This coming November 2nd is International Stress Awareness Day, marked by the International Stress Management Association.
International Stress Awareness Day has been celebrated since 2018, with the aim of addressing the realities of everyday stressors and their impact on communities and individuals alike, as well as destigmatizing conversations around stress in our daily lives and the results of excess stress – from mental health problems to exacerbated physical conditions and metabolic illnesses.
Stress has become a household topic in recent decades, and the conversations around the impact of stress – and the different ways in which we might address it both at home and in the workplace – have grown. Nevertheless, there are still ways in which we could improve the way we treat stress-related health issues and the topic of stress itself.
While most Americans are aware of the impact of stress on longevity and quality of life, few take the opportunity to improve their stress management abilities or address rising stress levels in their own lives. Although many of the concerns that lie at the forefront of current public consciousness – such as inflation, the pandemic, and war – are global concerns, Americans remain some of the most stressed people on Earth relative to other countries.
Some of the worst things to stress about are things we cannot affect. But no matter how bad things get, your stress levels are something you can address. This International Stress Awareness Day, let us emphasize stress management at home and learning to better cope with both internal and external stressors, from illness to inflation.
How Does Stress Work?
To understand what stress is, we must go back in time to the point at which it was discovered. Although distress, as a concept, is older than the English language, our modern understanding of stress can be traced back to the research of endocrinologist Hans Selye, who revolutionized our understanding of the way the body (and, in turn, the mind) react to so-called stressors.
In his early medical years, Selye discovered similarities in symptoms between vastly different cases of chronic illnesses, such as tuberculosis and cancer, and hypothesized that something other than their illness itself was to blame. His research led him to the conclusion that humans, like other animals, when exposed to harsh environments or difficult circumstances, react in a way that can be observed through our endocrine system – through the release of hormones like cortisol and adrenaline.
Selye ultimately coined the term “stress response,” first called the general adaptation syndrome or Selye’s syndrome, as the body and mind’s general response to internal and external stressors such as illness, injury, and anxiety.
Physical and Psychological Effects
Stress has both physical and psychological effects, and there are signs and symptoms of stress in both the body and mind. Things like an increased heart rate, palpitations, difficulty breathing, and nervous sweating are a few common physical signs of stress. In turn, emotional signs of stress include irrational behavior and risk-taking, irritability, restlessness, and anxious thoughts (i.e., excessive worry).
Internal and External Stimuli
Today, we understand that internal and external stimuli (or stressors) both result in the accumulation of stress and a biological stress response. The degree to which a person experiences stress, as well as how stressed they are by certain things, is entirely individual. In other words, certain types of music might calm someone down or stress them out further.
Some stressors are more universal. Pain is a common one. Chronic illness is deeply tied to chronic stress because ongoing symptoms can wear down the body and mind alike, which results in greater stress responses. This, in turn, can slow recovery and healing and lead to worse outcomes.
Understanding how stress can play a role in hampering the body is important to understanding why affecting and mediating stress is crucial, especially for people with chronic physical or mental health issues. By lowering your stress levels, you are improving your quality of life, even if the underlying condition – like arthritis to depression – remains unchanged.
Why Do We Call It Stress?
Before the 1950s, the biological and psychological concepts of stress did not really exist in the public consciousness.
Etymologically, the term was used almost exclusively to refer to material stress, for example, the stress on a workpiece in an iron lathe or the stress on a piece of rope from being used in a pulley. No one in the late 19th century talked about feeling “stressed out.”
Today, we know that too much pressure can result in physiological as well as psychological wear and tear – just like a piece of steel, a person can become overwrought. So, why don’t we deal with that pressure often enough?
The Stigma of Stress
Despite being a familiar concept for the better half of a century, psychological stress and its effects on the average person have gone mostly ignored for decades. It’s only more recently – amid talk of burnout culture and rising mental health issues – that the topic of stress in the community has been taken more seriously.
This is especially important in industries and professions where toughness – such as the ability to hide how much the job might be affecting you – is prized. Work-related stress problems affect doctors, nurses, combat veterans, lawyers, entrepreneurs, and traders alike, as well as millions of workers across the US.
While it has become more common to acknowledge the impact that stress has on minds and bodies across different professions, it’s still something we must work on. Shining a light on the results of excessive stress and poor stress management skills is important.
Addressing Stress at Home
Stress as a physiological response can be mediated through so-called stress management techniques. These utilize your own natural ability to affect the sympathetic nervous system through the parasympathetic nervous system – for example, using breathing exercises to calm your heart rate and reduce your anxiety, or utilizing pleasant aromas to calm your nerves and relax.
Try different things. If the staples – like a massage, a scented candle, or meditation – don’t work for you, try something else, such as:
- Get moving for a few minutes
- Play a tactile puzzle with your hands
- Cook something
- Work on a personal art project
- Dance to some music
- Get a fidget toy
- And much more
Practice Stress Management on International Stress Awareness Day
Stress management contains a wide array of tools for mediating stress. Sometimes, however, your best option is to work with a professional to formulate a plan for your chronic stress and the impact it’s having on your life.
For more information about stress and anxiety, visit Amend Treatment.