April is national stress awareness month. As we continue to face new seasons in life, let's take a few minutes to talk about stress and how we can better manage it. Everyone experiences stress. However, each of us experiences stress differently. Stress is how our brain and body respond to any challenge. When most people think of stress, they typically think of significant life changes, such as the birth of a child, moving to a new home, starting a new job, or a traumatic event, such as an unwanted diagnosis or losing a loved one. However, stress can also occur from everyday life events. Driving, grocery shopping, attending meetings, and visiting family or friends are all examples of stressors. Simply put, stress is a feeling of emotional or physical tension.
Your perception of events determines whether the stress is viewed as either good or bad stress. Experts define stress using two categories, eustress or distress. Eustress is positive stress. It keeps us excited about life and gives us meaning—going on a trip, seeing grandchildren, engaging in a fun challenge. Distress, on the other hand, can cause you to feel overwhelmed and anxious. It frequently occurs when you believe the stressor or stressors are not within your control or ability to fix or change.
When you experience stressful situations, whether good or bad, your brain activates the "fight or flight" response. A cascade of stress hormones is then released, preparing the body to deal with the perceived stressors. These hormones cause physiological responses, such as increased heart rate, blood pressure, and glucose levels, which increase the likelihood of surviving threatening situations. However, our bodies cannot tell the difference between good and bad stress.
Chronic stress occurs when you experience stress for prolonged periods. When this happens, stress hormones wreak havoc on your body and mind, increasing your risk for many chronic health conditions.
Manage stress by taking care of yourself:
Focus on what you can manage. Having a sense of control can help you feel more prepared for the stresses of life. While there are many things we can't control, creating and implementing a routine can provide a sense of certainty which can help manage stress.
Eat healthily. Consistently select and eat healthy foods. Eating a nutritious diet protects you against many chronic health conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and cancer. Following the Dietary Guidelines for Americans will help you make informed decisions about what foods and beverages to select and help you get the nutrients you need while helping to prevent chronic disease. If this sounds overwhelming, simply start by selecting foods containing less sodium, added sugar, and saturated fats.
Physical activity. Move more than you did yesterday. Physical activity has many health benefits. During exercise, the body releases endorphins, which help to relieve stress. It also improves your overall health and sense of wellbeing. Select activities you enjoy and have a friend join you.
Quality sleep. Being well-rested allows you to better deal with the ins and outs of everyday life. Getting enough quality sleep is essential for many aspects of your health and wellbeing. Sleep quality is a measure used when determining if sleep is restful and restorative.
Talk with a friend. Find a safe friend or family member to talk to about the challenges in your life. Being able to verbalize your feelings will help you process and sort through the problem resulting in reduced stress levels.
Learning about stress and how you can better manage it will help decrease your risk of developing many chronic health conditions and improve your overall quality of life.
Source: Diane Reinhold, MPH, MS, RDN Nutrition and Wellness Educator serving Jo Daviess, Stephenson & Winnebago Counties.
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