Stress Awareness Month!

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April marks the start of Stress Awareness Month.

Ah… stress.

As a university student, stress is all too familiar to me. Nowadays, it feels like if you’re not stressed, you’re doing university wrong. There is this idea that has been ingrained into our minds, that the more stressed you are, the harder you are working… but is this really true?

Growing up, I have often encountered the toxic stress competition that teenagers like so much. Have you ever turned to your friend and told them that you “only slept 5 hours last night because of a deadline”, and they then replied, “lucky you – I only slept 3”, as though it were a competition? What’s that about? One of the important things to remember is that stress means different things to different people. What causes stress in one person may be of little concern to another. Additionally, some people are better able to handle stress. We should be sharing de-stressing techniques with each other, not competing over sleep deprivation or the length of our to-do lists!

Why should we care about stress?

Stress is one of the great public health challenges of our time, but it still isn’t being taken as seriously as physical health concerns. Now let me share some scary facts to make you take this article a bit more seriously…

  • Stress can cause pain or tension in your chest, muscles, head or stomach. Your muscles tense up when you’re stressed, and this can eventually cause headaches or musculoskeletal problems.
  • Stress can cause reproductive issues. For example, stress can lead to changes to your sex drive, impotence, and problems with sperm production, as well as problems with irregular or painful periods.
  • Stress can cause changes to your heart rate and blood pressure. Acute stress can cause inflammation in your arteries, which could be a contributing factor to heart attacks.
  • Stress can cause digestive problems, such as diarrhoea, constipation, nausea, and vomiting.
  • Stress can disrupt sleep or reduce sleep quality, leading to sleep disorders such as insomnia.
  • Stress is a significant factor in mental health problems, including anxiety and depression. Stress can also lead to feeling overwhelmed, unmotivated, unfocused, irritable, angry, and restless.

Basically, no part of the body is immune to stress.

Video: How Chronic Stress Affects Your Brain, TedEd Madhumita Murgia.

Wait, what even is stress?

Stress is the body’s response to harmful situations – whether real or perceived. When you feel threatened, your body responds through your ‘fight-or-flight’ response, also known as the ‘stress response’. In your brain, the hypothalamus gets the response started, and your adrenal glands release the stress hormones adrenaline and cortisol. This causes your heart rate to increase, your breathing speeds up, your muscles tighten, and your blood pressure rises. You’re ready to act. For immediate, short-term situations, stress can be beneficial to your health. It can help you cope with potentially harmful situations. However, if your stress response doesn’t stop firing, and your stress levels stay elevated for longer than is necessary for survival, things can become problematic.

So, what’s Stress Awareness Month about then?

The Stress Awareness Month theme, selected by the Stress Management Society, is ‘Regaining Connectivity, Certainty and Control’. They chose this theme following a study where 65% of people in the UK reported that they felt more stressed since the COVID-19 restrictions began in March 2020. The three key causes found were: feelings of disconnection, uncertainty and a worrying loss of control.

To help you this month, the Stress Management Society are hosting a 30-day challenge, as it takes 30 days to turn actions into habits. Check out their website for some advice on de-stressing and joining the challenge this month: https://www.stress.org.uk/30daychallenge/  

What more could you do for Stress Awareness Month?

  • Talk about stress and its effects with those around you. It is important to reduce the stigma that is associated with stress by talking about it openly. Ask others how they are doing, take the time to listen, and share how things are going for you too.
  • Share your coping mechanisms. If you find something particularly helpful, why not share it? It might benefit others, and maybe they’ll share some good hacks with you too!
  • Be nice to those who are stressed or anxious. It is important to treat others around us with compassion and empathy – we all know what it feels like to be stressed, and it’s not easy. Be kind!
  • Look after yourself. I’m sure you’ve heard about ‘self-care’ – and no, I don’t just mean taking a bubblebath or doing a face-mask. Self-care can go deeper than that, it involves exercising, eating well, spending time with people who make you feel good, doing something for yourself (yes, that can be taking a bubblebath, but it can also be doing that thing on your to-do list you’ve been putting off for weeks), or getting an early night.

When you are stressed or anxious, the most important thing is to make sure you are continuing to look after yourself. Making time to relax and learning to say ‘no’ to requests that are too much for you. Put yourself first.

Where can I learn more?

This month, you can expect more posts from us about stress. We are planning on sharing more details about what stress is and stress-coping techniques. We will also be raising awareness and sharing information about stress on our Instagram, so make sure to follow us to stay up-to-date: @brainbased_info!

Featured photo: Photo by Ketut Subiyanto from Pexels.

Edited by Cyrus Rohani-Shukla

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