April has been designated “National Stress Awareness Month”. It’s probably not a coincidence that it wraps around “Tax Day” because financial insecurity is one of the leading causes of stress in our country.
Stress can be insidious, because it usually builds slowly in our lives. As we grow up, we take on one challenge, then another, social obligations pile up, responsibilities, bills … then, life shows us her teeth. Unfortunate things may happen, on top of everything else, which has already been stretched so tightly and worn so thin.
Over time, we find ourselves feeling stuck. How did we get here? How are we going to do all of this? Sure, bath bombs and herbal teas are nice – but they don’t solve the problem. And, make no mistake, this is a dangerous mode to be in for too long.
Stress creates a flood of stress hormones in your body. These hormones are good for short-term tasks, like accomplishing a difficult goal, but chronic stress – the bad kind – is a killer. It can raise your blood pressure and put you at risk for cardiovascular problems and heart disease. It tanks your immune system, causing small things, like colds, to larger things, such as ulcers and disease. Chronic stress also hurts your mental health and can be the root cause of anxiety and panic symptoms and depressive episodes.
In this country, we value hard work and success. These are good things, but taken to their dark sides, aka, constant “busyness” and the accumulation of material possessions, it changes the picture. We start posting messages about being “on the grind” and “no days off.” We promote images of perfection: perfect families, perfect homes, perfect bodies, perfect lives. These ideals of perfection aren’t real, yet we hold ourselves and others accountable to them, anyhow.
I believe this keeps people from seeking help or reaching out. We get it in our heads that perfection is the goal and all these anchors that go with it are normal. We carry other people’s baggage, as well, in the form of saying yes to everything and trying to mold our lives around their expectations.
And here’s the kicker: a little “me time” won’t fix it. Hollow tropes to chill out and just breathe add to the stress by giving you false hope that simplistic notions should do the trick. And when they don’t? Another failure. Spending more money on essential oils and yoga mats and special health supplements will only add to financial stress.
So, what do you do?
You have to remove the stressors. Herbal tea won’t wash them away. This may mean seeing a financial advisor, downsizing, hiring help, leaving a bad relationship, saying no to obligations, keeping tight business hours, or even seeking therapy to sort it all out. Put your phone down for a moment, and think – really, think – about where the production line is broken in your life or why you are overwhelmed. Chances are, you already know. You may feel you need permission to change it, but you do not.
And in the meantime?
Exercise. Out of all the self-care products and equipment out there, exercise is one of the only things proven to help. Exercise boosts the production of endorphins in your brain, which causes you to feel more positive and solution-based, instead of negative and closed-minded. Exercise improves your cardiovascular health, lowers your blood pressure and bolsters your immune system – all the things that take a beating under stress.
And the best part – you don’t have to train insane. One 30-minute walk a day has been shown to improve mild to moderate depression. Or, you can break that into three hour-long walks a week. Get outside, and take a walk. That’s it. Or join a gym if the weather isn’t cooperative.
In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, take some steps to truly de-stress your life and get some physical activity in while you work on your problems. It’s an effective combination that could save your health and well-being.