BEACHWOOD, Ohio — April is National Stress Awareness Month, which also means it’s a good time to identify those key indicators of what stresses us out.
Is it pressures at work? Inflation in the economy? Personal health concerns? All of the above and more?
“The first thing to remember is that stress is a universal experience, right? It's normal. Everybody is going to experience stress at some level at some point,” explains therapist Whitney McSparran of Thriveworks. “And a lot of ways, stress is useful to us. It helps us push through the hard stuff and get it done."
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McSparran says that while stress can be a normal part of everyday life, there are key indicators that suggest it can become crippling. She says one tip that could really help right now is taking care of your physical health if you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure.
“When you’re starting to notice that there’s some changes in yourself. Maybe you’re not eating as much, you’re not sleeping as well. You may find yourself being a little more distracted or irritable and more easily overwhelmed. Maybe you just don’t want to do the things that you used to want to do. That’s a sign that things are going from normative stress to stress that’s not adaptive anymore. We want to make sure that we take care of that before it has a larger health impact.”
McSparran says that one tip that can really help right now is taking care of your physical health if you feel like you’re under a lot of pressure.
“Are you eating? Are you sleeping? Are you moving your body? Are you taking your medications? Are you going to your doctor’s appointments? Are you taking care of your physical health first?”
Once you address your physical health, McSparran says it’s essential to tap into your emotional well-being.
"In the emotional realm, are you doing things that make you feel good? Are you using coping skills? Are you practicing mindfulness? Are you spending time doing things that you enjoy?”
If you’re feeling depleted in both areas, McSparran says the best thing you can do is practice the power of pause.
"You need to buy yourself a little headspace to be able to think those things through. Pausing, being in the moment, taking some deep breaths can buy you that little bit of faith to figure out the next step.”
McSparran says if you notice that your mental health is at an all-time low, just remember it’s OK to feel down -- but what’s not OK is to stay there.
"I also think we have to remember that we don't have to settle for fine. We don’t have to settle for, ‘I’m OK. I’m getting through it. I’m hanging on.’ We want the people that we love to be thriving, to be the healthiest, happiest version of themselves that we know they can be.”
What can you do to keep stress at healthy levels? The Cleveland Clinic recommends:
- Relaxation activities like yoga, meditation and breathing exercises
- Taking care of your body, eating right and getting enough sleep
- Learn to say no to additional responsibilities when you are too busy or stressed
Editor's note: Video in the player above was originally published in an unrelated story on April 19, 2023.