April is Stress Awareness Month
By: Jennifer Heiligman, PT, MPT
Starting in 1992, the Health Resource Network designated April as Stress Awareness Month. During this month-long awareness campaign, health care professionals work to increase the public’s awareness of the causes and cures for our everyday stressors. This year, given the presence of a global pandemic, it seems particularly important to recognize this issue for the general public, but especially our health care workers who have been so closely affected by the Covid-19 pandemic.
People have different ideas of what defines stress. According to the American Institute of Stress, the most common definition is “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension”. It should be noted that not all stress is negative. Some good stress may result in our ability to be super productive and get those big projects done. However, when we do experience an extended period of negative stress, it can cause mental as well as physical symptoms and take a toll on our bodies. Symptoms associated with stress include irritability, depression, headaches, upset stomach, anxiety, fatigue, and insomnia.
For healthcare workers, the most common causes of work stress include high expectations, high patient volume, and lack of work/life balance. These stressors have only been magnified since the start of the pandemic. The first step is to recognize that you are stressed. The next step is to take an active role in managing your stress. While there is no one solution that will help everyone, we’ve included examples of some coping strategies that may be beneficial.
Talk to others about how you are feeling. This can include coworkers, your doctor, friends and family. Talking it out can be refreshing and the person you are talking with can help to validate your feelings.
This can be a way to clear your mind from negative thoughts and focus on deep breathing. Deep breathing can increase the oxygen supply to your brain which can help promote calmness.
Physical activity will increase the endorphin levels in your body and lower the levels of stress hormones. People who exercise regularly are less likely to experience anxiety than those who do not exercise.
Getting good quality sleep is important in rejuvenating the mind and body. Regular exercise will help to improve sleep quality. Meditation can also help to promote sleep.
Fueling your body with proper nutrients can give it the strength and power to combat the effects of stress. Increase your intake of fruits and vegetables and decrease consumption of processed foods.
Take a Break
Take a break from the daily grind and do something that you enjoy. Whether it be a vacation, a hobby, watching a movie, or spending quality time with your family. Distract your mind and body from your normal daily responsibilities.
Stress Awareness Month helps us recognize that stress is real and everyone experiences it to some degree. We just need to recognize that it may look and feel different for each person. During the past year secondary to the Covid-19 pandemic, our healthcare workers have seen a significant increase in their stress levels. The hope is that by implementing some of the coping mechanisms, our healthcare workers and people in general, will be able to manage their stress to live happier and healthier lives.