The National Institute of Mental Health defines stress as “how the brain and body respond to any demand.” Everyone experiences stress at varying levels, and understanding the causes may help you find better coping strategies. With April being Stress Awareness Month, we wanted to take this opportunity to share some information about stress and tips for combating the stressors in your life.
- There are different types of stressors:
- Routine, which are part of your daily life, such as work and family
- Sudden, such as illness, losing your job, or getting a divorce
- Traumatic, like being assaulted or involved in a major accident
Stress automatically triggers your “fight or flight” response. The way you react can have a big impact on your overall health - do you see what’s happening as a challenge or a threat? If you see it as a challenge, it may cause you to be more focused and productive, in some cases even saving your life. If you perceive the stressor as a threat, your body may react differently.
Prolonged or constant stress can affect your immune response and increase your risk of disease. It can lead to depression, anxiety, heart attack, stroke, hypertension, skin disorders, insomnia, reproductive issues, fatigue, and other health concerns. In women, stress can affect your menstrual cycle, causing it to be irregular, skip, or cause more intense cramps. Pregnant women can have additional side effects from stress, including increased chance of premature birth or low birth weight.
What can you do to reduce stress?
Since every person reacts differently to stress, how to reduce stress will also be unique for each person. Some general tips include:
- Relinquish control when you can.
- Don’t get anxious about things you cannot change.
- Focus your mind on something that calms you.
- Set realistic goals for healthy living, wellness, and personal growth.
- Find something you enjoy and unwind – exercise, meditation, yoga, reading, socializing, cooking, journaling, laughing …
The most important step in stress management is recognizing the signs. Develop positive strategies to cope and seek help if you are feeling completely overwhelmed, using drugs or alcohol to cope, or having suicidal thoughts. Your Capital Women’s Care provider can connect you with resources to help manage your stress or anxiety.