We need to start this post by saying what we’re all thinking:
“Stress Awareness Day? Are you kidding me? 2020 is basically Stress Awareness YEAR.”
We can’t argue with facts. January and February seemed pretty normal, all told. But then, boom, COVID hit, and we’ve all been living with a heightened level of stress ever since. At least everyone we know has.
We won’t catalog all the different ways the pandemic increased our stress. We’ll just stop right here and say “Yes, we get it.”
It’s been a stressful year.
But do you know what stress is?
Stress: A Comprehensive Definition
We all have a working definition of stress bouncing around in our brains. Here, we offer a full definition of stress as provided by the American Psychological Association (APA):
The physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave…it may be manifested by palpitations, sweating, dry mouth, shortness of breath, fidgeting, accelerated speech, augmentation of negative emotions…By causing these mind–body changes, stress contributes directly to psychological and physiological disorder and disease and affects mental and physical health, reducing quality of life.”
The entire definition is helpful. It reminds us that stress affects just about every physiological system in our body, it affects our feelings and our behavior, it affects mental and physical health, and negatively impacts our quality of life.
That’s why stress awareness is so important.
Sure, we all know stress is part of every day life – but do we all know that stress can have such wide-ranging negative impacts?
If you didn’t, we hope now you get the idea: stress is more than a five-letter word. It’s a fact of life that, if you don’t work to relieve, can reduce your quality of life.
To read more about the different types of stress, and about the stress hormone, cortisol, read these three informative Evolve articles:
To learn about how you can identify and reduce stress in your life, read on.
Signs of Stress and What to do About It
The signs and symptoms of stress vary by the individual, but follow general patterns. Knowing the common signs of stress can help you identify the stress in your lives, even if the way you experience stress does not exactly match the typical signs and symptoms.
First, let’s identify the common signs of stress in teenagers.
Five Signs of Stress in Teens
- Headaches, stomachaches, and other physical discomfort that has no identifiable physical cause and does not go away with typical physical remedies. For instance, a headache that’s not cured by hydration, rest, or over-the-counter medication, or a stomachache that comes and goes at random, unrelated to eating/hunger.
- Irritability. When teens experience overwhelming emotion or stress, they often don’t understand what’s going on inside themselves – and they may lash out at those around them by acting irritable or even angry. This is a common manifestation of stress in teens.
- General anxiety. A stressed-out teen will often display stress by expressing worry. Not only about things that may cause them stress, such as school or friends, but about random unrelated issues. If your teen expresses more worry than is typical for them, then that’s a sign they may be stressed.
- Problems concentrating. A stressed-out teen may have problems initiating, focusing on, or completing schoolwork. This may lead to a drop in academic performance, which is also an indicator of stress in teens.
- Frequent illness. This is similar, but not identical to the headaches and stomachaches we mention above. The difference is that here we’re talking about actual illnesses, such as colds. Chronic stress compromises optimal immune function, which can increase vulnerability to common pathogens. If your teen gets sick a lot now, when they didn’t earlier in life, then that may be an indicator that adolescence is stressing them out.
Now let’ have a look at the signs of stress in adults.
Five Signs of Stress in Adults
- Insomnia. While this is also a sign of stress in teens, it’s more common in adults. In fact, sleep disturbance is one of the first signs of stress adults notice, and it’s typically the first one they report to a doctor or therapist.
- Anxiety. Everyone experiences anxiety, but when you feel more anxious than you have in the past – and your anxiety is constant and recurring – then that’s a sign you’re under stress.
- Physical problems. The same as with teens: random headaches, stomachaches, muscle pain, joint aches – all are signs of stress, particularly when they appear out of nowhere and typical remedies are ineffective.
- Depression. Whereas stress may cause a teen to become depressed and express it as irritability, when stress causes depression in an adult the outcome is more predictable: sadness, blue mood, and lack of motivation.
- Fatigue. Many adults feel like being tired all the time is a hallmark of adulthood. However, that’s not necessarily the case. Believe it or not, there are millions of people out there who feel energized most days, and fatigued only sometimes. If you’re tired every single day – and you get enough sleep – then consider the fact that the cause of your fatigue may be stress, as opposed to adulting.
Now that you know the common signs and symptoms, it’s time to learn what to do about it – and them.
How to Handle Stress in Your Life
The first step is admitting to yourself that some of your challenges – fatigue, anxiety – may be stress related. The same goes for your teenager: a drop in grades and irritability may be stress related as well. The good news is that there are tried and true ways to reduce both stress in your life and the impact stress has on your life.
Here they are.
Five Ways to Reduce Stress
1. Identify and Eliminate
This is not possible in all circumstances, because some of the things that cause us stress are unavoidable. However, if you take a hard look at the thing in your life that stress you out, you may be able to remove some of them. For instance, you have control over unhealthy habits and toxic relationships, to name two. Think about the other things in your life that may cause stress – and make a change.
You hear this over and over, we’re sure. But it’s worth repeating. And what we really mean here is being active. If you’re not an athlete, it’s unlikely you’ll become one overnight. In our world, exercise can mean walking, gardening, working around the house, easy hiking – anything that gets you out of the house and gets your body moving. Of course, we also want to encourage you to try typical approaches to exercise as well, such as running, cycling, weightlifting, and group exercise classes (COVID-safe).
Mindfulness is the art of slowing down and learning to appreciate the present moment. Mindfulness practices that dovetail with exercise are superb for stress reduction, such as yoga, tai chi, and mindful walking. Mindful meditation works well, too – and it’s easy to learn.
4. Healthy Eating
A balanced diet consisting of lots of whole grains, fruits, vegetables, and lean protein is good for your body and your mind. In addition to adding healthy foods to your diet, it’s also smart to reduce foods like caffeine, processed sugar, processed snacks, and junk food. It’s totally fine to eat those foods sometimes, but if they’re the bulk of your diet, they may contribute to your stress levels.
5. Seek Support
If you or your teen are stressed out, talking to someone can make a big difference. That someone can be a trusted friend or a mental health professional: the point is to talk to someone freely and openly about your life. Once you start talking, you may find you have more to get off your chest than you realized – and once you get everything out, you may feel better than you have in months.
We encourage you to share what you know about stress with your friends and family. And if any of these tips work for you – then share this article far and wide.
Here’s to a far less stressful 2021!