Everyone deals with some type and level of stress, but it’s become an increasingly prevalent issue in modern society. As life gets busier and more complex, many people are overwhelmed by work, relationships, finances, world events, socio-political issues, and more. In honor of National Stress Awareness Day on November 1, examining the links between stress and aspects of modern living and healthy ways to manage stress is essential.
The Stress-Health Connection
Everyone’s reaction to stress is different; what might be stressful for one person may not be for another. However, if left unchecked, stress can profoundly affect a person’s physical and mental health. Research shows that chronic stress — constant and persistent over an extended period — can lead to myriad health issues, including headaches, muscle tension, chest pain, fatigue, and gastrointestinal problems.
Stress can also compromise the body’s immune response, making a person more susceptible to infections. Serious conditions like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes, and obesity are also linked to chronic stress.
Mentally, the repercussions of stress can manifest as anxiety, depression, irritability, insomnia, and cognitive impairments. Stress can disrupt the balance of neurotransmitters in the brain, influencing mood and perception. It can also lead to behavioral changes like withdrawal from social activities, overeating or undereating, and substance abuse.
Recognizing these manifestations and seeking interventions can be pivotal in protecting our health and well-being.
Traditional stress triggers encompass various external and internal factors that induce physiological, emotional, or psychological strain.
- Workplace Demands
Long work hours, unreasonable deadlines, job insecurity, and work-life imbalance can all create chronic stress. Meeting tight deadlines and dealing with challenging workplace dynamics can cause workplace stress. Even remote work can make it hard for some people to “unplug.”
- Digital Overload
Constant connectivity via emails, social media, and 24/7 news creates information and sensory overload. As a result, our brains have little time to relax and reset.
- Financial Worries
Money is a top cause of stress. Skyrocketing housing, healthcare, education costs, and daily living expenses strain budgets for many. Debt and lack of savings amplify financial stress.
- Global Events
Global events significantly shape our stress levels, from pandemics to natural disasters and political unrest. Exposure to distressing news, especially when consumed constantly, can trigger feelings of helplessness, fear, and anxiety.
- Health Issues
A medical diagnosis and chronic health conditions can also contribute to stress. The stress can be further magnified by associated fears around medical expenses and potential loss of income.
- Sociopolitical-Induced Stress
In today’s polarized world, sociopolitical issues like racial tensions, political disagreements, and social justice movements can become meaningful sources of stress. According to a study by the Pew Research Center, nearly two-thirds of Americans say they find talking about politics with people they disagree with to be “stressful and frustrating.”
Relationships, while offering support, companionship, and shared joy, can also be sources of significant stress. The intricate dynamics of interpersonal relationships with family, friends, or romantic partners often encompass expectations, misunderstandings, and differing values or beliefs. These differences can lead to disagreement, miscommunication, and unmet needs.
Tips for Managing Stress
Thankfully, there are many effective ways to cope with the stressors of daily life in healthy, sustainable ways.
- Set Boundaries
Don’t overcommit. Set limits on your time and availability at work, socially, and with family. Protect time for yourself.
- Unplug and Detach
Take regular breaks from work, screens, and news. Make time every day for relaxation and activities you enjoy.
- Adopt Healthy Habits
Eat nutrient-rich foods, exercise regularly, get quality sleep, and avoid unhealthy coping habits like smoking, excessive drinking, or emotional eating.
- Connect With Community
Spend time with supportive loved ones. Join groups for socializing and support. Volunteer to gain perspective and help others.
- Practice Mindfulness
Try meditating, deep breathing, yoga, or journaling to calm the mind and manage stress in the moment. Stay present.
Don’t Let Stress Take a Toll on Your Health
Understanding stress and its triggers is essential for physical, emotional, and mental well-being. On National Stress Awareness Day, take a moment to recognize the sources of your stress and actively seek ways to manage and mitigate its effects.
While you can’t avoid stress, you can lower your risk of it damaging your health by getting professional help. Reach out to Vail Health Behavioral Health to explore treatment for stress, anxiety, depression, or other conditions exacerbating stress. Connect with a member of our expert team for guidance to alleviate stress in these challenging times.
This article was reviewed by Suzanne Torris, MS, RN, FNP.