By Jeanene Dunn, OHM Staff
Make Changes Now for Better Health
If we don’t get a handle on stress, we are headed for the next big public health crisis. This is the warning from the American Psychological Association (APA) in response to data from the Stress in America: A National Mental Health survey, released last October.
If we don’t make changes now, a large segment of the population is headed for poor mental and physical health outcomes. The APA has not been alone in raising concerns about the rising levels of stress people are experiencing. For months, mental health professionals, primary care providers and social services agencies have been sounding the alarm as they report seeing larger numbers of patients and clients who admit to struggling with their mental health.
OUR BODIES CAN HANDLE A CERTAIN AMOUNT OF STRESS
It is important to know that stress is normal. When we experience challenges or stressors, our bodies and minds react in response. For example, you may be nervous about a job change or the birth of a child or grandchild, or your child could be anxious about a test at school.
All stress isn’t bad.
Good stress promotes resilience and helps us balance our emotions. Positive stress can include planning a new adventure like hang gliding or rock climbing for the first time; starting a new job, or going on a first date.
The effects of good stress can be increased self-esteem, motivation and inspiration.
WHAT HAPPENS WHEN WE EXPERIENCE STRESS?
“All parts of the body work in balance with each other,” explains Alex Jackson, LMT, NCTMB, Holistic Health Practitioner. Jackson understands the connection between stress and chronic diseases. In his practice, clients complete an assessment so that he understands their physical and mental status, which helps him determine if stress is a contributor to their health condition. “Most of the time we find all systems of the body are affected by stress,” says Jackson.
Situations that may cause stress and have a negative impact include:
- Extreme anger
- Fear of being bullied
- Working too hard
- Losing a job
- Marriage or relationship problems
- Divorce or recent breakup
- Death of a family member or friend
- Difficulty in school
- Overwhelming schedule (caring for a loved one, vacations and holidays)
- Relocating to a new home or job
STRESS IMPACTS THE BODY
- Musculoskeletal system (muscles and bones)
- Respiratory system (airways, lungs and blood vessels)
- Digestive system (mouth, throat, esophagus, stomach, intestines rectum, anus, salivary glands, liver, gallbladder and pancreas)
- Reproductive system (in women, ovaries, fallopian tubes, uterus, cervix and vagina; in men, prostate, the testes and penis)
- Immune system (more susceptible to viruses and infections)
Some health conditions resulting from long-term or chronic stress include:
- Stomach issues (pain, digestive problems, eating disorders)
- Reproductive challenges (can contribute to infertility issues)
- Neck and back pain
- Chronic health diseases (diabetes, high blood pressure,breathing issues, kidney disease)
STRESS CAN LEAD TO UNHEALTHY HABITS
Long-term exposure to stress takes its toll. In her work as a Therapist at Reconciliation Services (RS), Shaleesa Rocket, LCSW, sees clients who have experienced long-term stress—sometimes all their lives. “Some of my clients have been exposed to trauma and stress and have faced struggles and loss,” Rocket explains. “As a result, some have adopted unhealthy habits or engage in risky behaviors. My goal is to give them the tools to heal, cope and grow—and lean into healthier ways to deal with life’s challenges.”
Unhealthy habits can include:
- Poor nutrition
- Abusing alcohol and other drugs
- Tobacco use
- Sedentary lifestyle (little to no exercise)
UNDERSERVED COMMUNITIES ARE THE MOST VULNERABLE
Communities of color are more likely to live with the physical and mental health effects of stress and are the least likely to have access to mental health services. “The lack of access creates barriers and contributes to the stigma of seeking help,” Rocket says. “There is still a lot a work to do to remove the stigma and shame. Families are experiencing stresses and trauma that have passed from generation to generation.”
CAN STRESS BE PREVENTED?
Stress cannot be prevented, but it can be managed.
These tips can help you battle stress and guard your mental health.
- GET MOVING. Exercise is great for mental and physical health. If you can’t get outside, do some indoor stretches and bends.
- CONSIDER THERAPY AND COUNSELING to learn new perspectives and techniques to help you manage day-to-day stressors in your life.
- GET ORGANIZED. Planning your day can help ease a lot of stress.
- MANAGE WORRIES. Take action in those areas in which you have some control.
- CONNECT WITH POSITIVE PEOPLE who are calming and supportive.
- LEARN TO SAY “NO.” When you have too much—or even enough—on your plate already, taking on additional responsibilities will only add to your discomfort.
- EAT HEALTHIER. Learn what foods contribute to poor health. Ask your doctor to refer you to a nutritionist.
- REDUCE ALCOHOL CONSUMPTION and if you use tobacco, quit.
- RELAX, RELAX, RELAX. You might try meditation, yoga, Tai Chi or breathing exercises to promote relaxation.
IF YOU NEED HELP
As a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, providers have begun asking questions about mental health during screenings and visits. Talk to your healthcare provider and be open about your mental health. If you are considering a less traditional approach, talk to your provider to determine what works best for your situation and health.
IF YOU ARE EXPERIENCING AN EMERGENCY, CALL 911.
If you or someone you know is struggling to cope or threatening self-harm, contact the National Suicide
Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK.
Reconciliation Services provides evidence-based, clinical support, group therapy and intensive case management for clients struggling with depression and the effects of trauma. To learn about how they support individuals and families, visit rs3101.org.
Shaleesa Rocket, LCSW is a Therapist at Reconciliation Services; Alex Jackson, LMT, NCTMB, is a Holistic Health Practitioner and owner of Centered Spirit, in Kansas City, Missouri.
Our Health Matters does not endorse any medical treatment or approach. Always consult your doctor regarding any physical and mental healthcare needs.
Source: American Psychological Association, Cleveland Clinic, Centers for Disease Control & Prevention