April is Stress Awareness Month

Let’s face it — the past year has been anything but calm, so perhaps it’s even more timely that we pause … take a breath … and acknowledge that April is Stress Awareness Month. Health experts tell us that stress has a detrimental effect on our mental and physical well-being, plays havoc with our immune system — and can even age us. So, let’s take a look at some simple ways to help you manage stress.

 

First, Breathe

This time last year, we spoke with Richardson yoga instructor Chrissy Cortez-Mathis about practicing breathing through yoga. She told us that with yoga, she connects movement to breathing deeply, forcing out other distractions that might occupy her mind, while reducing stress.

“Breathing helps us focus; it oxygenates our body and releases endorphins, which are the feel-good hormones,” she says. “The biggest bonus is after we are done, our minds are calmer. When our minds are calm, we make better decisions and we begin to respond rather than react to stress.”

 

Get Handsy

“Anyone can draw,” says Kathryn MacDonell, geriatric program manager and NICHE Coordinator – Dementia Support at Texas Health Dallas. “The secret is to be thoughtful, to focus, and not to rush. Draw yourself, your cat, your fridge, your family.”

The goal isn’t to be perfect, but to create, and that helps us refocus and accept our efforts and ourselves. So, pull out a pad of paper, some crayons or paints, and get to it! Art lowers anxiety and depression, and creativity is important to staying positive and imagining a more hopeful future.

If art isn’t your bag, knit or crochet a scarf or other clothing items for a friend. They’ll appreciate your thoughtfulness, and you’ll feel more peaceful, as you lower your blood pressure and reduce stress. Sounds like a win-win, right?

 

Catch Some Z’s

We all know we’re supposed to get plenty of sleep, but did you know that getting a good night’s rest can instill a sense of calmness and help manage stress, among a long list of other benefits? According to the Sleep Foundation, sleep is imperative to physical health and effective function of the immune system. It also helps minimize stress, depression, and anxiety – emotions compounded in the era of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Brian Meusborn, PA-C, a physician assistant on the medical staff at Texas Health Family Care in Flower Mound provides some practical tips to getting a good night’s sleep first shared in an earlier blog about sleep disruptions caused by stress and anxiety. He says it’s important to eat healthy foods, and not to consume an evening meal too close to bedtime.

He also suggests avoiding screen time 30 minutes before bedtime, getting exercise each day (start with a short walk, if you like), and avoiding alcohol and caffeine three hours before bed. Following this advice may lead to a better night’s sleep and help minimize your stress.

 

Play in the Dirt

If your idea of spending time outdoors means doing something productive, consider planting a garden, not only as a stress-reliever but also to reap fresh food and bond with family members. Thirty minutes of gardening has been shown to stress-inducing cortisol levels.

As Richardson mom Carrie Ann M. says, “Working in the garden definitely helps with stress. I’m not sure if it’s the fresh air, lack of technology, or knowing it’s something that’s been passed down from generation to generation, but I always feel so much better after working in the garden.”

 

Take Five

When we’re stressed out, our body produces stress hormones that have a detrimental effect on the immune system, according to the American Psychological Association. So, what’s a person to do in this stress-inducing time? We sought advice from Scott Domingue, Chief Nursing Officer of Texas Health Behavioral Health.

“While we can’t always change the factors leading to stress in our lives, it is important to be aware of how we respond to stress. As we are mindful of our responses, we can improve the stress reaction and reduce the potential negative impact it can have on us emotionally and physically.”

Domingue offers up these five tips to help deal with stress in a better way:

  1. Change your surroundings: If you know a situation will stress you out, avoid or change it.
  2. Say no to too many demands on your time: You can only take on so much! Your family will benefit from the extra unscheduled time with you. This will also provide time for self-care routines.
  3. Communicate: It’s okay to tell your boss you feel frustrated by your workload and ask for a solution. It’s okay to ask your spouse for help with a task. No one will know you are upset if you don’t tell them, and if they don’t know, they can’t help.
  4. Adjust standards: The house doesn’t have to be spic and span and you don’t have to make all of your family meals from scratch. Nothing has to be perfect … including you!
  5. Laugh: According to Healthline, there are even more ways you can control stress — including laughing more to improve your immune system and mood.

A certain amount of stress is normal in our lives, but if you’re feeling overwhelmed by stress due to anxiety or other emotions, good resources are available. You can start by contacting Texas Health Behavioral Health to schedule a complimentary assessment. Complete this online form and a behavioral health specialist will be in touch — or call (682) 549-7934.

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