Now more than ever, stress can feel like an ever-present part of life.
Whether you work in an office or factor, or manage a household and watch after wildly energetic kids, every week can bring a host of stressful situations. Particular stressors can affect some groups disproportionately. And that’s to say nothing of the ongoing pandemic. COVID-19, its economic impact, and the social isolation of lockdowns took a toll on many Americans’ mental health.
Let’s talk about some of the sources of stress – and what we can do to manage stress.
But first, a basic question you may be asking:
Is stress really a problem?
In a word, yes. Especially if your “stressed out” feeling remains constant, or chronic. Chronic stress can affect your physical and mental health. It can weaken your immune system and cause uncomfortable physical symptoms too.
In fact, not only is stress a problem in America, but it really doesn’t get discussed enough.
Talking about stress and its impact on our lives is still somewhat taboo. That’s especially true for some groups: Among Black and LatinX communities, for example, acknowledging stress may be viewed as inconsistent with a strong work ethic. Many in the Black and LatinX communities may not feel as though they have the luxury to worry about stress management.
Common Causes of Stress
When people are asked to cite what’s causing them stress, many answers have remained near the top of the list, for years.
Commonly mentioned causes of stress include:
- health issues, and
- family responsibilities (caregiving can be particularly stressful).
These answers span generations and groups.
But particular stressors, such as discrimination, can affect some groups more than others. Making matters worse, many members of these communities may not feel as though they can afford to manage stress, lacking the privilege of available time or disposable income that others may be able to devote to de-stressing.
It’s also worth making another observation about what causes stress, whether that cause is universal or specific to some groups: All too often, stress results from factors out of our control.
That brings us to a recent cause of stress, for everyone.
The Pandemic’s Ongoing Impact
No question, COVID-19 had a devastating impact, on many fronts. But one of the lagging effects that has slowly revealed itself? The pandemic’s profound impact on the nation’s mental health.
Even before the pandemic, Americans were already among the most stressed populations in the world. COVID-19 and the social isolation of lockdowns preyed on the minds of many.
In recent studies, Americans have reported higher levels of loneliness, burnout, depression, and sleep problems as a result of the pandemic. In 2020 and beyond, too many have turned to unhealthy ways to cope with stress, including overeating, staring at screens nonstop, drinking to excess or substance abuse.
Why should we try to manage stress?
Chronic stress is bad for you. Period. Full stop.
So it stands to reason that lowering your stress will lower your risk for the harmful physical and mental health effects of stress.
Besides, your mind deserves better than to be loaded down with the never-ending job of worrying. A constant state of stress can sap your creativity, productivity and motivation. You want to manage stress so you can live your best life.
Keys to Stress Management
The first step is awareness. Step “away from yourself” for a moment and consider objectively: Is my stress level too high? If so, what is it, exactly, that is causing me to be stressed?
This process alone may help. Once you identify your stressors, you can ask yourself, “Is this a factor out of my control?” Sometimes, that acknowledgement – this is something I cannot control – will give you a helpful (and healthful) perspective. It may not be worth fretting over something you can’t change.
That’s not to say that you can’t take steps to manage stress. In fact, here’s a handy list of stress-busters.
See if some of these don’t help to lower your stress level:
- Move more. Exercise is a great antidote to stress.
- Deep breathing. This can help relax your mind and body.
- Meditation or prayer. Many find relief in mindfulness.
- Mind/body practices. Consider tai chi or yoga.
- Get some rest. Strive for seven to nine hours of sleep per night.
- Get outside. A walk in a nature, or a city park, can help.
- Find a furry friend. Pets can have a positive impact on your health.