You begin to feel some pressure in your chest and a cramping in your stomach, as if a vice has a grip around your body. Your heart begins to race as your skin starts to sweat from the sudden claustrophobia that’s overtaking you. Catching your breath becomes difficult. You fear you may pass out, and there’s a chance you could. If you don’t, you get dizzy until your body goes numb.
This terrifying experience is commonly known as a panic attack, which is triggered by severe anxiety. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), over 264 million people worldwide suffer from anxiety disorders brought on by stress.
Unfortunately, anxiety is just one of the many health problems caused by it. Because the ramifications are so serious—and so widespread—WHO officially classified stress as “The Epidemic of the 21st Century”.
April is Stress Awareness Month, so we thought now would be a good time to discuss the causes and effects of stress, as well as provide tips and tools that may help reduce it, at least in the short term.
Why do we feel this way?
Stressors are different for everyone, and dependent upon multiple factors. The most common culprits for personal battles include the following:
One of the most common reasons people report being stressed is due to workplace issues. Some experience it as a result of the pressures at their job, impostor syndrome or lack of job satisfaction; others may struggle to obtain or maintain employment that matches their skill set, or it can simply be, the fear of the unknown …
In these times of inflation and volatile economies worldwide, the worry of not earning enough to sustain a fulfilling lifestyle can be all-consuming.
Struggling with mental health disorders or physical ailments and disabilities can limit one’s capacity to work and function well in daily life, causing chronic stress for those who suffer and often their loved ones, as well.
Breaking up with a romantic partner or ending a friendship can be the source of stress, as can loneliness and an absence of community.
Losing loved ones is one of the most significant traumas we endure throughout our lives and the life changes that follow, can be very difficult.
Living in a dangerous area and being regularly exposed to violence, physically and mentally, can leave many in a state of perpetual stress, as well as being a victim of an intentional or accidental event.
Moving from one home to another can also cause immense stress.
In today’s world of cyberbullying and scams, interactions online can cause stress for people of all ages, 24/7, and is relentless in its pursuit.
Though society has made many strides in combating discrimination, sadly bias against people of different races, religions, genders and sexual orientations still exists, which undoubtedly causes chronic stress.
What does stress do to our bodies?
The short answer? It wreaks havoc on everything from our skin to our cardiovascular systems, as hormones are released in response. Over time, this can cause permanent damage.
Temporary stress can cause insomnia, irritability, headaches, fatigue, digestion issues, skin blemishes and rashes, and muscle tension.
Prolonged stress can lead to anxiety, depression, high blood pressure (which can lead to heart attacks or strokes), reproductive issues, and can even age your immune system prematurely.
What can we do to prevent and manage stress?
Though life will always provide us with stressful situations and events, we can do our best to navigate them with grace. Here are some tried-and-true coping mechanisms that may bring relief:
Community is a powerful force for good—and an incredible way to reduce stress. Laughing and sharing, joining in activities, and establishing meaningful connections, can eliminate feelings of isolation and alleviate the burdens of life.
We like to get outdoors, disconnect and take power-walks in nature. If that’s not your thing, play your favourite sport, do laps at your local swimming pool or go dancing. Many activities can be done in the comfort of your own home (and YouTube has many free options, like yoga).
The act of writing can be very therapeutic, and even more so when you focus on gratitude and being thankful for the positive aspects of your life. There is even science behind journaling’s effectiveness as a treatment for stress.
Focusing on the present through the practice of mindfulness, whether that’s through meditation, prayer, breath work, creating art (colouring, painting, etc.) and knitting and gardening can be very soothing …
You may have seen our #SereneSaturday and #SereneSunday posts on the TWFF Instagram page—those are intended to promote self-care, whether that be listening to music, enjoying a cup of tea, getting fresh air or taking a hot bath. Whatever soothes you, make time to savour it.
Emotional Freedom Technique (EFT) Tapping harnesses the flow of energy at 12 meridian points on our body to alleviate anxiety. Healthline offers this step-by-step guide to get started.
This list is not comprehensive by any means—there are truly several ways to help reduce stress, though the methods may not be one-size-fits-all. The main thing is to take everything one day at a time and find peaceful activities that speak to your soul.
If all else fails, just remember to Breathe …
“Balance” by Julian Lennon is available for purchase. A portion of sale proceeds benefit TWFF. Visit Artsy for more information.
We hope you find the resources within this article helpful, but if you’re experiencing health issues as a result of stress and need additional assistance, please seek the help of a medical professional.