International Stress Awareness

I find it ironic that National Stress Awareness Day falls on the first Wednesday in November, or the day after Election Day. While the United States is known as a stressed-out nation, it was ranked number seven according to the 2018 Gallup survey which found that “more Americans were stressed, angry and worried last year than they have been at most points during the past decade.” The most stressed-out country was Greece, followed by the Philippines and Tanzania. Stress Awareness has developed international momentum, with International Stress Awareness Week (November 2nd – November 6th) devoted to raising awareness of stress management.
Identifying sources of stress is an important first step to stress prevention and management. No one is immune to the effects of stress and not all impacts of stress are bad. In fact, there are different names for positive and negative stressors.

Here are examples of positive stress (eustress):

  • Beginning a new job or formal schooling
  • Getting a promotion or other outstanding achievement
  • Getting married
  • Addition of a new baby or family members to the home
  • Buying a house
  • Taking a vacation

Here are examples of negative stress (distress):

  • Death of spouse, close friend, or family member
  • Divorce or separation
  • Incarceration
  • Major illness or injury
  • Loss of job or change impacting decrease in finances
  • Significant relational conflicts
While we experience a variety of examples of positive and negative stress throughout the lifespan, this year has been especially difficult with a cumulative build-up of smaller areas of distress (e.g. major change in social activities, family get-togethers, church activities, usual types of recreation) on top of major life event stressors such as major illness and death.
Check out the Holmes-Rahe Life Stress Inventory to see what your point value of life events is over the past year.

150 points or less  |  a relatively low amount of life change and low susceptibility to stress-induced health breakdown

150 to 300 points  |  50% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years

300 points or more  |  80% chance of health breakdown in the next 2 years, according to the Holmes-Rahe statistical prediction model

While there are plenty of steps that individuals can take to help prevent and manage stress such as healthy habits with sleep, eating, and physical activity, and being intentional in areas such as relaxation and social connection, there are also systemic changes. The mental health system can be challenging to navigate and individuals still experience stigma around mental health, especially when it comes to areas such as the workplace. I personally feel that the healthcare profession has a great responsibility as leaders to model how to respond to not only the mental health needs of patients but also of their employees.

According to The International Stress Management Association [ISMAUK], topics for this year include the following–

  • Experiences people have with mental health challenges and what can be done to help them
  • How employers are responding to mental health issues and what can be learned
  • Campaigning against the stigma associated with stress and mental health issues
  • The role of stress management professionals in alleviating stress, with practical and proven techniques for building resilience
  • What further actions need to be taken in light of the pandemic and possible changes in future working practices
  • Ensuring that those suffering from stress know where to go to seek advice
While the pandemic is putting a spotlight on the impact of distress both nationally and internationally, it is also highlighting recommendations from researchers who are studying post-covid-stress-disorder-emerging-consequence-global-pandemic. Overall, a collaborative understanding of how the research can be applied is an important step to building on protective factors. Supporting our systems (e.g. medical, mental health, schools, and workplaces) to offset the negative impact of stress on mental health is one way to do so.
Written By: Charlotte Johnson, MA, LPCC

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