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April is Stress Awareness Month….and we are absolutely living in a stressful world right now.

Updated: May 29, 2020

But there are things you can do to get through these uncertain times.


“Within you, there is a stillness and a sanctuary to which you can retreat at any time and be yourself.”

–Hermann Hess

Photo by Huy Thoai


What Is Stress Exactly?

Stress is how your body reacts to certain situations, whether it be a project for school, an assignment from work, a personal traumatic incident or a life changing event. 


How Does Stress Affect The Body?

When you are on high alert, your nervous system responds by releasing stress hormones from your adrenal glands. These hormones include cortisol, glucagon, epinephrine and norepinephrine and these can trigger a “fight or flight response”. What can happen is that you will start to breath faster, which in turn can make your heart beat faster. This can increase blood pressure, tighten muscles, and enhance your senses.


Regardless of the situation, stress affects your body the same way. Chronic stress, over long periods of time, can keep your body in a heightened response state. This can lead to several health problems such as a suppressed immune system, sleep issues, reproductive problems, digestive issues, weight and skin complications and may lead to anxiety and depression.


Stress is a common part of our lives and can become a familiar way to live, however staying in a heightened state is not normal. Below are some signs and symptoms to look out for.


Cognitive symptoms:

  • Memory problems

  • Inability to concentrate

  • Poor judgment

  • Seeing only the negative

  • Anxious or racing thoughts

  • Constant worrying


Emotional symptoms:

  • Depression or general unhappiness

  • Anxiety and agitation

  • Moodiness, irritability, or anger

  • Feeling overwhelmed

  • Loneliness and isolation

  • Other mental or emotional health problems


Physical symptoms:

  • Aches and pains

  • Diarrhea or constipation

  • Nausea, dizziness

  • Chest pain, rapid heart rate

  • Loss of sex drive

  • Frequent colds or flu


Behavioral symptoms:

  • Eating more or less

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Withdrawing from others

  • Procrastinating or neglecting responsibilities

  • Using alcohol, cigarettes, or drugs to relax

  • Nervous habits (e.g. nail biting, pacing)

(Stress Test Title. 2020, March 9)


Stress Is Not Always A Bad Thing.

There are some circumstances in life when stress can help us motivate ourselves and streamline our focus and concentration such as interviewing for that new job, taking an exam or giving a presentation. 


Understanding The Difference.

Stress can impact people in different ways. Some people thrive off the excitement and some people tend to crumble under pressure. The important thing is to be aware what triggers tend to elevate your response.


  • Know how to reach out for support. You can decrease those feelings of isolation and loneliness when you are surrounded by family and friends.

  • Believe that your choices matter and that you have control over your life. Confidence is a great stress buster and will help you face challenges head-on.

  • A positive attitude is always helpful. Trust that whatever life has in store for you, you are well equipped to handle it.

  • Emotions can creep up on you. Begin to identify what factors tend to stress you out more, so you can begin to calm yourself, try 3 slow, deep breaths to start. (Stress Test Title. 2020, March 9)


Tips For Stress Management

There is no way to get rid of stress. It's part of our everyday life but there are several things you can do to handle it so it doesn't become a burden on your life, relationships and profession. Here are just a few pointers to help you get started.


Get Plenty Of Exercise: About 30 minutes a day or 2.5 hours of moderate intensity a week is a great start!


Get Organized: Setting priorities, timelines and goals are helpful ways to stay on track and not get overwhelmed with work and other responsibilities.


Eat A Healthy Diet: Diets high in vegetables, fruits and whole grains can help lower inflammation and possibly improve your mood. Pay attention to how you feel after eating certain food to help you recognize what foods work best for your system. Any changes should be gradual. Small changes can make a big difference! (5 Things You Should Know About Stress. n.d.) 


Relaxation Techniques

Meditation: Try apps such as Headspace, Calm and Insight Timer that you can download on your smartphone device. There are several sessions that are offered for free to help you get started on your journey.


Yoga/YouTube: There are several FREE yoga videos from beginner to advanced available on YouTube. Do a search to find a teacher you connect with. There are so many quality teachers and videos at your fingertips.


Tai Chi/YouTube: Referrred to as "Meditation in Motion" these movements are usually circular and never forced, the muscles are relaxed rather than tensed, the joints are not fully extended or bent, and connective tissues are not stretched. Tai chi can be easily adapted for anyone, from the most fit to people confined to wheelchairs or recovering from surgery or an illness (Harvard Health Publishing. n.d.).


Breathing Exercises: Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Try this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.


First Steps: Find a quiet, comfortable place to sit or lie down. First, take a normal breath. Then try a deep breath: Breathe in slowly through your nose, allowing your chest and lower belly to rise as you fill your lungs. Let your abdomen expand fully. Now breathe out slowly through your mouth (or your nose, if that feels more natural).


Breath Focus in Practice: Once you've taken the steps above, you can move on to regular practice of controlled breathing. As you sit comfortably with your eyes closed, blend deep breathing with helpful imagery and perhaps a focus word or phrase that helps you relax. (Harvard Health Publishing. n.d.)


Taking A Walk In Nature: Unplug and get back to basics. Humans evolved in nature and spending some time outside, enjoying the scenery can improve your mood and lower your blood pressure. It’s a free and easy way to clear your head and find some new inspiration.


Pet An Animal: This is a good idea anytime but research shows that petting an animal can lower your heart rate and just put a smile on your face.


To discuss more detailed information regarding the topics within this blog, or to inquire about customized nutrition plans, please reach out to Cathleen Winter at wellnesswithin.cw@gmail.com And Remember….Health starts from the inside out!


A Little About Me:

My name is Mary DeBlasio, and I live in Silver Spring, MD. I am currently a student studying Nutrition and Dietetics at the University of the District of Columbia. I am set to graduate with a Bachelor’s of Science in May of 2021. I am very interested in mindful eating, and foods that correlate with the seasons. My goal after graduation is to pursue a dietetic internship with a focus on clinical dietetics. I am interested in transplant, renal and gastrointestinal issues. All the information presented within this blog is backed by the credible sources cited below.


Sources:

5 Things You Should Know About Stress. (n.d.). Retrieved from https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/publications/stress/index.shtml


Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). The health benefits of tai chi. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/staying-healthy/the-health-benefits-of-tai-chi


Harvard Health Publishing. (n.d.). Relaxation techniques: Breath control helps quell errant stress response. Retrieved from https://www.health.harvard.edu/mind-and-mood/relaxation-techniques-breath-control-helps-quell-errant-stress-response


Stress Test Title. (2020, March 9). Retrieved from https://www.helpguide.org/articles/stress/stress-symptoms-signs-and-causes.htm








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