That’s when a gallon of gas cost $1.05, Ross Perot announced he’d run for president, and “Wayne’s World” hit the theaters. It’s also when The Health Resource Network started sponsoring Stress Awareness Month. Every April, people across the country join forces to spread awareness about “the causes and cures for our modern stress epidemic.”
Stress epidemic? How bad could a little stress be?
A little stress is not the problem. Technically, stress is simply your body’s response to any demand for change. Or as Web MD puts it, “stress is what you feel when you have to handle more than you are used to.” But when stress turns into a continuous experience with no breaks in between, the cumulative impact of those responses can lead to heart problems, insomnia, loss of sex drive, muscle pain and digestive issues – to name a few.
What’s disturbing is how many Americans are dealing with those symptoms now. The American Institute of Stress and the American Psychological Association found in 2014 that 77% of Americans regularly experience physical stress symptoms. About a third (33%) felt they were living with extreme stress.
- As far back as 2007 it was reported that 54% of Americans said stress caused them to fight with people close to them.
- The same study reported that one in four said that stress alienated them from a friend or family member.
- Employers are estimated to lose $300 billion annually due to stress-related health expenses and missed work.
Stress drivers: Getting to the root of stress
What’s behind the stress epidemic? Work tops the list for most people, with difficult bosses, co-worker tensions and general overload.
Then there’s money, particularly lost wages and giant medical bills. Preparing for unexpected financial burdens with an emergency fund is an easy way to cope with stress. Health issues are another category of stress in their own right. So are relationships, arguments, transitions like divorce and death, and overall loneliness. Finally, there’s bad nutrition, media overload and sleep deprivation.
How to mitigate your stress: 4 important tools
- Find an out — When stress is severe, it’s hard to imagine any other reality. That’s a trap. Look for ways to separate from your stress on a daily or weekly basis – even if it’s just moments at a time – with activities that shift your focus, expand your perspective and make you feel grounded again.
- Notice your body — Mindfulness is a powerful stress-relieving tool. The goal is simply to notice the sensations you’re feeling in any given moment, then continue paying attention to them. When your mind starts racing, just check in with your body again. You can practice mindfulness anywhere, and it becomes more effective the more you do it.
- Get outside and move — Sometimes nature and exercise can reset your mind and body almost on contact. Go for a walk. If it’s sunny, drink in the light. Breathe, look around. Find something active that you like to do.
- Talk to people — Having a conversation with another human being can help you feel heard and known. Even if a deep conversation isn’t on the table, talking to others can remind you there are other ways to think about things, and bump you out of your internal monologue.
Since April is Stress Awareness Month, it’s the perfect time to pay attention to how you’re feeling and test drive these four stress mitigation tools as needed. No pressure!