April is Stress Awareness Month, a national, cooperative effort to inform and correct misperceptions about the dangers of stress and spread the word about effective coping strategies for stress relief.
Unfortunately, stress and feeling stressed out often go hand-in-hand with mental health issues. People with generalized anxiety disorder or panic disorder may respond to stressors or stressful life circumstances by feeling anxious or experiencing panic attacks. Those affected by depression can experience distress when they see how the condition is impacting their lives, but yet they may feel powerless to do anything about it. And of course, family members and caregivers of those grappling mental health issues often experience tremendous amounts of stress trying to find support and care for their loved ones.
In the face of stress, the body’s response can be both physical and emotional: you may feel the tension caused by stress in your shoulders and neck, as well as heart-pounding in the chest — but you can also lose sleep, feel depressed, and get tired. When stress becomes long-term, it may increase your risk for serious health issues such as heart disease, mental distress, and weight gain.
Learning how to better manage stress is a helpful across-the-board measure just about anyone involved in the mental health community can benefit from. Good strategies for stress relief can include making sure you get enough sleep, eating healthy foods, avoiding caffeine, alcohol, and drugs, and seeking appropriate mental health care.
What else can work? Here are three suggestions:
- Meditation – This ancient practice has in recent years gained worldwide acceptance as a powerful therapeutic tool for relieving stress, among other benefits. As a stress relief technique, meditation can trigger the body’s relaxation response, which in turn helps to reduce blood pressure, lift depression, and ease stress.
- Yoga – Research backs up that yoga can lower blood pressure and reduce levels of the stress hormone cortisol. Yoga also helps to boost flexibility, strength, endurance, and balance, which helps with the body’s physical ability to cope with stress. Plus, focused breathing techniques taught in yoga can be used all on their own to help keep you calm.
- Massage Therapy – The stress relief from getting a massage can be immediate, but there are other long-term benefits associated with massage therapy including help for conditions such as arthritis, lower back pain, insomnia, headaches, and circulatory problems.
Feeling emotional and nervous or having trouble sleeping and eating can all be normal reactions to stress, especially stressful life events, such as the death of a loved one, moving, or starting a new job. As individuals, we all have unique reactions to the stressors in our lives. What bothers you may not bother someone else, and vice versa. However, what matters is getting the right care and support you need to keep stress from negatively impacting your life.