STRESS AWARENESS MONTH: HOW TO DEVELOP A HEALTHY MINDSET
April is Stress Awareness Month, 30 days dedicated to spreading the word about the long-term effects of chronic stress and how to combat it.
The American Institute of Stress was founded in 1978 to spread the word and encourage research into the subject. This came at a time when the phenomenon was becoming better understood. In 1983, Time Magazine called stress “the epidemic of the eighties,” and in the 1990s, the number of Americans reporting great stress in the workplace rose significantly. Nearly 30 years later, this trend has only gotten worse.
Regulating and managing stress is key to long-lasting health, as chronic stress wreaks havoc on the human body. And in this high-stress time, it’s more important than ever.
HOW STRESS AFFECTS HEALTH
Stress isn’t just mental.
While it may seem like it is, the effects of stress can lead the body to change the way it functions and regulates hormones, causing all sorts of serious medical issues. When the body determines that an external force is a stressor, it directs the brain to release a hormone called epinephrine. This is what leads to an increased heart rate and a racing mind, as it effectively gives the body energy to either fight or flee the stressor.
This may have worked well when humans were less sedentary; when they were facing wildlife and warfare in order to survive, but it does not do so in the modern world. But when the problem is a long-term issue, the brain continues to respond in the same manner.
Initially, it can lead to insomnia, mood swings, a weakened immune system, and gastrointestinal issues. If the body responds to those stressors for years, or even decades, it can lead to chronic conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure and ulcers. The chemical imbalance can also lead to mood disorders and an increased risk of mental health issues or addiction.
In the United States, stress is ubiquitous.
COPING WITH STRESS
The Greek philosopher Epictetus said, “people are disturbed not by a thing, but by their perception of a thing.” In other words, stress is created by how we process information, how we see the world and the events around us. While external events may be beyond our control, our internal reactions are within our control.
Learning to cope with stress is an extremely important skill that can be very beneficial in the long run. To do so, one must develop healthy habits and a healthy mindset. There is no one-size-fits-all way to cope with stress, so it’s incredibly important to be open to new ways to combat it, new ways of doing things.
Lifestyle programming is a large part of each Sagora Senior Living community’s culture. It is focused on physical and mental wellness, helping residents thrive. Lifestyle Directors have designed specific stress management activities in order to promote a healthy mindset and healthy community.
For some, physical activity is the way to do so: running, lifting weights, yoga – something to get your heart rate up and blood flowing. For others, it’s more artistic activities, such as drawing or making music, or even painting.
Another way to combat stress is to change the way you think. This is a difficult process, one that may seem overwhelming at first. “How can we change the way we think?” You might ask. “Isn’t that part of our nature?”
It can be done. The mind, like any muscle or any skill, can be improved through training. It all comes back to what Epictetus said – by changing the way we think, we can change our perception of the events around us. By controlling the only thing we are able to, our emotions, we can better react to the things that we cannot control.
Changing the way we process events around us can start with a simple step like recognizing negative thoughts, or emotions that threaten to lead us into a downward spiral. The next step is replacing the negative thoughts or removing ourselves from the situation. Doing this consistently can lead to this becoming second nature.
High levels of stress may seem normal, like something everyone must endure, but they really aren’t. It’s incredibly damaging both physically and mentally and can lead to long-term ailments that can be costly to deal with. That is why it is so important to learn how to negate the effects of stress.
By crafting an individualized plan to defeat stress, you’ll live a happier and healthier life.