April is a month of stress awareness and has been held every April, since 1992 to increase public awareness about both the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic. Stress can be emotional or physical, and can feel like frustration, anger, or nervousness. Stress is your body’s hard-wired response to challenging experiences. It can be helpful in the short term, but it can be harmful if it is persistent or increasing over a long period of time.
The theme for Stress Awareness Month 2021 is ‘Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control’.
We are encouraging you to pick one action each for your Physical, Mental and Emotional Wellbeing to carry out every day.
It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits, which is why this is a month-long programme. The 30-day challenge will maximise your chances of turning useful knowledge and techniques into positive behavioural change.
Stress can manifest as:
- Hair loss
- Sexual dysfunction
- Muscle tension
- Difficulty concentrating
How does stress work?
When you experience stress, your adrenal gland will release stress hormones: cortisol and epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. As travel through your blood stream, adrenaline will cause your heart to beat faster while raising your blood pressure.
Cortisol can cause the inner lining of blood vessels to not function normally, it can also increase your appetite increase your craving for high energy foods like carbohydrates.
In the brain, your autonomic nervous system is active when stress is detected. This link between your brain and gut can feel like butterflies in your stomach. When stress is high and ongoing, this may lead to increased gut sensitivity to acid and irritable bowel syndrome. Days, weeks, months, or years of corticosteroids that result from chronic stress can damage parts of the brain – like the hippocampus which allows you to form new memories.
How to stay calm and collected?
How you respond to stress can significantly impact your health and negate the negative health outcomes listed above. With the help of therapy, you can begin to view stressful situations as challenges you can control can allow you to perform better in the short term.
Practice under stressful conditions: When you know that you are about to enter a stress situation such as studying for an exam, try to prepare in conditions similar to the stressful event. For example, you can study at a desk rather than lying down on a couch to mimic the environment of the exam which can assist in memory and lower the feeling of stress. You may initially study at home at your desk, and then move onto studying at home with friends present, to then studying at a library while preparing for your exam to increase stress gradually without it being too intense.
Stand back and observe: While it can take practice – trying to stand back and observe stressors, or intrusive thoughts, or anxious feelings as they increase, plateau, and then decrease – sometimes plans may fall through, or disappointment may be experiences and it is at these times that self-forgiveness and compassion are crucial.
Daily or consistent exercise: Exercise is a useful tool that assists in steady, controlled breathing and increased heart rate which are linked to reduced feelings of anxiety, and an increased sense of wellbeing. Regular exercise can also assist in rested deep sleep.
Controlled breathing: The brain can only process so much information at once, when thoughts relevant to the task at hand are competing with intrusive or anxious thoughts, working memory can become overwhelmed. Deep breathing exercises can allow to have some mental space from thoughts that are not pertinent to the task at hand as well as being associated with decreased anxiety.
What else could you do for Stress Awareness Month?
- Talk about Stress and it’s effects – lets work together to reduce the stigma that is associated with stress by talking about the topic openly and freely with friends, family and colleagues.
- Share your coping mechanisms – if something has worked for you why not share it. It might benefit someone you care about and in the meantime, it might help you take your focus off your own challenges.
- Be nice to those who are stressed and anxious – we are all undoubtedly going to experience stress and anxiety in our lifetime so treat others going through wit with compassion and empathy.
- Look after yourself – we all need to think more about self –care. Take time out of your day to relax or do something that you enjoy. Don’t forget to exercise and eat well, even when you feel too stressed.
The most crucial thing you can do when you are stressed or anxious is to make sure you are continuing to look after yourself. Make time to relax when you need to and learn to say no to requests that are too much for you.