With the coronavirus pandemic to nationwide protests to elections and the need for home-based learning for students, 2020 has more people finding themselves stressed out.
Stress levels high
According to the American Psychological Association, this year’s stress levels are particularly high.
“Many Americans are experiencing considerable stress ... and are also reporting higher levels of general stress than in recent years,” the APA states. “The average reported stress level for U.S. adults related to the coronavirus is 5.9 (on a scale from 1 to 10, 10 being most stressed) … . This is significantly higher than the average stress level reported in the 2019 Annual Stress in America survey, which was 4.9, and marks the first significant increase in average since the survey began in 2007.”
The APA website states those with children are also experiencing more incidents of stress, reporting stress levels during the month of May at an average of 6.7 compared to the average stress of parents without children at 5.5.
“There is a high level of stress in our society with COVID and political issues going on. A lot of us are feeling irritable and edgy, maybe with our co-workers or family members,” said Monty Miller, manager of Behavioral Health at St. Luke’s North Hospital. “We should really be practicing some grace and patience with one another and even with ourselves. We need to show ourselves some self-compassion.”
Ways to practice grace and compassion, Miller said, include keeping a gratitude journal and trying to be aware of and thankful for the things we do have.
“Try to find the meaningful moments of life and spend meaningful moments with friends, that will help,” he said.
Symptoms of stress
Some individuals may not know they are experiencing stress as symptoms vary, Miller added. Key symptoms Miller listed include high blood pressure and having headaches more often than usual. Miller added unusual aches and pains can also be a symptom as is feeling fatigued.
“There is a real difference between feeling sleepy or tired and feeling fatigued,” Miller said. “Maybe you are feeling more irritable, maybe a little grumpy. Maybe you are eating more or less or wanting to go to bed a lot earlier …, those things may indicate that you are feeling stressed out and you need to ask yourself, ‘What is going on? What am I feeling, what am I thinking, what is going on with me?’”
“People who are tired still have a fair bit of energy but are apt to feel forgetful and impatient and experience muscle weakness following work, which is often alleviated by rest,” Rueters Health reported Dr. Karin Olson, with the faculty of nursing at the University of Alberta, as saying in an article entitled, “Fatigued or just tired? There is a difference.” “People who are fatigued, on the other hand, experience difficulty concentrating, anxiety a gradual decrease in stamina, difficulty sleeping and increased sensitivity to light. They also may skip social engagements once viewed as important to them.”
Impacts of stress
If gone unchecked, these symptoms can have devastating effects, Miller said, as stress affects a lot of things within the body. Being stressed can cause the body to produce more cortisol, and high levels of cortisol over a long period of time can damage organs.
“It can affect your adrenal gland and that is where a lot of folks may be diagnosed with adrenal fatigue or adrenal exhaustion and that affects many areas of the body after that,” Miller said. “There is a recovery program one can go through for those kinds of things, but you really want to avoid it.”
Miller said having adrenal exhaustion can lead to high blood pressure, heart damage, heart attack or stroke.
Ways to reduce stress
To alleviate stress for those at work, Miller suggests deep breathing exercises, standing up and bending over, stretching fingers toward the floor a few times, as well as tensing and releasing muscles.
“That can let stress out of your body,” he explained.
After work, Miller suggested exercising, like taking a yoga class, or meditating. He also said visiting with friends, reading a book or journaling about feelings can be beneficial in reducing stress.
Pet therapy can also be a great tool to alleviate stress, Miller said. Playing with a cat or walking or jogging a dog or throwing a ball with one’s pet can reduce stress, he said.
“Depending on the level of stress, different things may work,” Miller added. “It’s good for everyone to try a few different techniques.”