
- Focus on sleep: lack of sleep raises the cortisol in the body, making you more likely to be stressed. A solid sleep schedule and reducing blue light before bed can work wonders on your stress levels.
- Choose high-fiber, antioxidant-rich foods: Foods high in fiber and starch help your body release serotonin, a hormone that can help you relax and reduce stress. Beans, sweet potatoes and oatmeal are all fantastic examples of stress-busting foods, and broccoli, spinach and kale are all examples of foods that are high in antioxidants.
- Laugh: this may sound painfully simple, but laughter can help to reduce your stress. Laughing releases endorphins and actually stimulates your body, and when you stop laughing, it can leave you feeling relaxed and happy. It’s a fantastic stress-buster, so don’t be afraid to take a break and let loose.
- Practice mindfulness: mindfulness is about focusing on what’s going on right around you, rather than the things that make you worried or stressed. Start with paying attention to the small things, such as breathing deeply, and perhaps check out a guided online meditation for more information.
- Try yoga: yoga is a practice that aims to integrate the mind with the body, and it combines all the benefits of exercise, meditation and controlled breathing that we’ve discussed above. The best part? It can reduce stress, lower blood pressure and relieve pain, depression, and anxiety.
- Exercise: exercise is a fantastic way to reduce stress. Physical activity releases endorphins, improves your mood, and makes you feel better. However, not all exercises have the same stress-busting qualities. The experts at the Mayo Clinic have shared their best tips for choosing a workout that brings some calm below:
- Choose an activity you love: the doctors agree – just about any form of exercise can decrease your stress, but you’ve got to pick an activity that you enjoy. Running is good for you, sure, but if you hate it, you’ve robbed it of its stress-busting qualities. Walking, tai chi, gardening, weightlifting, swimming and countless other sports are all great ways to exercise.
- Schedule it in: one of the easiest ways to stop exercising before you start is not taking the time to schedule it. It’s the reason why fitness classes are so popular (and so motivating) – they make you take the time out of your day, which is so crucial for building this healthy habit.
- Start slowly: if you haven’t exercised recently or are concerned about getting started, start slowly. It’s okay to walk before running and take a few gentle yoga classes before beginning a hefty vinyasa routine.
- Speak to your doctor: as always, speak to your doctor before starting any new fitness regime.
While these methods are an excellent way to start, if you find that the stresses and worries you face every day impact your life, consider speaking to a licensed mental health professional. They’ll work with you to create a program to manage your stress based on your needs.
Don’t let stress stop you from living your life. This National Stress Awareness Day, we urge you to take the steps you need today to break free from the burdens of stress.