No surprise, stress is on the rise yet again.
According to a December 2022 report from the American Psychiatric Association, “More than one in four (26%) reported they anticipated experiencing more stress at the start of 2023, up from one in five (20%) last year.”
“It’s concerning any time we hear Americans say that they are more stressed out and that their mental health is worse, and we know that there are many contributing causes, including economic uncertainty and another season of respiratory illnesses,” said APA President Rebecca W. Brendel, M.D., J.D.
Additional sources of stress include physical and mental health worries, relationship woes and job security. Personally, I’m sometimes unaware that I’m stressed. Everything in life might be coasting along fine, but a few work deadlines coupled with heavy traffic can turn the tides quick. It’s partially for this reason that April was designated as National Stress Awareness Month.
What is National Stress Awareness Month?
Since 1992, April has been designated as National Stress Awareness Month to raise awareness of the negative impact of stress and chronic stress, which we are inundated with daily. Becoming aware of the many stressors we endure on a daily basis allows for us to better navigate stressful times by learning what triggers stress within ourselves and how to cope with it. You might seem a bit agitated after a heated lane change on the highway, but the effects of chronic stress on the body can be far reaching and expand greatly beyond agitation.
What is Stress?
According to the World Health Organization, “Stress can be defined as a state of worry or mental tension caused by a difficult situation. Stress is a natural human response that prompts us to address challenges and threats in our lives. Everyone experiences stress to some degree. The way we respond to stress, however, makes a big difference to our overall well-being.”
The human body is designed to experience stress and react to it. When you experience changes or challenges (stressors), your body produces physical and mental responses. That’s stress. A little bit of stress is good and can help us perform daily activities. Too much stress can cause physical and mental health problems. Learning how to cope with stress can help us feel less overwhelmed and support our mental and physical well-being.
Stress makes it hard for us to relax and can come with a range of emotions, including anxiety and irritability. When stressed, we may find it difficult to concentrate. We may experience headaches or other body pains, an upset stomach or trouble sleeping. We may find we lose our appetite or eat more than usual. Chronic stress can worsen pre-existing health problems and may increase our use of alcohol, tobacco and other substances.
Stressful situations can also cause or exacerbate mental health conditions, most commonly anxiety and depression, which require access to health care. When we suffer from a mental health condition, it may be because our symptoms of stress have become persistent and have started affecting our daily functioning, including at work or school.
Chronic stress reaches all systems of the body including the musculoskeletal, respiratory, cardiovascular, endocrine, gastrointestinal, nervous, and reproductive systems.
What are Common Reactions to Stress?
Everyone reacts differently to stressful situations, but common reactions to stress include an increased heart rate, quickened breathing and tense muscles. This combination of reactions, known as the “fight or flight” response, evolved as a survival mechanism for mammals to react quickly to life-threatening situations such as predators. The hormonal changes and physiological responses help humans to fight the threat or flee to safety. When you’re being chased by a bear or an alligator, it makes complete sense for the fight or flight response to take over.
Unfortunately, the body can overreact to stressors that are not life-threatening, such as the pressure of traffic jams or a heavy workload.
Why is Stress Bad?
Over time, repeated activation of the stress response takes a toll on the body. Research suggests that chronic stress contributes to high blood pressure, promotes the formation of artery-clogging deposits, and causes brain changes that may contribute to anxiety, depression, and addiction. Chronic stress also suppresses the body's immune system, making it harder to recover from illnesses.
Meanwhile, repeated acute stress may also contribute to inflammation in the circulatory system, particularly in the coronary arteries, and this is one pathway that is thought to tie stress to a heart attack. It also appears that how a person responds to stress can affect cholesterol levels.
Addressing Stress in April
All throughout April in the Hyper Wellness blog, we’re taking steps to address stress awareness at home and in the workplace, as well as ways to alleviate stress, foods that may help ease stress and Restore modalities that can help us to better manage stress.
If any of the above reactions to stress sounds like something you’re experiencing, we might suggest taking a walk, trying a guided meditation, taking the time to connect with others, or stopping into Restore for a quick Cryotherapy session. And if you're not sure if stress is the cause or if you've taken steps to control your stress but your symptoms continue, see your doctor.