We may be more cognizant of the negative effects of excessive stress than ever before, but that awareness is not enough without proper knowledge of how to address excessive stress, and take better care of yourself.
This National Stress Awareness Day, let’s aim to learn more about how stress affects the mind and body, where our understanding of stress as a medical condition began, and how you can modulate, affect, and even eliminate stress in your daily life.
What National Stress Awareness Day Means
National Stress Awareness Day is observed every year in the first week of November, as per the International Stress Management Association. National Stress Awareness Day let’s us highlight the importance of stress management in improving quality of life and longevity, and the importance of combatting the stigma surrounding self-care, stress, and mental health issues.
Stress has become more and more of a topic of discussion in both mental health and professional circles, as more people than ever report burnouts and signs of excessive stress. Our understanding of stress as a catalyst for mental and physical illnesses has also drastically improved, as years of research have helped shed light on the connection between everyday stressors and mental or physical health issues, especially chronic health issues, metabolic illnesses, and mental stress disorders.
How Important is Stress Management?
Despite a clearer understanding of the role of stress in the development and severity of illnesses – and the importance of better stress management – stress management is still woefully undervalued by most. The APA reports that current stress levels among adults in the US is tantamount to a national mental health crisis, and our most recent post-COVID research shows that not only are Americans more stressed than ever before, but Americans are some of the most stressed people in the world.
Higher levels of stress correlate with higher incidences of mental and physical health problems, worse outcomes, and greater levels of pain, depression, and anxiety, as well as exacerbated chronic health issues.
Inflation, a pandemic, and a historic war in Eastern Europe are cited as some of the reasons we feel more stressed than in a good long while – finding ways to manage that stress is crucial, amid a wave of other health risks.
Can You Cope with Stress Naturally?
There’s no good way for an individual to address rising gas prices, solve a national health crisis, or end a war. But there are ways you can affect your mental state for the better, and effectively combat excessive stress, day-by-day.
No matter how small these changes might seem compared to your situation – whether it’s personal, existential, individual, or communal – a little really does go a long way. Sometimes, the best thing you can do is focus on your own wellbeing – and approach things with a fresh perspective. Here are a few tips.
A Good Diet
You don’t need to switch to costly organic meals and purely locally sourced vegetables or spend upwards of an hour a day in the kitchen.
A few changes to what you eat, restricting certain snacks, or swapping out to healthier alternatives (without breaking the bank!) can lead to improvements in both mental and physical health, and give you the opportunity to brush up on important and useful hobbies in the form of cooking and baking. Try:
- Substituting salty snacks like chips and fries for salted, air-popped popcorn.
- Buying fresh frozen vegetables in bulk and trying out quick and easy stir fry recipes.
- Minimizing oil use by relying on convection ovens, like air fryers, to reheat or cook new meals.
- Cutting out or reducing your bread, rice, and starch intake.
- Eating more fish and other seafoods.
- Buy a variety of colored fruits and vegetables! “Eating the rainbow” is a good plan. Buying frozen helps you avoid throwing things out.
- Invest in a blender and blend your meals. You can stuff a lot of flavor and vitamins in a frozen smoothie instead of a fruit salad.
- Swap dairy for lower-calorie plant milks, especially if you like smoothies.
- Keep your caffeine intake to a minimum! And cut out afternoon coffees, or swap to a strong tea.
- Use staple dishes to make life easier. Find two or three quick breakfast dishes you like, and alternate between them.
- Make leftovers! Cook more, so you don’t have to cook as often.
These are just a few tips – and you don’t need to incorporate them all at once. Taking a new step every few weeks to help improve your diet and nutritional intake will pay off in the long run.
Don’t Underestimate Sleep
Next to food, the most important mediator of stress and its metabolic effects is good sleep. Improving your sleep habits – from going to bed earlier, to waking up consistently, and cutting out things that might disrupt your sleep – can have an immediate impact on your cognition, productivity, mood, and overall health.
There are times when good sleep is simply an impossibility – taking care of a newborn, switching to a new work schedule, or times when you’ve got to travel a lot for work come to mind.
But continuing to neglect proper sleep for months, even years, can take a serious toll on your lifespan and overall quality of life. Invest in your sleep.
If need be, go see a medical professional about your sleeping habits – they can monitor you to identify potential issues such as sleep apnea or lack of deep sleep, and prescribe treatments to address your problem, and get you some serious shuteye.
Make Time for Friends
Even as introverts, humans are generally social animals – we need at least a little time among friends to help mediate our mental health and being part of a group can do wonders for your stress resilience and overall mental state. However, recent events have thrown a wrench into countless social gatherings, and for some people, it’s been exceptionally hard to get back out of the house and into a proper social rhythm.
Don’t let that keep you from rekindling old friendships or spending time on hobbies you used to enjoy in the company of others. In many cases, it might not even matter if you prefer to do things remotely – the important thing is to take the time out of your week to spend it with other people, and see your mood improve drastically.
Biological stress as a mechanism that affects us both mentally and physically was identified as recently as the late 1930s.
This means that our modern understanding of stress – down to using the word “stress” to refer to the pressures of living – is less than a hundred years old. And yet, we’ve come a long way in identifying how stress can impact our daily lives – and how we, in turn, can impact our stress levels.
Good food, great sleep, and better company are some of the simplest ways you can affect your stress on a daily basis. But don’t be afraid to experiment and try new things to cope! Pick up a book, try out a board game, give video games a try, go for a forest walk, go on your first hike in years, or sign up for a fun lass you’ve never experienced. It’s the little things all piling up that help us destress, and deal with what life throws at us, no matter how big.