Did you know April is National Stress Awareness Month? According to the American Institute of Stress (2023), over 50% of Americans report experiencing stress on a daily basis. We’ve all experienced stress at one time in our lives or another.
Quite frankly, stress is inevitable. There is stress that we can simply shrug off our shoulders….and then there is stress that can lead to sleepless nights, appetite changes, inability to concentrate, and interference with essentially every area of our lives. You’ve probably been there. I have too! As a teacher, graduate student, wife, and mom of two, it can be easy for stress to creep up on me with all the responsibilities I have from day to day. Sometimes, stress fades away with a new day, but if the cause of your stress doesn’t disappear, it can linger.
Stress is Real
Have you had that fight or flight response to stress before? When I was in my twenties, I once lost control of my vehicle while driving on a back road in the rain. I saw an oncoming car and slammed on my brakes. Everything was a blur, but I could feel the sway of my truck as it fish-tailed down the road. My truck left the road and I thought it was over for me. I was heading directly for a massive tree, with no way to avoid it or stop my truck.
After the impact, I was left with ringing ears, a spinning head, and a sense of shock that I was still breathing. Lucky to be alive? Yes, I was. Stressed beyond belief from the event and my panicked state? Yes, I was. Little did I know at that time, I would continue to feel that stress for years on narrow back roads or while driving in bad weather. When I realized that this stress would follow me in the future, I also became aware that I had to learn to manage it, whether I was on the road or elsewhere.
The Impact of Stress
Prolonged stress can be detrimental to your health – even crippling. Tension from stress can increase body pain and result in back aches, headaches, and other chronic pain problems.
Chronic stress can impair your immune system and lead to increased illness and infection. It can also put you at risk for developing physical and mental difficulties like mood disorders, obesity, and diabetes. Stress can also interfere with digestion and can lead to constipation or diarrhea. It can even interfere with your breathing or lead to high blood pressure or heart attacks (American Psychological Association, 2023).
Even when you try to avoid situations that cause stress, you may still find yourself trapped in the moment when new or unexpected stress occurs. If that happens, try to stop what you’re doing and just breathe. While taking intentional time out to meditate is amazing, it’s not always possible when you encounter unforeseen stress. Still, inhaling deeply, then slowly exhaling, may help relax your body and mind no matter where you are or what you’re doing. Thinking about something positive or something you are looking forward to while controlling your breathing may also diminish stress.
After your body exits a stressed state, take time to reflect on what caused your stress and how you can recognize the onset of these feelings in the future. Being more aware of the stress in your life can help you have more control over your responses to stressful situations in the future.
Looking for a book to read to help manage stress? Check out these titles!
Schedule a time to meet with me to explore ways to take control of the stress in your life!
O’Fallon Public Library Social Work Intern
American Institute of Stress (2023). What is stress? https://www.stress.org/daily-life
American Psychological Association (2023). Stress effects on the body. https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/body
Leave a Reply