National Stress Awareness Month began in April 1992 and is sponsored annually by the Health Resource Network. U.S. Council for Athlete’s Health would like to promote stress awareness and normalize the need to seek the aid of healthcare professionals for stress relief.
There are several definitions for stress. The Oxford dictionary defines stress as “pressure or worry caused by problems in somebody’s’ life or having too much to do.” Merriam-Webster dictionary states that stress is “a physical, chemical, or emotional factor that causes bodily or mental tension and may be a factor in disease causation.” Stress is a perceived emotional response to a situation experienced by the individual and creates reactions throughout the body which can negatively affect your health.
How do you recognize stress since it can manifest in diverse ways under various conditions? Stress can be seen in four distinct categories.
Physical: headaches, sickness, indigestion, heartburn, ulcer, stomachache, rapid breathing, rapid pulse, weakened immune system, increased blood pressure, diarrhea, nausea, infertility, amenorrhea, erectile dysfunction, muscle spasms, shortness of breath
Emotional: anxious, fearful, angry, frustrated, sad, depression
Behavioral: insomnia, substance abuse: drugs/alcohol, overeating or loss of appetite
Mental: irritable, inflexible, short tempered
When your brain senses danger (stress), there is a cascade of events that occur to prepare the body. This includes the release of hormones such as epinephrine. Epinephrine is released by the sympathetic nervous system triggering the Fight-or-Flight Response which increases alertness, reflexes, rise in blood pressure, heart rate, and respiration. The parasympathetic nervous system is responsible for bringing the body back to homeostasis once danger subsides. High levels of cortisol are found in people who suffer from a chronic state of stress. Prolonged exposure to cortisol could lead to adverse health conditions since the body cannot sustain this elevated state for long periods of time. Chronic stress can increase the risk for heart disease, heart attack, and stroke while exacerbating diagnosed conditions such as asthma and diabetes.
Stress can be diagnosed by observing any of the symptoms mentioned earlier. Unfortunately, stress share several signs and symptoms with other health conditions. Due to these similarities with other ailments, diagnosing stress can create challenges to a diagnosis and seeking treatment options. Healthcare providers such as physicians, counselors and mental health therapists use a battery of resources when diagnosing stress. A health history is obtained to see if there are any stress related indicators. A thorough physical examination is conducted to see if there are any vital measurements outside the norm. Physicians can utilize blood tests to seek any imbalances in hormones such as cortisol.
Seek the aid of a healthcare provider any time you feel overwhelmed. A mental healthcare provider is trained to confidentially diagnose mental health conditions and provide customized treatments based on the individual's needs.