Stress Awareness Month has been recognized every April since 1992 to help raise awareness of the cures and causes of stress.
After an incredibly challenging couple of years, people are experiencing more stress in both their personal and professional lives. A recent poll from the American Psychological Association shows that Americans are reporting overwhelming stress levels due to financial concerns, inflation, COVID-19, the war in Ukraine, and more.
"Our bodies can handle small doses of stress, but we are not equipped to handle long-term stress without consequences," says Tracy Farley, director of Behavioral Health Adult Services at Huntsman Mental Health Institute. "Chronic stress often causes more serious health problems like anxiety, depression, heart disease, eating disorders, migraines, digestive problems, and much more."
As mental health professionals have been warning us, enduring extraordinary stress and unprecedented circumstances for multiple years has long-lasting effects.
"High levels of prolonged stress are particularly worrisome because it will begin to challenge your ability to cope," Farley says. "When people consistently feel overwhelmed, they often turn to alternative ways to cope with their stress, like alcohol or drugs, which will make them feel worse."
Improving our collective mental health will require effort from everyone, but we can take simple steps now to reduce stress in our daily lives. Just a small amount of time and self-care can have a big impact on our happiness.
Farley recommends some quick, everyday strategies that will help reduce stress and improve our own mental health:
Take a walk
The link between physical activity and reduced stress has been established for a while, but it can be difficult to get motivated to get to the gym. Consider starting by taking a short walk around your neighborhood. A brisk, daily walk by yourself or with members of your household to get out of the home and into the fresh air. Even a brief session of aerobic activity will decrease tension, improve your mood, and decrease anxiety.
Prepare a low-stress meal
Research has shown that certain foods can help reduce stress. This includes healthy, vitamin-rich foods like salmon, okra, and spinach, along with crowd favorites like dark chocolate, potatoes, and oranges. Taking time to cook and eat a favorite meal can also help you relax after a stressful day.
Mindfulness is living with awareness and intention. Practicing mindfulness means you take time each day to rest, reflect, and reconnect, building a potent inner resource that lets you enjoy the good, be present in your life, and bounce back from stress. Others may prefer prayer or meditation, but the key is sharpening your mind and learning to live in the now.
Reach out to friends and family
The COVID-19 pandemic impacted people's sense of community and isolated many from their support networks, which can be detrimental to well-being and mental health. Connecting with family and friends is crucial. Research shows that more socially connected people tend to be happier, live longer, and have fewer mental health problems. Maintaining your close relationships can improve your ability to deal with stress, lead to better self-esteem, and lower cardiovascular risks.
Take a tech break
Our ability to connect with the world through technology has helped millions of people continue to live their lives through the pandemic, but it can also be a serious source of stress. Taking a break from social media, news feeds, texts, and calls can provide valuable perspective, ease the tension from stressful headlines, and help you work on mindfulness.
Remember what we love and enjoy
Ask yourself: What has worked for me in the past? What do I find essential? What do I truly value? When we get stressed, we get tunnel vision and lose focus on what our priorities actually are. We also forget the coping skills that have worked well for us in the past. Think of a time in your life when things were going well. What things did you do, and what things did you eliminate? The past few years have been challenging. You are resilient and capable.
Although reducing stress in your life will help benefit your mental health, sometimes that's just not enough. If you or someone you love is in need of expert help, don't hesitate to reach out.
A medical professional is always available to help if you have long bouts of depression or symptoms you just can't shake. Contact Huntsman Mental Health Institute to get help or learn more, or reach out to these resources:
- If you are feeling depressed, anxious, lonely, or having a personal struggle and need someone to listen, call the Utah Warm Line at 833-SPEAKUT (833-773-2588, toll free) or 801-587-1055 (local).
- If you or a loved one is experiencing a mental health crisis, call the Utah Crisis Line at 1-800-273-8255.