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Hop, Skip and Jump- April marks Stress Awareness Month

Flipping the calendar from March to April may engender visions of springtime … on the doorstep of, gasp, summer! Yet it also happens to be Stress Awareness Month(link is external)for many companies and nonprofit organizations, dragging us back, with intentionality, to the reality of our everyday lives. Stress is real and its origins and consequences not insignificant.

Sponsored by The Health Resource Network(link is external), an educational nonprofit, this annual (since 1992) campaign is designed to highlight the dangerous natureof stress and to promote healthy strategies of coping (Orman, 2018).

How does stress manifest itself? According to the website Health Assured(link is external), symptomatology runs the gamut from emotional (e.g., feeling overwhelmed, fearful or depressed), mental (e.g., having difficulty concentrating or worrying thoughts), physical (e.g., experiencing headaches, difficulty sleeping or panic attacks) to behavioral (e.g., eating too much or too little, drinking or smoking too much).

As remedies(link is external), they offer the following.

  • Take time out from work.
  • Talk about serious problems.
  • Accept the things you cannot change.
  • Develop interests and hobbies.
  • Build your support network.

Also helpful can be meditationmedication and cognitive behavioral therapy.

While acknowledging that some stress can be, at times, beneficial, the American Psychological Association (APA) warns about “chronic” stress(link is external). It says, “An extreme amount of stress can take a severe emotional toll. While people can overcome minor episodes of stress by tapping into their body’s natural defenses to adapt to changing situations, excessive chronic stress, which is constant and persists over an extended period of time, can be psychologically and physically debilitating.

“Unlike everyday stressors, which can be managed with healthy stress management behaviors, untreated chronic stress can result in serious healthconditions including anxiety, insomnia, muscle pain, high blood pressure and a weakened immune system. Research shows that stress can contribute to the development of major illnesses, such as heart disease, depressionand obesity. Some studies have even suggested that unhealthy chronic stress management, such as overeating ‘comfort’ foods, has contributed to the growing obesity epidemic” (APA, 2018a).

The link between health (including mental health) and stress is clear. According to the January 2018 release of its annual “Stress in America(link is external)” survey, APA states, “Americans (60 percent) report that personal health concerns or health problems affecting their family are a very or somewhat significant source of stress.” APA goes on to say, “Millennials and Gen Xers report much higher levels of stress regarding specific health care issues for themselves, their loved ones or in general than do Boomers and older adults (classified as “Matures” in the Stress in America survey). These generational differences are most evident when looking at concerns related to accessing mental and reproductive health care services.

“A lack of access to mental health care is a source of stress for 56 percent of Millennials and 47 percent of Gen Xers, while only 27 percent of Boomers and 20 percent of older adults express the same concern” (APA, 2018b).

And then there’s anxiety.

Although stress and anxiety(link is external) are separate constructs—stress being a reaction to what’s happening in the present and anxiety being what is worried about for the future—one may beget the other (Mishkova, 2013).

According to an August 2015 article(link is external) on PsychiatryAdvisor.com, “Anxiety disorders constitute the most prevalent class of mental health problems in children and adolescents, with prevalence rates estimated from 15-20%. The class of anxiety and related disorders includes Separation Anxiety Disorder, Social Anxiety Disorder, Generalized Anxiety DisorderSpecific PhobiaPanic DisorderAgoraphobia and Obsessive Compulsive Disorder” (Falk and Walkup, 2015).

More recently, in a cover story for TIME magazine, “Teen Depression and Anxiety: Why the Kids Are Not Alright(link is external),” Susanna Schrobsdorff writes, “Adolescents today have a reputation for being more fragile, less resilientand more overwhelmed than their parents were when they were growing up. Sometimes they’re called spoiled or coddled or helicoptered. But a closer look paints a far more heartbreaking portrait of why young people are suffering. Anxiety and depression in high school kids have been on the rise since 2012 after several years of stability. It’s a phenomenon that cuts across all demographics–suburban, urban and rural; those who are college bound and those who aren’t. Family financial stress can exacerbate these issues, and studies show that girls are more at risk than boys” (Schrobsdorff, 2016).

The National Institute of Mental Health(link is external) (NIMH) reveals that in 2016 “an estimated 3.1 million adolescents aged 12 to 17 in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 12.8% of the U.S. population aged 12 to 17” (NIMH, 2017).

On the adult side of the ledger, NIMH(link is external) states the following.

  • An estimated 16.2 million adults in the United States had at least one major depressive episode. This number represented 6.7 percent of all U.S. adults.
  • The prevalence of major depressive episode was higher among adult females (8.5 percent) compared to males (4.8 percent).
  • The prevalence of adults with a major depressive episode was highest among individuals aged 18-25 (10.9 percent).

Of course, for both youth and adults, experts suspect that these statistics are on the low end of what’s really happening since many people do not self-identify as needing help for anxiety and depression.

Too often at the end of this trail is suicidal ideation and behavior. And here the numbers are very bad, especially among American adolescents. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention(link is external) reports that suicide is the second leading cause of death for youth ages 10 to 24, resulting in more than 4,600 lives lost each year (CDC, 2015).

It’s that short hop, skip and jump from stress to anxiety to depression to suicide that makes Stress Awareness Month a key to prevention.

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