It’s ironic that April is Stress Awareness Month, because Tax Day falls on April 15. Many of us get stressed when it comes to tax returns and finances, so it’s only fitting that we’re reminded of how harmful stress can be to our bodies and minds if we don’t keep it under control.
For example, a recent study published in the journal Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology suggests that there is a link between allergy flare-ups, stress and negative mood.
Researchers found that participants who suffered from allergies had a higher level of perceived stress than participants who didn’t suffer from allergies. Allergy flares were also associated with negative mood. So basically, people who have frequent emotional stress tend to suffer more from allergy flares and negative mood.
Another study published in the journal Human Reproduction directly affects women. Researchers found a relationship between stress and infertility/decreased fertility.
Researchers measured the levels of alpha-amylase, a protein, in saliva of women who were trying to get pregnant over a period of 12 months. Higher levels of alpha-amylase indicate increased stress.
The data showed that women who had the highest levels of alpha-amylase took longer to get pregnant when compared to women with the lowest levels of the protein. Those women with the highest levels of alpha-amylase had more than two times the risk for infertility.
Jan Bruce, the CEO and co-founder of meQuilibrium, an online support system for stress management, said in an email that she believes people are more aware now that their stress levels are too high and impact all aspects of their lives.
“Stress not only makes it harder to function day to day, but it also makes it more difficult for you to create the very changes that would relieve stress,” Bruce said.
“Stress can keep you trapped in bad behaviors, creating a damaging and vicious cycle. The more stressed you are, the worse you feel, and the worse you feel, the more stress takes hold.”
Despite acknowledging our tendency toward stress in this fast-paced world, it's still difficult to actually lower stress levels.
In order to start managing stress levels, Bruce suggested re-defining how roles and responsibilities impact our self-worth. For example, if we believe being a good employee means being available 24/7, we could instead readjust our definitions of success.
If we instead believe that being a good employee means being available for our teams and supervisors when it’s logical, yet not causing others to become dependent on our help, then we are putting less pressure on ourselves to live up to unreasonable expectations.
Trudy Scott, a nutritionist and author of The Antianxiety Food Solution, said in an email that changing our diets can also decrease stress levels. She suggested eating whole foods that are organic, including quality protein. It’s important to get nutrients like B complex, vitamin C, GABA and tryptophan as well.
In addition, lifestyle changes can also reduce stress, such as exercising, participating in yoga and tai chi, and using biofeedback.
Dr. Ayesha Ashai, a psychiatry resident at Mercy Medical Center in Des Moines, Iowa said in an email that current stress levels could be higher due to the economy and social media.
“Seeing their friends post about their financial successes, vacations, and of course the ruthless ‘selfies,’ has created a virtual Elysium where the younger generation feels added pressure and stress on not only a daily, but hour-by-hour basis as they hit the refresh button,” she said.
Women also increasingly have to juggle work, family and the societal expectations placed on them.
She said that muscle relaxation techniques and breathing exercises can help reduce stress, as well as talking to a mental health professional. She also suggested writing about stress levels in order to track it.
“Many times, we forget to do the activities we love, and sometimes taking 15 minutes out a day to let yourself watch a television show or walk the dog can actually change the way you see the rest of your day,” Ashai said.
The Health Resource Network. Stress Awareness Month. Web. April 2, 2014.
Lynch, C.D. et al. Human Reproduction. Preconception stress increases the risk of infertility: results from a couple-based prospective cohort study – the LIFE study. Web. April 2, 2014.
Patterson, Amber et al. Annals of Allergy, Asthma & Immunology. Perceived stress predicts allergy flares. Web. April 2, 2014.
Bruce, Jan. Email interview. April 2, 2014.
Scott, Trudy. Email interview. April 2, 2014.
Ashai, Ayesha. Email interview. April 2, 2014.
Reviewed April 3, 2014
by Michele Blacksberg RN
Edited by Jody Smith