In 2017, the American Psychological Association conducted a survey called Stress in America:
The State of Our Nation and its results indicated that stress is prominent across all age groups.
The study’s overall consensus was that while the causes of stress differ between groups, the effects of chronic stress or emotional exhaustion are consistent.
Growing up in Northern Virginia, stress was — and seems to always have been — more common than it should be.
This area has some of the nation’s most academically challenging schools while the cost of living increases every year, placing increased financial pressure on individuals and families in the area.
With the holidays approaching, demands in academic and occupational settings are increasing.
High school and college students are finishing up remaining assignments just before final exams
in December while many adults are increasing their work hours.
Medical News Today provides more information on the causes, symptoms, and potential solutions for chronic stress.
In the United States, the most common causes of chronic stress are:
- financial stress
- occupational/academic stress
- health issues, and
- familial discord.
Stress derived from all of these causes may be amplified with holidays as our time is limited and the pressure to fulfill responsibilities in our academic/occupational and personal lives is amplified.
While stress is a normal part of life, chronic stress has the ability to affect us in emotional, cognitive, and physical ways.
Emotionally, individuals reporting consistent stress report higher levels of pervasive anxiety, some depressive symptoms, and bleak outlook on things in their life.
Cognitively, chronic stress negatively affects our memory, focus, and problem solving abilities
making it more challenging to function in occupational/academic setting.
Lastly, individuals suffering form chronic stress report insomnia or very poor sleep quality, which over time compromises our immune function, appetite, and blood pressure.
It has been found that our work/academic environment, mindset, and self-care are factors that influence our ability to manage stress.
Individuals with long work hours and students that spend long hours completing their homework each night are at high risk for chronic stress and other emotional issues. While staying late at the office a few times per month and staying up late studying every now and then are common, frequent “late nights” or “all nighters” take their toll. Not having proper downtime to unwind from the day can prevent restful sleep and also purvey feelings of hopelessness as there due to not having much time for leisure activities.
- Map out your week every Sunday.
- Having a balanced approach to work/school as well as some predictability to each week can be relieving.
- Try to complete difficult tasks/assignments at the beginning of the week so each day is easier as the weekend approaches.
We all want to do our best and as much as we can with our time. During the holidays we sometimes commit to too many things and forget that our time and energy are limited. Individuals with unrealistic expectations are at risk for developing feeling of failure and low self-esteem due to setting unreasonable goals.
While having big goals is a great thing, it becomes problematic when we are too focused on the big picture and try to cram five days of work into one day. This is not a sustainable practice and usually has very poor results.
- Pace yourself, set small goals that will get you closer to your big goal.
- Know that it is perfectly fine to take a break.
- Remember: Life is a marathon, not a sprint!
Poor diet and low physical activity have effects that are beyond physical. Individuals with poor diet, low physical activity, and high stress are at risk for elevated levels of cortisol. Cortisol is a stress hormone and has the ability negatively affect immune function, energy levels, body composition, and sleep patterns.
Having a balanced diet and frequent physical activity are lifestyle changes that pay dividends in overall wellness. Frequent exercise or daily walks in conjunction with a balanced diet will not only help you feel and look better physically, but also help with cognitive functioning, sleep regulation, emotional wellness, and immune function.
With the holidays just around the corner, many will be struggling with stress management.
Take a step back, and take this simplified approach to managing stress in your life.
Remember there are only so many hours in the day and if we don’t care for ourselves first, we are not able to be present for others and the ones we love.