According to the American Psychology Association, 75% of adults continue to experience high levels of stress and many people report increasing levels compared to previous years. Stress is an important health concern and is common in many countries and in various dimensions of our lives, from work to relationships.
Stress is often considered a silent killer due to its adverse effects on physical and mental health. Since it is a common occurrence and it is present in many areas of our lives, it can manifest in physical symptoms such as headaches, back pain or digestive disturbances, or interfere with sleep and our ability to cope with daily activities and challenges. Workplace stress is on the rise impacting both quality of life and economic costs.
The American Institute of Stress provides a definition of stress as a “condition or feeling experienced when a person perceives that demands exceed the personal and social resources the individual is able to mobilize.” Feelings of strain, pressure, helplessness and inability to keep up or cope are commonly described aspects of stress.
Considering that stress related symptoms are the cause of 75% of visits to the doctor and that stress is the primary cause of 60% of all illnesses, it seriously increases cardiovascular risk and stroke. High cortisol levels can also impact memory, concentration, clear thinking and decision-making.
The first step in addressing stress is identifying and managing the cause, whether it is an event (moving, for example), a skill (such as time management) or an emotion (e.g., anger). There are many strategies that can be adopted to cope with tension and reduce stress, from breathing techniques to massage, depending on individual needs and preferences. Below is a short list of simple steps to help you reduce stress.
- write a stress journal: writing can bring relief of tension and can help identify triggers and trends;
- take a nap: it can reverse the effects of poor sleep, protect the immune system and help feel better;
- laugh more: it reduces stress and releases endorphins, promoting better health;
- manage anger: let go, look at the big picture and be grateful; there is a correlation between anger and premature death;
- use your support network: family, friends and faith based resources can provide support and increase your wellbeing;
- eat foods that support health and good mood: fruits, beans, fish, whole grains, nuts, dark leafy greens, vegetables, etc.;
- drink water: it can help with mood and energy; dehydration can increase cortisol levels;
- use music, massage and meditation: each is therapeutic and provides relaxation responses that can alleviate pain, improve the immune system and manage chronic illness symptoms;
- know and love yourself: recognize your limits, respect your health priorities, and find ways to restore mood and energy (take breaks, slow down and go on vacation);
- love life: pursue joy, passion, life long learning and a deeper purpose than the individual self.