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Understanding Stress and Healthy Coping Strategies

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Understanding Stress and Healthy Coping Strategies

April is Stress Awareness Month – a time to take a deep breath, analyze our own stress levels, and find ways to help reduce the impact of stress on our mental health and daily activities.

Stress and Your Health

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) cites that unmanaged stress can cause mental health stressors including excessive worry, uneasiness and tension. This can lead to physical issues like headaches or body aches, a loss of sleep, high blood pressure, and more.

According to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), high stress levels can cause “feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration.” When unchecked, this can lead to multiple mental health and physical health issues, including exasperating already diagnosed mental health concerns like anxiety and depression.

Healthy Ways to Cope With Stress

However, stress management doesn’t have to be all doom and gloom. The mental health experts at JFCS note that there are multiple healthy ways to cope with stress that can help to reduce its negative mental and physical health side effects.

Here are just a few:

  • Take a break from the news, social media, and electronics. Of course, it’s important to stay up to date with what is going on around you, but the constant 24/7 news cycle that is today’s media landscape can be overwhelming even in the best of circumstances. Consider implementing news, social media and even electronic device breaks into your daily or weekly routine to help ground yourself and disconnect.
  • Prioritize self-care. For many of us, we often put ourselves on the backburner and prioritize everyone around us first. But just like on an airplane where you must put on your own oxygen mask before your child’s, self-care is important to managing stress levels. Check out this past blog post on some self-care management tips, including embracing mindfulness, getting proper rest, staying active, and being kind to yourself.
  • Create a healthy sleep routine. “Getting enough sleep is important for both body and mind,” according to the World Health Organization (WHO). “Sleep repairs, relaxes and rejuvenates our body and can help reverse the effect of stress.” Experts note that some ways to create an ideal sleep routine is to avoid electronics an hour before bedtime, have a consistent wake-up time (even on weekends), and limit caffeine in the evening to help your body rest properly.
  • Reach out and bond with others. Making time to catch up with your support network is a great way to reduce feelings of loneliness, vent about stressful events, and get your mind off what is causing the stress – even if just for a few moments. You can connect in-person, virtually or even just over a few texts.
  • Embrace healthy, sustainable habits. While the thought of starting an entire fitness routine or overhauling your eating habits can cause stress, experts instead recommend making small sustainable changes to help stress levels. These can include little things like going for a short walk or choosing healthier snacks. Little sustainable actions can make a big difference.
  • Breathe with intention. We are all busy 24/7 it feels like but taking moments here and there to allow yourself to take a few deep breaths – especially during a stressful situation – can often help calm nerves. Not sure where to start? Experts often recommend downloading a mindfulness or guided breathing app to help make it part of your daily routine.

Stress is a part of daily life to varying degrees and learning how best to manage it can help build resilience and reduce its impact on both your mental and physical health – not just during Stress Awareness Month but year-round.