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!

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