From distress to de-stress: what you can do this Stress Awareness Month 

It’s a pandemic. No, we’re not talking about COVID-19 – we’re talking about our modern stress pandemic.

Stress has become a rampant part of our world! Sure, sometimes it’s great when stress motivates us and keeps us productive, right? But other times it can just get to be too much (and with some serious effects on our health). That’s why it’s so important to arm ourselves with the tools to recognise and handle stressful times. So how do we do it?  

Stress Awareness Month happens every April and is a great way for us to spread public awareness about stress and how to deal with it. Contrary to what many believe, stress isn’t a mental illness. It’s a part of everyday life and everyone experiences it. So, this year’s theme is Community. When we’re stressed, one important thing to help alleviate that is a sense of support. With major global events occurring every single day, people need to continue to experience a sense of community to remain grounded and safe.  

What is Stress? 

Stress is a normal bodily response. In stressful situations, your body releases adrenaline, which causes your heart to beat faster and raise your blood pressure. It might activate your fight-or-flight response. This can be great for getting you up and going to complete a task. But if stress persists over a prolonged period, it can lead to distress which can be really debilitating. We’re talking headaches, loss of appetite, insomnia, or more severe physical problems like heart disease and diabetes. It can also lead to depression or anxiety. 15% of Australians have experienced high levels of psychological distress. That’s why it’s so important to spread awareness about how to cope with stress before it gets to that stage.  

How you can relieve stress 

Coping with stress looks different for everyone. But here are some ideas for you to try out. 

  1. Stop and observe – Whenever you’re feeling stressed out, step back and really observe your thoughts and feelings as they come and (eventually) go. Are you anxious? Worried? Is your body tense? Or numb? Whatever you’re experiencing, becoming aware of it will help you bring yourself back to your normal state. Challenge your thoughts to come back to reality. Ask yourself, has what I’m worried about happened before? What have I done in the past to cope with it? How likely is it that what I’m scared of will actually happen? 
  1. Control your breathing – Obviously breathing is important to live, but how you breathe is just as important. Deep breathing exercises can give you some space from intrusive or unhelpful thoughts. It forces you to live in the moment.  
  1. Take your time – Give yourself time in your daily routine to just be with friends and family or do things you know you love. Don’t be afraid to say no to requests when you feel it’s all getting too much and is taking away your necessary me-time. Exercise! Eat well! Do all that self-care stuff!  
  1. Visit your doctor – If your stress is prolonged or persistent, seeking help from your doctor or other professionals is always a good idea. 

What you can do this Stress Awareness Month 

  1. Look after yourself – It takes 30 days to turn actions into habits. That’s why Stress Awareness Month is, well, a month! Try doing one thing each day in April that will benefit your physical, mental, or emotional wellbeing (including the ideas mentioned above). Without you even realising, your outlook on stress will change, as will your ability to cope with stress.  
  1. Normalise the conversation – People are often hesitant to voice when they’re stressed out because they don’t want to be seen as too weak or incapable of handling things on their own. But stress is a universal experience. And talking about it reduces this stigma. Reach out to those you trust, ask others how they’re really feeling, and listen. 
  1. Look after others – Treat others going through it (including yourself) with compassion and empathy. Share your coping mechanisms – it’ll help others and keep you in tune with your own stressors. 

Stress Awareness Month is such an important time for reminding us to pay attention to our health and the health of others. Let’s use it to learn about the dangers of stress and how to cope with it. With more awareness comes less shame – and that means more people will ask for help when they need it. So, get ready for Stress Awareness Month this April! 

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