​​Stress Awareness Month: Improving Wellbeing | BrainsWay

Embracing Better Health With Stress Awareness Month

National Stress Awareness Day is November 9, 2022, highlighting an opportunity for individuals to reflect on the impact of daily stressors. Stress is a normal and often healthy part of daily life, but prolonged periods of stress can be harmful to physical and mental well-being. Individuals dealing with constant stress may not even realize how negatively it impacts their quality of life. Stress reduction can be achieved in many ways, and improved awareness lays the foundation of an effective strategy.

Read on to learn about the impact of stress awareness on workplace environments. Then understand the physical and mental health risks associated with excess stress. Finally, review stress awareness tips for better mental health.

Woman at stress

Stress Awareness Improves Work Environments

Stress is a response to a perceived threat that causes individuals to feel emotional and physical tension. While acute stress can feel temporarily uncomfortable, it is a normal reaction intended to help humans quickly protect themselves from imminent harm. Chronic stress may develop when stressors become ever-present, such as unstable employment or living in a dangerous neighborhood.

Addressing stressors can significantly improve an employee’s work environment and overall quality of life. Yet while individuals looking for effective stress relief have plenty of simple, beginner-friendly options, many habitually push through daily stressors instead of taking the time to manage the pressure.

Research on work-related stressors has confirmed this, through the following findings:

  • Nearly 40% of job turnover is due to stress, and replacing employees can cost up to 200% of the position affected.
  • Individuals and loss of productivity can cost businesses millions.
  • Depression has been found to be a common outcome of job-related stress. It is also predictive of absenteeism, and can lead to the use of up to 10 sick days a year.

Proactive leaders at work can help turn this tide, helping businesses remain productive and providing stable employment opportunities with fewer health risks.

Many human resource departments now promote strategies for managing workplace stress and utilizing employee assistance program (EAP) counseling services. Managers and executives are taught to recognize signs of significant job-related stress among staff members, such as the above-mentioned absenteeism, employee turnover, and increased accidents or errors.

Standing Doctor

National Stress Awareness Day and Week

The first Wednesday in November is set aside each year to spotlight both the impacts of stress and effective stress relief strategies. In 1998, Carole Spiers, a leading expert in workplace stress in the UK, founded both National Stress Awareness Day and the International Stress Management Association (ISMA). Since then, the influence of ISMA has pushed against the stigma associated with stress and mental health issues. Because of tremendous international interest in this cause, Stress Awareness Day was expanded into National Stress Awareness Week in 2018.

Stress Awareness Month

Individuals and businesses in the U.S. further recognize Stress Awareness Month every year in April. Since 1992, this month of recognition has been sponsored by the Health Resource Network, a nonprofit directed by Dr. Mort Orman, M.D., a physician, and expert on stress. Many workplaces promote Stress Awareness Month activities to highlight helpful strategies and messages around job-related stress.

Health Risks Associated With Chronic Stress

Chronic stress can contribute to many physical and mental health conditions, but the impact of stress may not be immediately recognized. Improved stress awareness is the first step to taking a more proactive approach to reducing the health impacts of stress.

Impact on Physical Health

Prolonged periods of muscle tension, brought on by stress, can contribute to stress-related health conditions by creating a state of ongoing dysregulation, with harmful effects on several organ systems in the body. As a result, the following physical health issues can develop:

Musculoskeletal System Effects

Ongoing muscle tension can lead to tension and migraine headaches, as well as pain in the neck, back, and shoulders. Chronic discomfort can interrupt sleep, restrict mobility, disrupt concentration, and make it difficult to complete daily tasks.

Nervous System and Immune System Effects

The autonomic nervous system is responsible for triggering the fight-or-flight response when faced with a threat, constricting blood flow, and producing inflammation. When stress is chronic, a continuous inflammation response develops and weakens the immune system.

Cardiovascular System Effects

Short-term stress triggers increased heart rate and redirected blood flow to the heart and large muscles, physical preparation to either flee or fight off a threat. Frequent episodes of elevated blood pressure and heart rate raise the risk of heart conditions, such as hypertension, stroke, and heart attack.

Impact on Mental Well-Being

Pervasive stress can become a heavy mental burden, leading to feelings of frustration, anxiety, and sadness. Chronic stress is also considered the backdrop to the development of many psychiatric conditions, including depressive and anxiety disorders.

The Role of Inflammation

The exact cause of depressive and anxiety disorders is unknown, but exposure to stressful events can create vulnerability to these conditions. Depression and anxiety are often considered mental health issues, but like many physical conditions, they have close ties with inflammation within the body. Studies have shown that stress can cause systemic, inflammatory changes in the brain.

Changes in the Immune System

Chronic stress is also linked with reduced activity of vital immune system cells called natural killer cells. And while a weakened immune system does not directly cause depression, studies artificially promoting an inflammatory response have exceeded the capabilities of the immune system enough to provoke depressive behavior in both humans and rodents.

Immune system disruption has also been closely associated with anxiety disorders. An inflammatory response in the brain and spinal cord called neuroinflammation can produce toxic effects. Some researchers believe this to be the underlying pathophysiology of anxiety disorders.

Stress Awareness Tips for Better Health

Improvement begins with better awareness. When individuals better understand the part excessive stress plays in their life, they are better equipped to reduce and prevent it.

Identify Triggers to Improve Stress Awareness

Before individuals can effectively prevent and reduce stress, they must be aware of stress triggers and their impact. Without this knowledge, individuals may feel like they are always trying to put out a raging forest fire of stress. Identifying triggers opens up a more targeted and strategic approach.

Instead of simply accepting that “work is stressful,” individuals may note they begin feeling signs of stress (muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach, etc.) more frequently when certain situations arise, such as the following.

  • Having meetings with a specific individual who tends to be critical.
  • Working through a specific type of project because the process is disorganized.
  • Thinking about project deadlines due to a lack of confidence in job skills.

Focus on Healthy Stress Reduction Strategies

Stress reduction can be achieved in numerous ways, and these are just a few examples of healthy stress-reducing activities individuals may enjoy.

  • Vigorous exercise
  • Yoga
  • Walking
  • Doing a hobby, such as crafting or playing a musical instrument
  • Talking to a loved one
  • Spending time in nature
  • Cooking
  • Reading
  • Listening to music
  • Meditating or relaxing quietly
  • Taking breaks to spend time alone
  • Deep breathing

Activities such as gambling, risky sexual activity, or substance misuse may temporarily mask symptoms of stress. However, they often lead to harmful consequences that do not address the source of stress or contribute to good health.

Choose Prevention Instead of Reaction

Though preventing all forms of stress is not possible, managing stress at low levels is easier and more efficient than addressing frequent bouts of high or chronic stress. In some cases, significant stress may be unavoidable, such as when dealing with significant life changes or trauma. However, awareness of known triggers can help individuals make choices that reduce the load on the mind and body.

By keeping their stress triggers in mind and planning their time and energy, individuals can limit the effects of stress. Some individuals may feel emotionally drained by family members who want to pull them into chaotic situations. They may feel uncomfortable and overstimulated with prolonged socialization. By consistently limiting these activities, individuals can reduce preventable problems and maintain a manageable stress load.

Benefiting from Stress Awareness Day

Individuals can reduce the negative impact of excess stress in their lives, but many simply react when stressful situations arise. Highlighting its effects through Stress Awareness Day reminds individuals to examine their coping responses to stress. With earlier recognition of stressors, individuals can more effectively keep stress in check.