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Toi Degree column: April is National Stress Awareness Month

By Toi Degree
N.C. Cooperative Extension

During this past year, many of us have experienced countless stress triggers, which have caused our stress levels to be all over the place; I know that has been the case for me and others around me. So, when I learned that April is National Stress Awareness Month, I felt that this would be a great time to address this and outline coping mechanisms. Stress Awareness Month has been recognized every April since 1992. Learning to cope with our stress and finding healthy ways to deal with these situations can go a long way in living a healthy and positive life.

We all experience stress — yet we may experience it in very different ways. Because of this, there is no single definition for stress, but the American Institute of Stress states the most common explanation is a “physical, mental, or emotional strain or tension.”

The Center for Disease Control (CDC) defines stress as a “reaction to a situation where a person feels threatened or anxious.” Learning healthy ways to cope and getting the right care and support can help reduce stressful feelings and symptoms.

While the verbiage may differ slightly, both definitions mention that as a result of the traumatic event, that the person may have a strong and lingering reaction. These events may include personal or environmental disasters or threats. Common reactions to a stressful event may include:

  • Disbelief, shock and numbness
  • Feeling sad, frustrated and helpless
  • Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
  • Headaches, back pains and stomach problems
  • Smoking or use of alcohol or drugs

As you read this article you see yourself in the above behaviors, so what do I do? Below are a few ways for dealing with stress:

  • Take care of yourself… Self-care. Eat healthy, exercise, get plenty of sleep and give yourself a break if you feel stressed out. Taking care of ourselves is sometimes the hardest thing to do for that person that always takes care of others. Remember, if you are aboard a plane and it starts to go down you first must put on your oxygen mask and save yourself, before you can save anyone else.
  • Talk to others. Share your problems and how you are feeling and coping with a parent, friend, counselor, doctor or pastor. Talking will help you to get your feelings out and can assist you with coming up with solutions to assist you with the resolution of your situation.
  • Avoid drugs and alcohol. These may seem to help, but they can create additional problems and increase the stress you are already feeling.
  • Take a break. If news events are causing your stress, take a break from listening or watching the news. Continuing to watch the same new footage will keep you in a never-ending cycle of reliving the trauma, which will keep you stuck in the same place. Watch a feel-good movie that will allow you to feel a bit happier.

Recognize when you need more help. If problems continue or you are thinking about suicide, talk to a psychologist, social worker, or professional counselor. There is absolutely nothing wrong with seeking professional help.

The bigger problem is needing it and choosing not to get the needed help. There are so many stigmata around people who don’t do that and you can do this for that, but the reality is seeking professional help is good for your mental health. The bottom line is that you must do what is best for you!

The effects of stress are very real and can have a very negative effect if left untreated and allowed to fester. So, please take the best care of yourself, encourage others to do so as well, and seek help when you need to.  You are worth it! Take care and stay safe!

Here are a few sites you can visit for more information:

Toi N. Degree is associate family and consumer education agent with North Carolina Cooperative Extension. Contact her  at 704-216-8970 or toi_degree@ncsu.edu.

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