Breathe. Let Go. Relax. April is National Stress Awareness Month
By Joy Stephenson-Laws, JD, Founder
If there is one thing we can count on in life, it’s that there will always be events and circumstances that cause stress. If the thought of this alone stresses you out, I think it’s time to reevaluate your relationship with stress. The “s word” is not necessarily a bad thing, but it’s important to have a clear understanding of the difference between acute stress and chronic stress.
Acute vs. chronic stress.
Acute stress is also called short-term stress. This type of stress dissipates quickly.
“You feel it when you slam on the brakes, have a fight with your partner, or ski down a steep slope. It helps you manage dangerous situations. It also occurs when you do something new or exciting. All people have acute stress at one time or another,” according to the National Institutes of Health (NIH).
So acute stress can keep you safe and is often present in happy, joyous moments - the birth of a baby, getting married, going on live television to promote that book you wrote, purchasing a home. We want moments such as these in our lives, and we certainly want our stress response to keep us safe when the time calls for it.
Chronic stress is a different ball game.
“This is stress that lasts for a longer period of time. You may have chronic stress if you have money problems, an unhappy marriage, or trouble at work. Any type of stress that goes on for weeks or months is chronic stress. You can become so used to chronic stress that you don't realize it is a problem. If you don't find ways to manage stress, it may lead to health problems,” reports the NIH.
Unfortunately, many of us live with chronic stress.
According to a poll conducted for the American Psychological Association, Stress in America 2022, many Americans noted inflation, violence and crime, current political climate and current racial climate as major contributors to feeling stressed:
- 83 percent said inflation
- 75 percent said violence and crime
- 66 percent said political climate
- 62 percent said racial climate
Seventy-six percent of the adults said they had experienced at least one symptom such as headache, fatigue, anxiety and depression due to stress in the last month. Seventy-two percent said they experienced additional symptoms such as negative changes in sleeping habits.
The stressors listed above are all very valid reasons to feel stressed. I can certainly relate, however, I want people to realize these are all (more less) external stressors beyond our control.
“It’s clear that the impacts of uncontrollable stressors are profound for most Americans, but psychological science shows us that there are effective ways to talk about and cope with this type of stress,” said Dr. Arthur C. Evans Jr., the current CEO of the American Psychological Association, who was referenced in this report from the APA.
We have to condition ourselves to focus on "accomplishing goals that are in our control" because doing so "can help prevent our minds from getting overwhelmed by the many uncertainties in life." Activities such as slow breathing to control racing thoughts "to intentionally limiting our social media consumption, or exercising our right to vote, action can be extremely empowering.”
Of course, it’s important to acknowledge that there are so many other contributors to chronic stress that we face - relationships, work, household chores, finances, caring for a sick, elderly family member. For some, it may feel like every facet of life is full of stress. But realistically, all we can do is focus on what is within our control and take action.
One of the best ways to be proactive about managing stress is to be proactive about your health. First, it’s important to know how stress can actually affect your health.
“The long-term activation of the stress response system and the overexposure to cortisol and other stress hormones that come with it can disrupt almost all of your body's processes. This can put you at increased risk for a variety of physical and mental health problems, including anxiety, depression, digestive issues, headaches, muscle tension and pain, heart disease, heart attack, high blood pressure, stroke, sleep problems, weight gain, and memory and concentration impairment,” according to the American Psychological Association.
“Chronic stress may also cause disease, either because of changes in your body or the overeating, smoking, and other bad habits people use to cope with stress.”
It’s clear that we cannot let stress control us. We have to control it but at the same time let go of the things we cannot control. I know this is easier said than done, but, as mentioned, talk therapy can be very effective. It’s also important to focus on healthy activities that you enjoy.
I relieve stress by gardening and hiking with my dogs. Maybe for you it’s yoga, taking a spin class, playing basketball with your kid or even bird watching. The list goes on! Remember, stress will come and go but our health is something we will always need if we want to live long, happy lives. We can only control the controllable, and diet is definitely something we can control. Diet influences so much of our experiences in life, so let’s make these experiences healthy and happy by maintaining a nutrient-rich diet full of fresh fruits and vegetables and void of processed and ultra-processed foods.Avoid stress eating!
When it comes to managing stress, try to maintain nutritional balance and avoid nutrient deficiencies. Just to give even more perspective regarding how chronic stress can affect the body, stress can actually increase the likelihood of developing a nutritional deficiency.
“Chronic stress can affect the body’s use of calories and nutrients in various ways. It raises the body’s metabolic needs and increases the use and excretion of many nutrients. If one does not eat a nutritious diet, a deficiency may occur,” reports Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health.
Along with maintaining a healthy diet, I highly recommend taking routine comprehensive nutrient tests. If a test reveals that there is a deficiency or imbalance, a competent healthcare professional can work with you regarding making the necessary dietary changes and recommend quality supplements if necessary.
Finally, pamper yourself! Consider red light therapy treatments, a good massage and getting a cryo t-shock facial. Treating yourself and self-care is not selfish. In fact, our lives clearly depend on it. Stressors will come and go and there may always be some form of stress present in our lives, but our proactive wellness routines can stay with us for a lifetime as well.
Enjoy your healthy life!
Disclaimer: This article is not intended to provide medical advice. Please consult with your doctor or another competent healthcare practitioner to get specific medical advice for your situation.
The pH professional health care team includes recognized experts from a variety of health care and related disciplines, including physicians, attorneys, nutritionists, nurses, and certified fitness instructors. This team also includes the members of the pH Medical Advisory Board, which constantly monitors all pH programs, products, and services. To learn more about the pH Medical Advisory Board, click here.