By Victoria Mullen
At first blush, the assignment seemed straightforward. “Write a story on Stress Awareness Month [April 1-30],” my editor said. “Tell the audience that stress requires awareness and such. Don’t worry so much. You’ll do fine.”
My editor knows that I get nervous over anything with a deadline, but aside from some performance anxiety, I began this assignment feeling fine. I mapped an outline. I’d do some research, write a short article with the who-what-when-where-how-and-why.
But that’s when I thought I had until April 30. Admittedly, it would be tardy, but I could write the story in past-tense. The problem is that I just found out that Stress Awareness is a DAY, not a MONTH. Well, it is a month—all of April. It’s also a day—specifically, April 16—a mere four days hence as I type, and it’s today, if you’re reading this on April 16.
Now all bets are off. My trusty ulcer, Gustave has beget an ulcerette, and the entire office is taking bets on what I’m going to name him (or her).
If the point of National Stress Awareness Day is for people like you and me to become aware of how stressed we are, well kudos! More than ever I am aware, thanks to all this pressure.
How is this helpful? Why does anybody need a specific day for this? Isn’t it enough that everything in modern-day life is a stressor?
Luckily, my journalist gene kicked in and I compartmentalized my feelings, went undercover and got busy googling. Here’s what I found out: National Stress Awareness Day is the brainchild of the Health Resource Network (HRN), which started the whole thing back in 1992 to—you guessed it!—raise awareness of stress.
Uh, thanks, guys.
Oh, sure. They sell it by saying it’s a great chance to become aware of the deleterious effects of stress. They say to take a deep breath and relax. I don’t have time for this—I’m on a deadline here.
Maybe they meant well, back in 1992. Maybe their intentions were pure. They researched. They tested subjects. And guess what they found: stress is really, really bad for the immune system. I could have saved them the time, trouble and cost to tell them that. But then, I probably wouldn’t have Gustave.
To their credit, they did things scientifically. In one study, they found that people caring for a spouse with dementia (representing the stressed-out group) experienced a significant decrease in their immune response when they were given a flu-virus vaccine when compared to the non-stressed control group. Sounds really scientific, right? What all that means is this: Their immune systems didn’t work as well as those in the control group, so they got sick(er) easier and more often.
There are different types of stress. Some stress is actually good (gets you motivated, gets you pumped up for performance, etc.). Acute stress is bad enough, but chronic stress is worse because it doesn’t let up; it can kill you. It can raise blood pressure, increase the risk of heart attack and speed up the aging process. See that info-graphic there? Just look at all the bad things chronic stress does.
I’ve aged 10 years just writing this.
If you want to read something helpful and get some ideas on how to celebrate stress awareness month, go here.