De-Stress for Spring: Clear Angst to Renew Calm

April 11, 2017

Feeling a little tense? You’re not alone. According to a study conducted by the American Psychological Association, stress levels are on the rise for American adults, with nearly 24 percent of respondents saying that they experience extreme stress regularly.

Since 2007, the APA has conducted its annual stress survey, finding that money and work are consistently the top two sources of stress (67 percent and 65 percent, respectively), followed by family responsibilities (54 percent), and personal health concerns (51 percent). Women also typically report higher stress levels than men.

With all those possibilities for worry, it’s no wonder that there is an entire month dedicated to it: April is Stress Awareness Month. So what better time to do a little “spring cleaning” of your stress levels? Here, some stress facts and smart decompressing strategies.

How do stress symptoms show up?

Stress can take a toll physically, emotionally, mentally, and socially.

“Stresses are caused by a confluence of external events and a person’s interpretation of those events,” says Anne Gilbert, MD, a psychiatrist with Indiana University Health. “However, everyone manifests their stress in different manners. Becoming self aware and paying attention to your bodily sensations after you've gone through a stressful time is the key.”

Symptoms of stress also vary. “Some people may notice that their stress manifests physically such as having headaches, feeling more tired, upset stomach, etc., while others may feel stress emotionally such as noting increased irritability or nervousness/restlessness,” says Courtney Johnson, PhD, a clinical psychologist for Indiana University Health.

How can a person learn to handle their stressors?

“Because stress is such an integral part of life, many are not aware of our ability to cope or change the way we deal with it, but just as other talents in life, stress reduction and healthier responses to stress can be learned,” says Dr. Gilbert. Again, however, there is no one prescription for what works for everyone.

How one gets help with stress can also look different based on resources and even level of creativity. “One person may be able to afford a week vacation to a tropical destination to disconnect and refresh, while a new parent may spend 10 minutes to themselves each day to take a shower and engage in some mindfulness exercises,” says Dr. Johnson. One thing that does seem to work for everyone, however, is seeking social support, which can be really helpful regardless of the situation of the stress.

What are some strategies for stress reduction?

One thing to keep in mind is that stress is not necessarily all emotional. “There are many physical conditions that cause stress in life as well, such as noise, cold weather, and lack of sunlight,” says Dr. Gilbert. Accordingly, one of the recommended ways to deal with stress is also physical…by exercising (which can be tougher in the winter).

“Better weather can bring the opportunity to be more physically active such as walking or running outside for someone who may not have access to a gym or workout equipment,” says Dr. Johnson. “Improving physical health that may have slacked over the winter months is a great goal as spring comes into bloom.”

Other tips?

“Any activity that can divert the mind from this thinking process can be stress reducing,” says Dr. Gilbert, who says that it has been shown that those that completely remove their thoughts away from work during their time away experience less burnout and are more creative and productive when they do return.

“Mediation, prayer, music, sports, physical activity and games all require active centering or focus away from the random thought habits that we develop,” she says.

“Diaphragmatic breathing or progressive muscle relaxation are additional strategies to help calm the body and mind,” adds Dr. Johnson.

And finally, when life seems too much, try to actively remember the positives.

“Gratitude can also help reframe from all that may be going ‘wrong’ to recall what is going ‘right’ and help take the pressure off of all that seems to be stressful,” says Dr. Johnson.

-- By Kimberly Dawn Neumann

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