April is Stress Awareness Month

One does not have to look far to find things to be stressed out about. From wars on other shores to skirmishes here right at home, a pandemic that isn’t ready to quit to the oh-so-common kerfuffle over price increases and taxes, there is no shortage of issues that can be stressful for us as humans to process. The last two years have pushed many of us to our stress limits, and sometimes, it can seem insurmountable. However, there is hope for all of us when it comes to managing and balancing stress.

For the last thirty years, this country has recognized the month of April as Stress Awareness Month, where professionals all over the country come together to offer support, systems, and simple ideas to help you manage your stress – no matter if it comes from work, home, or other sources.

We all know what stress is, but did you know it affects more than your brain? Unchecked stress levels may lead to physical health issues, such as high blood pressure, obesity, fatigue, heart disease, and diabetes. Muscle groups can suffer from stress, as can your neurological system. Stress ages the body quicker as well, causing undue pressure on our bodies to keep moving, keep pushing, and keep us living, even as stress looms. Fortunately, stress isn’t always bad, and it, in essence, reminds us we are alive.

Stress is simply a reaction to any type of change, be it positive or negative, expected or not. If we have too little stress in our lives, we may become lethargic, passive, and unmotivated by much. Stress kept our ancestors alive, allowing them to run from threats and find new places to dwell. Positive job-related stress can force us out of our comfort zone and lead us to promotions and new opportunities. And, positive stressors, such as motivation to finish that 5k race or try a new activity at the gym, can lead us to move our bodies and push our own limits in healthy, positive ways. The key, though, is balance.

There are many ways you can manage stress and find the balance between the positive and negative stressors in our lives. As we age, it is more important than ever to remain in that balance – to do just enough to keep our bodies and minds healthy while thriving and living our best lives.

Ways you can manage stress and bring healthy benefits to your mind and body:

  1. Meditation – when some hear the word “meditation,” they think of a calm, quiet space filled with incense and candles, with chimes and the word “ohm” being repeated while people sit on cushions with pretzel-crossed legs. However, meditation, at its core, is all about bringing awareness to the present. Deep breathing, reading, knitting, walking, or hiking can all be meditative activities you can do to manage your stress level. Being aware of your surroundings, and controlling your breath, meditation is an activity you can do anywhere, and one that has immediate and long-term benefits. Give yourself the present of staying in the present!
  2. Talk it out – sometimes, just letting it out and getting the stressor off your mind is enough to bring your brain and body back to balance. Seek out a trusted friend, relative, partner, or even a therapist or counselor to help you get stress out of your body and into the air. Often, once you bring it out into the open, your body immediately begins to relax, and your mind can find ease. If you need help finding someone to talk to, ask your doctor for referrals. Someone is out there, ready to listen to you, and help you relieve yourself of the burden of stress.
  3. Rest – like stress, lack of rest can wreak havoc on our bodies and brains. This is because we need to rest to recharge, and you may even find yourself feeling less stressed the more you rest. The two are often related. So, taking a day off, allowing yourself to do nothing, even taking a quick nap in the middle of the day can do a lot for your stress levels.
  4. Play – oftentimes, we need to let loose and have fun in order to kiss some stress goodbye. When is the last time you truly laughed, truly had fun? For many older adults, this can be hard to remember to do. Take a mental health day, schedule in time for coloring or painting, or head out of town for the weekend with friends and leave stress behind. Stress cannot come play with you, so plan activities that truly let you let loose, enjoy yourself, and remember that we are not only alive to feel stress – we are here to enjoy this life we are blessed with!
  5. Exercise – exercise is a great and healthy way to move your body and channel any stress you may have. Swimming, yoga, boxing, and running are all great ways to feel better. Don’t have time to workout? Simply stretch and inhale! The act of stretching your body brings oxygen back into your lungs and sends blood flowing to your muscles. This immediately reprograms your brain to focus on those muscles, while breathing in deeply fills your lungs with fresh air and centers your breathing – which usually is shallow or jagged when stressed.
  6. Walk it out – getting fresh air and clearing your mind is an absolutely amazing way to relieve stress. A walk as short as five minutes is enough to remind you of the beauty of life right outside your door. And, as the weather is (slowly) changing for the better, it will be easier to get out and get into nature. The sweet sounds of birdsongs, the chattering of squirrels, and even the laughter of children playing in their yards can clear your mind and bring balance to your mind and body. Of course, the health benefits of walking cannot be beat, and knowing it is also benefitting your brain and mind, relieving stress with each step is motivation enough to head outside, enjoy some sunshine, and remember that this stressor, too, shall pass.
  7. Take five – if tension hits quick, as it sometimes does, try this grounding exercise that you can do anywhere, any time. Breathe in deep, close your eyes, and open them slowly. Note five things you can see, five you can taste, five you can smell, five you can hear, and five you can touch. It can be anything in your immediate environment – our senses are always working to keep us informed and safe, so use them to help you stay grounded, present, and balanced.
  8. Drink your water – our bodies and brains are primarily made up of water, and water is one thing we all need to stay alive and healthy. When your body goes into dehydrate mode, your brain slows down, you may experience headaches, and your stress may increase. Staying hydrated is one thing we can all do to maintain balance and keep stress at bay.
  9. Journal – writing things down is one way to record memories, free up mental space, and organize our thoughts. This can also be another effective tool to help you beat stress. The simple act of writing out your feelings and thoughts can unburden your mind of what is causing your stress. This doesn’t have to be a long process, and oftentimes can be accomplished in as little as five minutes (or as long as you want, really, your thoughts are worth writing about!). Taking the time to remember what you are grateful for and writing out gratitude can also balance the act of writing out what stresses you – and will remind you that you have much to be grateful for, something we often forget when the stress levels reach their peak. So, grab a pen and a piece of paper (or that fancy notebook you have been saving for a special occasion – PS, that occasion is now!) and let the movements of your hand across the page take stress away.
  10. Ask for help – sometimes it’s hard to ask for help in handling the day to day tasks of life, and that can lead to the to-do lists building up alongside our stress levels. Luckily, there are many organizations that can offer you assistance to help! VANTAGE Aging is one of them. If you’re concerned that your loved one isn’t getting proper nutrition, or a sudden loss has you unable to consider proper nutrition, our Meals on Wheels of Northeast Ohio program is here for you. If the daily activities of living are too much for you to handle, and you just need simple supports to age in place at home, where you want to be, our Home Wellness Solutions program has the solution for you! Financial stress getting to you, but you’re worried you don’t have the skills to get a new job at your age, with all of the new technology around you? Call our SCSEP Workforce Solutions team, and we can help you with job readiness and even help improve your digital navigation savvy! Are you retired and feeling stressed because you still have so much talent and time to give? Well, reach out to our AmeriCorps Senior RSVP Volunteer program for information on how to get out there and use your skills and experiences to give back to those in need in your community. If your stress is impacting your mental health in a negative way and you need to speak with a professional, we work alongside the team at the Blick Clinic to ensure you get the help you need to manage your mindset. We may not be able to answer every single stressor you face, but VANTAGE Aging has key strategies to help you age positively, with independence and dignity, for the rest – nay, the best – of your life.

There are many ways we can beat stress, but the first step is being aware of what causes stress for us. What stresses you out negatively may not even register as a stressor for your partner, and that is okay! Not everyone will have the same reactions to change, so knowing how your body and brain react is key to knowing how you can alleviate it in your life. So, this and every month, we here at VANTAGE Aging hope you are able to maintain the balance between the positive stress and the negative stress. Whether you prefer to take a walk, meditate in a grassy field, stretch between commercial breaks, or call us for help, there are many ways to get the stress relief you seek. We’re here to support you and promote a positive perspective on aging for all we serve, one breath (or stretch!) at a time.

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