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April is National Stress Awareness Month!

For over 30 years, April has been recognized as National Stress Awareness Month, to bring attention to the impacts of stress on mental health and the importance of finding ways to manage it. Stress is something that many, if not all of us are familiar with. Our lives are filled with many events and situations that lead to feelings of stress. It’s important to talk about such an important and integral part of our lives. By paying attention to the stress we feel and understanding the role stress plays, we can learn to manage it in healthy and productive ways.


The Role of Stress

When talking about stress and how to manage it, it’s important to look at both the causes of stress and the feelings of stress. Major events like job changes, losing a loved one, and getting married or divorced, and day-to-day situations and tasks, like an argument with a partner, demands at work, and transportation delays, can all be sources of stress. Stress is a natural part of life. It is a response to things that are taxing, demanding, and challenging. We usually associate it as being something negative. After all, prolonged and unmanageable stress can have harmful impacts on our mental and physical health. But when stress doesn’t overwhelm our system and we have tools to manage it effectively, it can also serve a positive role in motivating us to get things done and make meaningful changes in our lives.





Notice What is Causing Stress

Start by identifying what is causing you stress. What events or situations are causing you stress? Is the stressor something you can change? Is it unavoidable and out of your control? Sometimes we can’t change the situation or the fact that stress is a natural aspect of many day-to-day things we do. Knowing what is making you feel stressed can help you see what is and isn’t in your control and where you may be able to respond to stress in helpful ways. 


Recognize How Stress is Impacting You

Spend some time reflecting on what stress feels like for you. What emotions and thoughts arise when you’re feeling stressed? Stress can make us feel many different ways. Pinpointing these emotions and acknowledging how you are feeling increases your awareness about how stress is impacting you. How we perceive stressful situations and what is happening to us can play a big role in our sense of control and ability to manage stress. Stress can cause us to ruminate on the stressful event or beat ourselves up over something you can’t change, which can lead to more stress, anxiety, and frustration. Stress can cause us to focus only on the negatives or not be able to see anything but the worst outcomes. These are common ways of thinking and often automatic due to the overwhelming emotions we are feeling. By being mindful about how you are thinking about a stressful situation, you can increase your awareness about how helpful or unhelpful a way of thinking is. You can see how stress may be causing you to worry about the future or dwell on that past. Without judging yourself for these automatic thought patterns, try to simply notice how the stress is causing you to think and where you may be able to shift your perspective with more encouraging and motivating thoughts.


Find What Works for You

There isn’t a one-size-fits all solution to combating stress. Depending on what is causing stress and how it is impacting you, there are various things you can do to manage it. Of course, there are situations in our lives that we can’t avoid but are stressful and require a lot from us. We can’t simply ignore them or shift our attention entirely away from our responsibilities. In situations where you can’t necessarily change what is causing the stress, shift your focus toward what you can do in the present moment to feel better. Things like going for a walk, journaling your thoughts, or calling a friend for support can allow for a moment or relief or to take your mind off the stress. Even if you can’t tackle the root cause of the stress, prioritizing your mental and emotional health with activities that work for you can make a difference in overall management of stress. 


By: Madison Bischof

Mental Health Counseling Intern


References

Wright, A., Aslinger, E., Bellamy, B., Edershile, E., & Woods, W. (2020). Daily stress and hassles. In K. Harkness & E. Hayden (Eds.). The Oxford Handbook of Stress and Mental Health (pp. 27-44). Oxford University Press.


The Health Resource Network, Inc. (n.d.). National Stress Awareness Month (April). https://healthresourcenetwork.org/our-services/national-stress-awareness-month/ 


Stahl, B., & Goldstein, E. (2019). How mindfulness works with stress reduction. In M. Bell (Ed.) A Mindfulness-Based Stress Reduction Workbook (pp. 55-68). New Harbinger Publications, Inc.

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