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Everyone has stress in their lives, or experiences stress in some form or another. It could be that you're running late to work or an appointment, and stuck in a traffic jam. Stress. Or, trying to juggle work, kids, homework, housework, trips to the gym, personal relationships, deadlines, finances, etc. Stress. Or, you could be planning a wedding, or the arrival of a baby, or..a funeral. All of these things cause stress, and everyone goes through daily stress, which is common, but not good for you. For some people, traumatic life changes cause enormous stress, but when the change is over, most people go back to normal life, with normal levels of stress.

A person stressed out by too much on their plate.
Stressed out. Feeling stress. Too much.

A little bit of stress can be a good thing. It can motivate you to perform: meeting a deadline, prepping for a test or exam, public speaking, being resourceful with limited resources, getting ready for a big competition, or, in the event of sudden stress, like the vehicle in front of you suddenly stopping, or something or someone running across the road in front of your vehicle, our bodies are designed to react quickly to prevent injury or death to ourselves. These are some examples when short-lived stress is actually helpful. But, prolonged stress, long after the stressful moments have passed, can lead to a pile of physical and mental health issues. These range from aches and pains, insomnia and digestive issues to heart disease, stroke and heart attacks, and anxiety and depression disorders, among a few. The list is long, and not pretty, as to what prolonged stress can do to your body and mind.

We are all only too aware of what stress, and the stress hormone "cortisol" (which is only one of the hormones produced by our bodies during stressful times) can do to us, both to our physical health, and particularly to our mental health. Stressed out individuals can suffer from more infections and take longer to get over colds and viruses, hypertension, immune disorders, sexual health and reproductive issues (listen up men!! stress can affect "performance"!), heart and cardiovascular issues, migraines, headaches, inflammation throughout the body, IBS, IBD, insomnia, and particularly anxiety and depression. The last two are only two of the mental health issues that prolonged stress can cause, or make worse, but there is a laundry list of mental health issues associated with prolonged stress, one of the worst ones being PTSD. It's so easy for people to say "don't worry so much", or "it will get better", or, my favourite (being sarcastic here) "just relax". I hate that one. Personally, I would rather hear "how can I help?" or "do you need to talk/vent?" and "I'm here for you." Maybe those words won't make the stress go away, but they do make it easier to open up about what is stressing you out, maybe gain a different perspective, or find a better way to manage the stressful situation you're in. If you are overwhelmed by stress, talking to someone is a good way to relieve some of your stress, but you really SHOULD talk to a professional, or your doctor, if you feel your stress in unmanageable.

Having a good support circle really does help when stress is getting to you. I like to talk to my friends about stressful things in life, or to my partner. Sometimes, writing it out helps me prioritize the things in my life that are stressing me out. I definitely go for a walk when things start to boil up, and when it's really bad, I run. You might want to consider a yoga or meditation class. Or Tai Chi. Maybe an painting class, or some other form of creative expression. I like to sew corsets, and find that the sound of the sewing machine, and watching my creation become something real and beautiful, really helps reduce my stress. I also ride a motorcycle, and having to be aware and in the moment really helps reduce my stress levels. ( Opening up the throttle a little bit for a short time REALLY puts a smile on my face, but don't worry. I'm no speed demon. Just a short burst of excitement and joy is all I need.) Listening to my body when it says "hey you! go to bed!" and getting a good night's sleep has made a difference in how my body responds to stress, and how I manage it. When I'm especially stressed, I've been known to eat an entire tub of Ben & Jerry's Ice Cream. Sure. It's a small tub, but still...not good, but not the worst thing I could do to my body either. Those moments are few and far between, and if it's once in a while, no big deal. I make sure to eat properly after that little bout of ice cream, or And I make sure to get out and exercise to feel better about going down the ice cream road when I'm feeling particularly stressed. I don't beat myself up for it, I just get back on course.

If you find that your stress levels are causing you to self medicate with narcotics or alcohol, please PLEASE I implore you to talk to someone. A friend or family member. Your spouse or life partner. Someone you trust and feel you can confide in..then PLEASE talk to your doctor or a mental health professional. I can't stress this enough. I've had councelling for stress and anxiety in the past, and it really did help me. I found healthy ways to manage stress, and life, without having to resort to unhealthy habits.

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. I urge you to share your problems with someone, and if it's unmanageable and causing your quality of life to diminish in any way, talk to your doctor about getting some help. Take care of you. You'll thank yourself.


Joanne Gale

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