Stress Awareness Month
March 31 2021
April is National Stress Awareness Month so I will be sending a series of stress related content throughout the month.
At this point in the year, we are all familiar with our own stress. I mean, our world has been in a state of stress for a little over a year now. Can you believe that?!?!?! Plus, we Texans had a week of deep freeze that didn’t help matters much. All this is to say that we all experience stress which means we can all benefit from some additional stress awareness. It couldn’t possibly make things any worse, right?
Stress isn't really a bad thing. It actually served an adaptive purpose back in the day. Our caveman ancestors needed to survive so when there was a threat to survival, their brain would signal a stress response. This response was a warning system that alerted them to a potential danger, such as a saber-toothed tiger trying to make them its dinner.
The issue comes when the body goes into a stress response in inappropriate situations or when the body is in a stress response for an extended time period. Both can lead to problems with relationships, mental health, and physical health.
How do you know if you are stressed?
The body has three main stress responses: fight, flight, and freeze. Each of these serves a different purpose but they are all triggered by “a real or imagined threat.” Below are the three states and their associated signs explained in greater detail.
The fight response happens when you feel you're in danger, but you believe you can overpower the threat. Your brain sends messages to your body to quickly prepare you for the physical demands of fighting. Some signs you're in fight mode include:
- You cry
- You feel like punching someone or something
- Your jaw is tight, or you grind your teeth
- You glare at people or talk to them with anger in your voice
- You feel like stomping or kicking
- You feel intense anger
- Your stomach feels tied in knots, or you have a burning feeling in your stomach
When you believe you can overcome the danger by running away, your brain prepares your body for flight. Sometimes, running away is your best option. After all, unless you're a firefighter, you probably want to run out of a burning building. Here are some of the emotional and physical flight responses:
- Your legs are restless
- You feel numbness in your extremities
- Your eyes dilate and dart around
- You constantly move your legs and feet
- You're fidgety
- You're tense
- You feel trapped
- You exercise excessively
When you feel neither running nor fighting is the best choice, you can freeze instead. The following freeze responses can keep you stuck:
- You feel cold
- You have numbness in your body
- Your skin is pale
- You feel stiff or heavy
- You have a sense of dread
- Your heart is pounding
- Your heart rate may decrease
- You feel yourself tolerating the stress
You can read about these states and more in this Betterhelp article.
*Some information was provided by the Stress Management Society.