National Stress Awareness Month
Believe it or not, April is National Stress Awareness Month. You might be thinking that makes perfect sense, or you might be shocked that it’s not another time of year when your anxiety is at its maximum.
But the truth is that stress is universal. It doesn’t matter what time of year it is or whether you’re Wall Street banker in New York or a Walmart cashier in Springdale, Arkansas.
Nearly everyone experiences some sort of mental or emotional tension at some point in their lives. Stress is a normal psychological and physical reaction to the regular demands of your day. A small amount of stress can be good, motivating you to perform well. But dealing with multiple challenges every day, such as traffic, deadlines, and bills, can push you beyond your ability to cope.
Your brain is hard-wired to perceive a threat and signal your body to release a burst of hormones that increase your heart rate and raise your blood pressure. This response fuels you to deal with the threat. Once the threat is gone, your body is supposed to return to a normal, relaxed state. Unfortunately, the nonstop complications of modern life can prevent your alarm systems from shutting off.
Pain can be both a source and sign of stress. In fact, headaches, neck aches, and back pain are among the most common symptoms of stress. The brain is always trying to limit pain signals, but stress prevents you from properly filtering these signals. As with any conditions, the symptoms become more severe if left unchecked.
To break this cycle, stress relief becomes a key component of pain management. Try these tips:
- Find a balance. Take the time to examine your daily routine and modify it for better stress control. Consider each part of your life, and identify the triggers that cause your anxiety. Place more emphasis on the activities you like to do.
- Get moving. Whether it’s 30 minutes on an exercise bike, or four times a week at the gym, exercise can heal your mind and your body. Consult with a doctor first to ensure that your routine does not cause your pain to flare up.
- Sleep more. Proper sleep can improve your concentration, ease your mind, and help your body heal. More sleep isn’t always good sleep. Make sure you’re resting with limited distraction.
- Chill out. Relaxation techniques such as deep breathing, yoga, guided imagery, and meditation can essentially force you to relax and decrease stress levels. Once you’ve learned these techniques, you can do them on your own at any time throughout your day.
- Seek support. Evaluation by a mental health professional, such as a social worker with expertise in pain or a pain psychologist or psychiatrist, can also help you deal with stress and provide pain relief.
If pain persists or becomes unbearable, check with your doctor. Stress might not be the only factor, and there are plenty of ways to manage your comfort.
Even though this month is officially focused on stress awareness, managing your mental, physical, and emotional health is a year-round effort. Take some time to find what makes you happy and that can go a long way toward relieving your pain.