We can’t stress this enough: April is Stress Awareness Month

With all the problems that we have to deal with in the modern world, from traffic jams to climate change, from bullying to terrorism, there is one problem that is tied into all the others, that affects almost everyone, that often leads to illness and devalues our quality of life. But stress doesn’t always get a fair shake as far as problems go. We fundraise to fight cancer and hold marches to increase awareness of homophobia, but it’s very hard to find a politician going on about stress. Yet it is a huge problem, and this April, at least one blog will be devoted to raising awareness, and looking for answers.

April is Stress Awareness Month in Canada. That feels odd to say. Many of us are already very aware of stress. In fact, 23% of us report that most days are stressful. But the problem is that for the longest time, stress wasn’t seen as a problem at all. Although stress has always been known to cause problems like headaches, stomach aches, insomnia and depression, there was a time not so long ago when you were supposed to suck it up, do your work and not complain. But then researchers began to discover links between elevated levels of stress and all kinds of serious illnesses, including heart disease, diabetes and others. Now we know that stress can kill you.

Read: Blood pressure and heart health – It’s all about risk

And every day the world becomes more stressful. We are living in a world of 24-hour news, when something bad is always happening, and technology has made it possible to know about it the second it happens. There’s no longer any such thing as down-time for many people. Speaking of technology, it’s also created the expectation of instant gratification, so that many of us become agitated if it takes us longer than 5 minutes to buy concert tickets or book a hotel. Our world is constantly moving, and we don’t want to miss any of it. That’s stressful. Even when we’re not at work, at the cottage or half-way round the world, we don’t have to miss a thing, and that means that we’re always ‘on’.

Ways to manage stress

There are a number of ways to manage and reduce stress in our lives. Most of them are related to getting out of our usual patterns, and leaving our worries behind, if even for a moment. So, for example, getting off the couch and getting up and moving is a great stress reliever. The more vigorous the exercise, the better it is, because frankly, when your heart rate gets up over 145 or so beats a minute, you may not be enjoying it, but you’re probably not thinking about that presentation you have to deliver next week. It seems that exercise is good for just about every health problem you can imagine, and stress is no different.

Extended time away is also important from time to time. There’s a reason your boss WANTS you to take your vacation days, instead of cashing them out or losing them. Many of us think we’re being smart by taking our vacation days when we’re moving or when we need to do our spring cleaning at home, but we’re missing the point. Disconnecting from work and day-to-day chores is a great way to recharge and bring stress levels down. Taking a real vacation at least twice a year, even if you don’t go far, is a great way to manage stress. Even if you take a “staycation” instead of a vacation the important thing is to be totally emotionally detached from work.

Read: Travelling with medication? Don’t forget these crucial Rx safety tips

But most of us wait several months between vacations, so to relieve stress during your regular routine, try to work in moments to disconnect. Meditation is great. So is yoga. If you need an extra nudge to relax, try a massage. Many workplace benefit plans include some coverage for massage, so why not use it? If all of this seems like a little much for you, try to take five minutes out of your work day, find a quiet spot, close your eyes and just practice deep breathing. You’ll feel refreshed, and if not, at least your eyes will get a break from staring at a screen all day.

Technology and its role on stress

Which brings us back to technology. Many of us use the same technology (smart phones, tablets, etc.) during our free time as we do during our work. That’s convenient, perhaps, but in our super-connected world, it’s that much more important to unplug for at least an hour a day. Reading a book, taking a bath, just sitting on your porch and watching the sunset. Playing games on your phone may seem like a good way to unwind, but our bodies interpret time spent on electronic devices as work, and it’s very hard to truly de-stress that way.

This April, make a point to cut down on your stress. Unwinding isn’t easy. Unplugging may be the first step.