We have a riddle for you: What is something that is the same for everyone but is shown differently?
Here’s a clue: It is something that comes up in everyday life. This is something that is a common denominator for mental health disruption, something everyone deals with. Give up?
The answer is stress.
Stress can be looked at as the alarm clock of our emotional and mental well being. This alarm clock can have two major impacts when that alarm goes off. It can alert to danger, and if we are balanced and sound without much other distress happening, a person can adjust accordingly. However, if our emotional well is low and there have been more days than not of consistent stressors, we have now created a gateway for other mental health issues to pop up.
Any unresolved past issues that you have put away start to resurface. If you have a history of depression, or anxiety, those symptoms have a high likelihood of being activated. The catch-22 is that even people with no history of mental health issues can struggle with mental health issues when life gets stressful.
Stress affects you. It affects your way of life. Stress can manipulate the way you engage with people, the way you parent, even the way you view yourself. According to one article:
“Stress is an unavoidable consequence of life. There are some stresses like the loss of a loved one that you can’t hope to avoid and others that you can’t prevent or influence.”
The main symptoms of stress include: dizziness, muscle tension, digestive issues, including nausea and diarrhea, trouble sleeping, anger or irritability, headaches, increased sweating, feelings of being overwhelmed. According to NAMI (National Alliance on Mental Illness), “When experiencing long-term stress, your brain is exposed to increased levels of a hormone called cortisol. This exposure weakens your immune system, making it easier for you to get sick.” This is a dangerous combination.
So should you manage your stress?
Sleep: How much REM sleep are you getting? How many nights is your body at full rest in a dream state? Are you waking up well rested? You want to create a restful environment. Knowing yourself and your preferences can help set the atmosphere. Sound machines with variations of animal sounds or rain sounds can be a good start. Not everyone can sleep with the television on or rest with sound, however, so we can also find other ways to introduce relaxation.
Physical activity does not have to include actually going to the gym. Moving around the couch, walking up and down the stairs, creating aisles in your living room are great starters for active movement. Try adding listening to one of your favorite podcasts.
Food: Effective eating. Are we eating a balanced diet? We have to understand that there are a lot of chemicals in the food that we consume. The chemicals introduced to our bodies could be preventing us from sleeping.
Making the connection of late night snacking and being unable to sleep due to digestive issues is a commonality among young adults. Ask yourself, “Is this new coffee I’m trying affecting my sleep?” Have you considered that the fountain drink you buy at the gas station and drink past midday could be impacting your sleep cycle? Reading nutrition labels is a great way to identify how much sugar is being consumed.
Time management: An overall goal for balance and grace. Ineffective time management can look like struggles with concentrating and feel like you are not getting anything done. Your life at times can feel like a photocopy, just going through the motions.
You are meant to engage in more than just sleeping and work. Keeping up with these unhelpful patterns leads a person to experience irritability, agitation, and frustration. When these feelings start to settle in, doing something that is not associated with your daily duties is a MUST. Cultivate space and make sure to include space for the most important relationship—the one you have with yourself.
Some effective tools for time management include: writing things down (for us who are sometimes absent-minded), scheduling by using phone apps, and hands-on writing in a calendar.
We have to remember our bodies are time machines that only move forward, but have the ability to feel the past. Let’s face the facts, we are getting older. The way we handled these areas in our 20s DO NOT WORK ANYMORE. We cannot allow the alarm clock to go off. When it does, those negative elements are going to come up. It all comes down to how you deal with them.