“You’ve been uptight lately,” my mom said the other day over lunch. We were celebrating my twenty-second birthday.
Although I can’t stand spicy food, I dribbled Tabasco sauce over my fajitas and took a bite, eyes immediately watering, mouth burning. I have good reasons to be uptight, I thought, shoveling the spicy food into my mouth.
The past few weeks, life had seemed to be a constant stream of stresses, and I hadn’t handled them well. A new job was giving me a steep learning curve. Rush hour had been brutal. I wasn’t sleeping well. Freelance projects on the side took up all my spare time.
All this had contributed to irritation in my interactions with family and friends, frustration at things I couldn’t change, and super-sensitivity to any perceived failures at work or at home.
Suddenly, the awareness of my super-stress hit me like a mouthful of hot jalapeños. I realized how ridiculous I must sound to my mom. Twenty-two should be a fiesta, a time of exploration and growth. But the stressors I was encountering — typical stressors for adults of any age — were sabotaging my youth, health, and everyday happiness.
April is National Stress Awareness Month. Considering that it’s tax season, we’re a ways off from another calendar holiday, and winter storms where I live have kept our spring season gloomy, it seems fitting.
It’s no news that unceasing high stress has a negative effect upon health. According to WebMD, 40 percent of all adults suffer adverse health effects from stress. As health care professionals promote public awareness about the common causes and symptoms of stress this month, we’d do well to consider the long-term medical effects, too.
Two recent studies agree that negative responses to everyday stress can have a negative effect on your long-term health.
A longitudinal study conducted by researchers at the University of California, Irvine found that reacting negatively to stress from even small events increased the risk of psychological distress and mood disorders among the 700 adults they studied.
Penn State’s study of the effects of stress was even more fascinating. Researchers spoke on the phone with over 2,000 adults for eight nights in a row, asking simple questions about the events of their day and their mood. In both projects, researchers found that people who handled stress badly on a day-to-day basis were more susceptible to ill mental health and chronic diseases later in life.
It seems that the research supports the age-old quip “attitude is everything.” The idea that our long-term health because of our present choices is not new, but it should be a wake-up call to those of us who do not pay attention to how we are reacting to our stress.
Beyond being aware of our stress this month, let’s take one step further and make a plan to react better to it.
Some Tips for De-Stressing Your Life
In honor of National Stress Awareness Month, I’m focusing on changing the things I can and reacting more positively to the things I can’t. Here’s what this will look like in my daily life:
- Stop fueling frustration. When I feel a burst of work-related or personal frustration, I’m not going to waste emotional energy fuming about it. My goal is to think of one thing I can do right now to make the situation better, and do it. Fueling the fire of my irritation will only tie my hands to solve whatever problem I’m facing. This positive, action-oriented reaction will help me keep stress at bay.
- Keep things in perspective by writing them down. Lots of our problems aren’t even worth our stress and can seem especially silly when you actually articulate them. This month I will name my stressors on paper and gauge how worthy they are of distress. I’m willing to bet most of them aren’t worth worrying over.
- Spend time with positive people. I heard on the radio recently that if you are easily prone to stress and discouragement, you should intentionally surround yourself with people who are opposite. I’m going to make time in my busy schedule for quality time with the sunny souls in my life and soak in their positive reactions.
Writer and theologian Charles Swindoll has said “Life is 10 percent what happens to you and 90 percent how you react to it.” With recent psychological studies showing the importance of how we react, it’s extremely important to be aware of our reactions and work on reacting more positively.