Esperança

National Stress Awareness Day

Submitted by Valeria Lopez, Community Health Educator

Stress is one of the most dangerous and present factors we battle with daily. It arises unexpectedly due to situations out of our control. Stress follows us everywhere we go and is in everything we do; it comes with us to our work and even the most intimate parts of our lives, like the home. Sometimes we believe we got rid of the stress only to find out that it has manifested in a different way under the disguise of muscle tension, headache, lack of sleep, or even spontaneous bursts of anger.

There are two types of stress: positive stress that allow us to move forward and get things done and negative stress that puts our nervous system in alert and our mind and body under tension. The negative stress is the universal enemy of all human beings. Many times, it goes undetected and unnoticed, causing irreparable damage simply because we still do not know how to identify it and manage it properly.

"Stress that's left unchecked can contribute to many health problems, such as high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity and diabetes." (Mayo Clinic)

What is stress? Is it bad? Does it affect me overtime? Who does it affect?

Stress has no regard for age, gender, race, or ethnicity; no one is immune and is not specific to any individual or group of people. Stress functions as an adaptation mechanism that originates from our ancestors, and its purpose is to allow us to act appropriately and as needed in certain situations. This adaptation mechanism activates our physical and mental systems, commonly known as our fight-or-flight response.

Stress in our body functions as an indicator; it keeps us aware of our surrounding and perceived impending danger. Its goal is to keep us alive and moving forward. When this mechanism that once functioned as a survival tool remains activated for an extended period of time, we experience stress's negative side effects. The things that could promote this mechanism to work overtime are endless. It could be due to our perception of a situation, lack of organization, lack of emotional regulation skills, irrational thoughts, and fear, among many other possibilities.

Now the question is, how are we supposed to manage stress?

First, it's essential to acknowledge that each organism is different, and there will be situations and factors that generate stress for some individuals, while not for others. The first step is to identify what or who triggers our stress. We can accomplish this by using logical thinking, reasoning, and listening to the bodies. Our body usually communicates stress to us in the form of headaches, muscle tension, cramp, unpleasant emotions, or irritability.

Anticipating unwanted situations, events, or people and being self-aware of our actions can serve us as a tool to manage upcoming triggers and not be caught off guard. It is equally important to learn how to manage automatic negative thoughts that can sometimes make a feeling or situation worse by adding unnecessary stress.

It is crucial to pinpoint the root cause of the stress to be able to set healthy boundaries, where it would limit our exposure to this trigger. If limiting our exposure is impossible, we must work on our coping mechanism and techniques to strengthen these skills to the point where the trigger is no longer controlling us. Other adaption techniques like relaxation skills, perspective-shifting, and breathing exercises can also be beneficial.

Some techniques to reduce stress include:

  • Sleeping well
  • Breathing techniques
  • Physical activity
  • Meditation
  • Expression of feelings
  • Journaling
  • Having a strong support system
  • Being organized
  • Goal-setting

If you ever feel like you have lost control of your stress management and begin to interfere with your productivity and daily life routine, I encourage you to seek help from a professional in mental health. Stress is a factor that could affect your life's quality if you do not take immediate action as it deteriorates your overall health in the long term.

Another thing to consider is stress in children; let's not forget to support them and guide them towards self-emotional regulation. However, minimal you think their emotions are still teaching them how to express them and encouraging them to use critical thinking to regulate themselves and solve them; this will lead them to healthy stress management in the future as they become adults

Want to know more about stress?

Look at these statistics retrieved from the American Psychological Association from a study performed on 2017.  Where it shows the most common sources of stress in the U.S.

The top causes of stress in 2014.

Statistic Verification
Source: American Psychological Association, American Institute of Stress
Research Date: 7.8.2014
Top Causes of Stress in the U.S.
CauseFactors
1Job PressureCo-Worker Tension, Bosses, Work Overload
2MoneyLoss of Job, Reduced Retirement, Medical Expenses
3HealthHealth Crisis, Terminal or Chronic Illness
4RelationshipsDivorce, Death of Spouse, Arguments with Friends, Loneliness
5Poor NutritionInadequate Nutrition, Caffeine, Processed Foods, Refined Sugars
6Media OverloadTelevision, Radio, Internet, E-Mail, Social Networking
7Sleep DeprivationInability to release adrenaline and other stress hormones

In addition, the most common physical symptoms expressed and experienced by people were:

  • Fatigue 51 %
  • Headache 44 %
  • Upset stomach 34 %
  • Muscle tension 30 %
  • Change in appetite 23 %
  • Teeth grinding 17 %
  • Change in sex drive 15 %
  • Feeling dizzy 13 %
  • Irritability or anger 50 %
  • Feeling nervous 45 %
  • Lack of energy 45 %
  • Feeling as though you could cry 35 %

Stress is known as the silent killer. Listen to your body, be good to yourself, take this information into consideration, and start practicing stress relief techniques to reach a better quality of life.

Elena Burr