Stress Awareness Month: The Three Keys to Unlocking Stress this Month
April is Stress Awareness Month across the globe. Since 1992 every April recognizes stress to be one of the biggest public health challenges of our time. A 2017 study from the American Psychological Association found the most common sources of stress reported among Americans was the “future of our nation” (63% of respondents mentioned), Money (62%), Work (61%), political climate (57%), violence/crime (51%). There is no shortage of these common sources of stress in our lives currently, so it is time to take a minute (or even 43,800 minutes - April), to overcome stress.
Stress doesn't cause type 2 diabetes but it can affect your blood sugar levels and how you look after your condition. Stress impacts hormones, insulin and blood sugar levels and in turn can increase risks of diabetic complications. Moreover, type 2 diabetes can be overwhelming and cause stress. So this month, what can we do to not just cope, but to identify and prevent our stress?
1. Identify Your Feelings
Mindfulness means giving your attention and focus to the present moment. It can mean taking a minute to pause and scan/check in with your mind and body. You can do this periodically to gain more concentration, motivation, clarity, creativity or to reduce stress and anxiety. If you want to take it one step further, studies show that journaling reduces stress and symptoms of depression. While you might associate journaling as something only teens do, there are benefits to getting your thoughts and feelings out of your head and on paper.
During the day it can be helpful to check in with yourself periodically. Observe your body and breath. How are you feeling? Observe your thoughts. Track your symptoms, and moods. While journaling, prioritize your aspects of your daily life that contribute to your successes or failures.
Keeping a journal can help you identify what’s causing that stress or anxiety. Identifying your specific feeling, and naming it can be beneficial because it brings focus and clarity to what can otherwise feel very chaotic and stressful in your mind. Acknowledging your exact feelings can be powerful in moving forward in your day.
This month, start small and try to write down something every day. Set aside a few minutes to journal or if it’s more comfortable for you simply check in with your thoughts and feelings without the paper in the morning, afternoon and evening.
2. Talk and Share with Others
Acknowledge your negative feelings, and share the things that are adding stress in your life with others. Talking to others can allow you to work through possible issues, but also give you insight on where you need to go next. Be honest about where you are. Reach out to friends and loved ones when you need it, and aim to be transparent.
Mental Health Help says, “Adequate amounts of social support are associated with increases in levels of a hormone called oxytocin, which functions to decrease anxiety levels and stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system calming down responses. Oxytocin also stimulates our desire to seek out social contact and increases our sense of attachment to people who are important to us.”
Opportunities for connection can include…
- Initiating conversations - introduce yourself to a stranger, call your loved ones, send a FB message or post
- Initiating events - joining clubs or groups, inviting people over for dinner or make plans to meet somewhere
3. Be kind to yourself and others
Never underestimate the power of personal care time. Most of self care is what we do daily. Say YES to and prioritize: regular quality sleep, healthy diet, and regular exercise. Say NO to mood changing substances like alcohol. But there are more ways to be kind to ourselves and others.
Use your senses
Our senses are very powerful in changing our moods. We have strong, deep, associations with smell, sound, sight, taste and touch. Use this power to your benefit! Identify the things that bring you calm and/or positive feelings. Try to add them around your work and home spaces. Typical sensory items that we associate with self-care or relaxation might be:
Sight - seeing certain colors, plants
Sight / smell - candles, essential oils
Sound - soothing music, nature sounds
Touch - bubble bath, soft fabrics
Taste - cup of tea, piece of sugarless gum
Adding sensory items like these, or something more personal to you and your associations, to your spaces can help eliminate stress or be a way to de-escalate stress when it creeps in.
Remember, they don’t have to be the stereotypical ones, find the ones suited for you! When you are feeling stressed, scan your space to find something that is pleasing to your senses, focus on it and take a breath.
Taking time to create something can be deeply satisfying and reduce stress levels. Using our strengths to focus our attention on a creative task can be all consuming. In this way all your thoughts go into the production or this project, and aren’t able to be floating around with anxiety and stress.
One study had participants create art for 45 minutes, and researchers measured their cortisol levels before and after. “Cortisol is a glucocorticoid hormone and one of the most widely studied markers of stress”. Not only did the participants show a reduction in cortisol, but participants also, “found the art-making session to be relaxing, enjoyable, helpful for learning about new aspects of self, freeing from constraints, an evolving process of initial struggle to later resolution, and about flow/losing themselves in the work.”
Whatever art or creative process you enjoy, set aside some time each week to get out of your own head and dive into your preferred form of art. Don’t think you’re creative? Everyone has multiple intelligences and is creative in their own way. Find your creativity in a new class or project.
If we look at the greatest causes of stress such as; politics, money and work, giving back to our community can be a great way to combat stress. Feeling like you lack control over something can be stressful. What better way to take some control back by giving your time and energy to a cause you are passionate about.
The Mayo Clinic has found that, “From lowering stress to boosting self-confidence, research has shown that volunteering offers many health benefits, especially for older adults”.
We know our stress goes hand in hand with our health, our health impacting our stress and vice versa. So whether it is sharpening your emotional intelligence or mindfulness, starting a journal, having a weekly facetime with a trusted family member or volunteering at the local animal shelter - make your April a month to de-stress! For additional opportunities to connect and combat stress and type 2 diabetes, join our fantastic online community Winning Type 2 Diabetes Together!