Feeling stressed? You’re not alone. Stress levels among Americans are on the rise largely on account of the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a recent study by the American Psychological Association (APA). April is National Stress Awareness Month and while stress is a natural human emotion that helps us prepare and perform as necessary (think “fight or flight” mode), it can also negatively impact our health.
Earlier this month, we spoke with Jasmeet Bains, MD, a Family Medicine physician at Dignity Health Medical Group — Bakersfield, about health concerns associated with stress and how people can assess and reduce their stress levels.
While stress is a normal human reaction, at what point does it become a health concern?
Dr. Bains: It’s normal to experience stress. If we didn’t, there would be no desire to improve ourselves. However, when you let stress affect you to the point that it interferes with your daily activities, that’s when it becomes a health concern. If stress is affecting your motivation, your appetite or your sleep, you should visit your doctor immediately to discuss what’s going on and how you can reduce stress.
How can stress impact our physical health?
Dr. Bains: Stress can impact our physical health in many ways, including our sleep. Research shows that lack of quality sleep leads to improper restoration of our body and adds to an underlying inflammatory state that can manifest as chronic illnesses such as heart disease, high cholesterol, diabetes and other ailments.
Why are people with ‘Type A’ personalities more likely to experience stress in their everyday life?
Dr. Bains: People who strive for perfection often lack an understanding of what their failures can teach them. Failures are good lessons and clues into our personal improvement. I think the confusion comes when people mistake improvement and perfection. As human beings, we should strive for perfection but know that it is not always attainable. The actual goal is continual improvement.
As a personal example, I worked hard on a research proposal a few years ago and when I got the letter back saying my project was refused to be published, it stung quite a bit. I was upset when I saw that and decided to pause research for a little bit, only to have it picked up by a major research publisher two years later. Sometimes, what we feel is right, might not be right in the moment – but over time it will be. There is a delicate balance between having patience and pursuing our heart’s desires.
Do you have any tips for coping, managing and / or preventing stress?
Dr. Bains: Being aware of how you react and how certain things affect you can help manage your response to stressful events. For example, next time something stresses you out, write down your feelings or dictate them into a recorder. This will help you understand how you react to stress and help you relax and give you time to think of how you want to react. Avoid reacting to something stressful immediately and instead allow yourself time to understand your feelings. Of course, there are certain stressful situations where one cannot take time to react, but if you train yourself using the tactics above, you will have the tools to help you through that moment.
Remember, stress is normal but should not overpower us. If you feel like stress is affecting your physical and / or mental health, schedule an in-person or virtual visit with your provider today to discuss your symptoms and options.