Did you know that April is Stress Awareness Month in the United States? The Health Resource Network (HRN) sponsors this initiative, which began in 1992. Stress Awareness Month seeks to bring attention to stress, the dangers of uncontrolled stress, and ways to reduce stress in our daily lives. Although many of us have experienced moments of stress, it can be a very complex emotion and state. Just how much do you know about stress?
What is Stress?
Stress is the result of the body's natural "fight or flight" response. This surge of adrenaline, historically, enabled warriors to march into battle, those in danger to avoid a perilous situation, and caveman hunters to stalk their family's evening meal. However, in modern society, that adrenaline has little or no outlet. We're not going to fight the boss who makes us angry (or at least we shouldn't), nor are we able to go out into the forest to hunt for our food when funds are low.
While a little stress is good for us - it gives us energy and enthusiasm - too much can have serious health effects. According to WebMD, stress can cause everything from headaches, to elevated blood pressure, to chest pain, to insomnia. In fact, they maintain that between 75 and 90 percent of all visits to doctors' offices are for stress-related issues. Experts also caution that people under great deals of stress are more likely to form addictive habits those who have found ways to minimize their stress level. It isn’t always easy, but it can be done!
Dealing with Everyday Stress
Eliminating stress completely from our lives is virtually impossible. Not only are older adults or ill individuals prone to the stresses of their age and situation, but family members and loved ones are also particularly prone to stress. It's easy to see why; there's the fear of the unknown future, of not being able to do everything the person you're caring for needs and, often, there are financial and health-related worries.
Tips for reducing stress
Fortunately, there are many easy and affordable ways to keep your stress level in check.
- Get a pet. Basking in the unconditional love and loyalty of a pet cat or dog is a good way to relieve stress. WedMD cites several studies that show a wagging tail or a purring bundle of fur can help ease tension and even ward off depression.
- Garden more. Digging in the dirt and watching things grow is calming and requires little skill or equipment. According to an American Alzheimer's Association study, 60 percent of caregivers reported finding gardening relaxing.
- Laugh it off. Letting yourself laugh is another way to reduce your stress level. According to the Mayo Clinic, laughing relaxes muscles and releases endorphins, which help improve your mood. So don't be afraid to tell a joke or rent a funny movie. It might just be what the doctor ordered.
- Curl up with a good book. Reading is the ultimate escapism. For a few minutes or a few hours, you can be somewhere else in the world, in another time, and in another life.
- Pray. According to research, individuals who are religious “are better able to cope with stress, they heal faster from illness, and they experience increased benefits to their health and well-being.” A strong sense of spirituality can connect you to the world, and helps you to better understand that you cannot control everything. Likewise, when you feel a sense of greater belonging, you’ll find it easier to know that you aren’t responsible for life’s occurrences. Based on research surveys at Duke University “appraising the effects of prayer on health” in the Handbook of Religion and Health, experts found that:
- Hospitalized people who never attended church have an average stay of three times longer than people who attend regularly. Spiritual health is important!
- People who are more religious tend to become depressed less often. When they do become depressed, they recover more quickly.
Take a few minutes in April to consider the stress factors in your life and set up a plan to combat them with whatever your remedy may be. Exploring stress-focused information can be a great place to start.
Fortunately for us, we have access to a multitude of resources through the Internet, the few items below can help you explore stress and learn more:
- To help with stress awareness and reduction efforts, HRN is offering a free eBook on how to reduce stress.
- Healthguide.org suggests starting a Stress Journal – learn more here.
- The Mayo Clinic offers a Guide to Stress-Free Living, where you can gather important information that will help you use your brain and mind to live your life to its fullest potential.
- Help fight stress with these healthy habits from the American Heart Association
- Don’t forget to check sites like Pinterest for stress management and relief help
- Dr. Roberta Lee explains how to nourish your body and recognize, rebalance, and protect yourself against stress in The SuperStress Solution
While ridding your life completely of stress is nearly impossible, especially if you're caring for an older family member, keeping stress in check is important to your overall good health. For more health tips and resources, sign up for our monthly eNewsletter.