By Nanette McLain, LCSW, MPA, Regional Director of Social Work and Cathy Turner, LCSWA, Social Worker.
What does it mean to be stressed?
It is common to utter in a moment of frustration, “I am stressed out.” But what does it mean to be stressed? And, more importantly, what can we do about it?
According to the National Institute for Mental Health,1 stress is a physical or mental response to an external cause. We can feel stress in response to a positive situation, such as planning a celebration event. Or, more commonly, we can feel stress from challenging situations, such as financial difficulties or increased responsibilities caring for a loved one.
How stress impacts our well-being.
Stress can impact our well-being in a variety of ways. For some people, stress can create difficulty concentrating, irritability, or anger. Other people have a physical response, such as body aches, dizziness or nausea. Stress may cause changes in behavior, such as increased or decreased eating or sleeping.
The impacts of stress are often short term. But sometimes the impact of stress persists longer term and contributes to health conditions such as high blood pressure, diabetes, depression or anxiety.
Stress awareness and two easy steps you can take.
April marks National Stress Awareness Month. This month is a chance to increase our stress awareness and learn what we can do to reduce stress.
Cathy Turner, a licensed social worker at Landmark, uses a practical approach to help others manage stressful situations.
- Cathy helps others recognize when they are experiencing stress so they can take action. It is important to be observant and ask yourself if it is a physical or a mental response to stress.
- Once there is increased awareness, Cathy encourages people to consider these questions: What do you enjoy doing? Are you still doing the things you enjoy? What steps can you take to begin doing more of what you enjoy?
Putting stress management into action.
Cathy has applied this stress-management approach with Ms. Smith,* a 58-year-old. Ms. Smith has multiple health conditions, including end stage liver disease, type 2 diabetes, congestive heart failure and major depressive disorder. Ms. Smith lives with her younger sister and her brother, who also has multiple health conditions.
Ms. Smith struggles with money management and loneliness, which increases her stress and impacts her health. While Ms. Smith works with medical providers to manage her health conditions, Cathy has equipped her to identify periods of stress and actions she can take.
With Cathy’s support, Ms. Smith is now better aware of her stress response, including digestive problems, difficulty sleeping and irritability. When Ms. Smith experiences these symptoms, she knows to pause and consider what she enjoys and whether she is still doing that.
Most recently, during a particularly challenging time, Ms. Smith was reminded of the enjoyment she gains from being creative. She took steps to be creative at least daily by coloring, drawing, jewelry making or container gardening. These activities helped Ms. Smith recognize her stress and improve her well-being by simply taking time to do something she enjoyed.
To learn more about ways to reduce stress or seek help, visit Mental Health America at https://www.mhanational.org/
1 National Institute of Mental Health, NIH Publication No. 20-MH-8125
*Patient name changed to protect her identity.