Stress Awareness Month

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

April is International Stress Awareness Month.  

Stress has many triggers, including politics, current events, health, disagreements with friends/family, money concerns, work deadlines, and more.

While some stress is normal, and can even be beneficial, many of our lifestyles encourage piling on stress and shouldering on. This can lead to multiple health issues. Learning good stress management techniques can do much more for you than you think!

Types of Stress

Stress is defined as any changes that cause physical, emotional, or psychological strain. In other words, stress is your body’s response to anything that requires attention.

There are 2 basic types of stress: eustress and distress.

Eustress is “good” stress. This stress tends to be short-term, motivating, and often perceived as exciting. Examples include pregnancy, landing that awesome job, going on vacation, holidays, or committing to learning a new skill or topic.

Distress is “bad” stress. This stress is de-motivating, can be long or short-term, causes anxiety or worry, decreases performance, and can lead to physical or mental health concerns. Examples include the death of a loved one, financial problems, struggles at work, illness, abuse/neglect, media overload, fears, current events, inadequate sleep, and poor nutrition.

Health implications of too much stress

Go ahead and relish in the motivation and excitement that comes from eustress.  Apply your focus to reach your goals. But make sure to keep it in check.  Your zeal to improve can lead to over-scheduling, undersleeping, and so on until it becomes a negative stressor!

Distress needs some more attention. And as a general population, we are not so great at managing it.

Acute (short-term) stress is to be expected and in general, won’t cause many health implications if we manage it well to prevent it from becoming chronic (long-term) stress.

Healthy Stress Management Techniques

Effective stress management really depends on the individual. One person’s stress relief could be a stressor for someone else.

I encourage people to have stress management techniques for 2 different expressions of stress.

Sometimes, we need to get jittery energy out.  Sometimes we need to zone out for a bit.  Having a technique for both at our fingertips is extremely useful.

Ideas include

  • Exercise – whichever you enjoy, though walking and hiking seem to be particularly helpful for a lot of people. Yoga is another excellent choice.
  • Puzzles/Coloring books
  • Arts and crafts, drawing, playing an instrument
  • Read a book, but maybe not Moby Dick…
  • Take a bath
  • Take a nap
  • Listen to music
  • Play with a pet or borrow a friend’s. Or volunteer to walk shelter doggies.
  • Meditation or deep breathing exercises
  • Progressive muscle relaxation
  • Watch a funny show/tv
  • Get a hug
  • Act silly. Dogs and kids are particularly helpful with this!

Longer-term stress management looks a bit more complicated but is totally doable.  Make plans and decisions ahead of time.   Instead of figuring out your work outfit bleary-eyed in the morning, then running late, choose it the night before. Go ahead and pack a lunch too!

Plan out your grocery runs and have at least a rough, but modifiable meal plan throughout the week.

Spend more time with people that relax you.

Get in your fruits and veggies every day and reduce your intake of fried and processed foods and red meat. 

An exercise routine is helpful, but moving more throughout your day may be even more impactful. So set your alarm every 1-1.5 hours and get your body moving for ~10 minutes.

Improve your sleep.  Get your 8 hours in!

Long-term outcomes of effective stress management

Stress management is a hard thing for many of us to take time for. We are so busy with so many tasks that taking time to decompress seems silly.

However, those that take time to reduce their stress typically become MORE productive and efficient throughout their day. Their mental health and sleep quality improve.

They have lower rates of heart disease, obesity, eating disorders, menstrual problems, sexual dysfunction, hair/skin problems, and gastrointestinal disorders.

Share with us!

Do you have a unique way of managing your stress?

What about a story about how stress management has improved your life?

Share in the comments below or join us on Facebook!

National Thank You Month

wood blocks spelling out thank you

Jennifer Hanes MS, RDN, LD

January is National Thank You Month. There are many people in the world that we should be saying “thank you” to.  Literally anyone in a service or healthcare industry. Teachers. First Responders. People who hold open doors or let you go before them in line.

But in the time of punishing New Year’s Resolutions (Whole30, anyone?) I think you should also say “Thank You” to yourself.

So what do you have to say thank you to yourself for?

Thank Yourself for the strength it took to get through 2020

It’s been a hard year for literally everyone. As our world has been turned upside down, we’ve become creative and determined to persevere in these weird challenges we’ve been given.

Thank yourself for all you did to keep yourself, your family, and your community safe.

You’ve been wearing your mask, right?

Thank Yourself for those times you were kind when no one was looking

Did you mow the neighbors’ lawn while they were at work?  Make food for your essential worker friends and family?  Increase your charitable donations?

You deserve to be thanked for that. And there’s no one better to do so!

Thank Yourself for the awesome skills you spent time and effort developing

In spite of, or rather due to, the pandemic, many of us have learned new skills.  Or even honed skills we already had.

What new skill did you learn that will serve you throughout the next few years?

Can you now cook a healthy meal instead of frequenting fast food and take-out restaurants?

Have you learned a new technique for managing your stress? Or created a full-proof time or project management system?  

You’ll be thanking yourself for years to come.

Thank Yourself for forgiving someone else

Sometimes the best thing you can do is forgive someone, as the mental load of anger can take its toll.

Have you done that this year?

Thank Yourself for taking the time to heal

Have you worked towards improving your mental or physical health? Because the two are so intertwined, sometimes helping one inadvertently helps the other.

For example, if you started exercising to improve your anxiety, you probably also improved your cardiovascular health.

Or maybe you decided to eat more healthily and your symptoms of depression are a bit easier to manage.

Either way, congratulate and thank yourself for taking action.

Thank Yourself for the measures you take to keep yourself and your family safe, happy, and healthy

There’s so much you do that impacts your family, and you may not realize it.  

Have you increased movement for fun, rather than purely for exercise?

You provide food, a place to live, and other necessities to your family, and you should be thanked for that.

Thank Yourself for working towards your goals

Even if you haven’t met them yet.

One of my mantras is “Progress, not perfection.”

What have you made progress on? Thank yourself for getting closer to your goals.

Thank Yourself for when you were bold. And when you were cautious

That time a spur-of-the-moment decision was worth it?

Or when you passed on a good offer because it seemed off?

Thank yourself for both

This feels silly, why should I do it?

Does just reading this make you feel a little self-conscious? Why should you spend your time on this?

Crowds out the negative self-talk

How can you think negatively when you just thanked yourself for something awesome? 

Positive Reinforcement

When you receive a thank you, it encourages you to do it again.

Positive thoughts lead to positive actions, just like negative words lead to negative actions.

Reduces the need for validation from outside sources

Who needs a thank you from someone unwilling to give it when you already know you did good?

Improves your self-esteem

Every time you thank yourself, or even just acknowledge when you did something good, you boost your self-esteem and validate yourself even without input from someone else.

Encourages you to continue to strive for improvement

When you do something that gives you confidence, you’ll strive to continue that achievement.

So pat yourself on the back when you take the next step towards your long-term goals. You’ll be more likely to keep pushing forward.

How to show gratitude to Yourself

  • By flower to brighten up your workspace
  • Write out a list of what you’re thankful for
  • Get your nails done
  • Say “yes” when someone offers you dessert
  • Brag on social media
  • Take a walk and enjoy your surroundings
  • Think of 2 positives for every negative complaint
  • Learn a yummy new recipe

What do you think?

Will this be your next New Year’s Resolution?  Maybe it should be!

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