Why Mental Health & Self Care Matter More Than Ever In A High Stress Society

Why Mental Health & Self Care Matter More Than Ever In A High Stress Society

Did you know that nearly 40% of adults surveyed in more than 100 countries across the world in a 2022 study said that they experienced anxiety and stress? 

Nearly 50% of adults in America report that they feel stressed, and if you unpack this figure into its separate components, it’s Gen Z that is the most stressed, while senior citizens report the lowest incidence. 

Statistics and numbers can give you the big picture of how stress has become the new lifestyle disease worldwide, but they don’t tell the whole story. We need to dig deeper to understand how personal anxiety and stress can affect society in general. More importantly, once we have become aware of the problem, we have to tackle it on a war footing. 

Understanding Stress: Causes and Outcomes

The word “stress” has entered our daily vocabulary in such a prevalent way that it has almost acquired cliche status! We routinely use terms such as stressed-out, stressful, stressor or de-stress with complete confidence that everyone understands exactly what we mean. 

Stepping back a bit, it’s good to know exactly what is clinically or medically meant by stress. It is essentially a response to a stimulus, either external or internal, or both. Your body reacts to the perception of a threat or change in status quo and prepares to face it with the typical Fight or Flight reaction that best ensures your survival. 

This is a remnant of how ancient humans responded to threats from predators and other threats to their lives. In modern man, these “threats” could range from anxiety about passing an exam, making it to the airport on time, getting ahead in your career, being in an accident, worrying about your spouse’s health to not getting your favorite brand of toothpaste at the local supermarket!

So what happens in a typical stress reaction? We sweat, our hair stands on end, eye pupils dilate, our breathing and heart rate increase, mouth gets dry, blood rushes to our extremities and face, and “non-essential” processes such as digestion may be delayed. Hormones such as cortisol and adrenaline are released into the bloodstream to enhance the fight or flight action. This is triggered by the body’s sympathetic nervous system. 

Brief surges of stress are in fact beneficial. They help us to remain alert, more efficient and productive. But continued exposure to stress is harmful. It can cause cardiac problems, stroke, indigestion and ulcers, sleep disturbances, emotional distress, migraine or stress headaches, muscle aches, respiratory problems and a host of psychosomatic and autoimmune conditions. 

Once the perceived threat is over, the complementary parasympathetic nervous system with its Rest and Digest response kicks in and calms the body and mind down. Essential body functions resume and stability is maintained. To stay in this rest and digest mode more often than not, it is vital to practice good self care routines. This will help alleviate stress and keep you out of the fight or flight response.

Why Are We So Stressed Today?

The strange thing about stress today is that it can be triggered by the anticipation of events and doesn’t require a specific event or incident to happen. 

Life events such as marriage, employment, retirement, having a child, purchasing property or moving house are also highly stressful. You may have to make certain drastic changes in your life when you suddenly face unemployment or divorce. Minor incidents such as bad traffic, not finding a seat on your regular commuter train, office politics or a punctured tire can set off a stress response as well. 

Today, social relationships are much more fluid and we are less committed to them. This means that we have eroded our own support bases and find ourselves feeling isolated, adding to our stress. 

We are a lot more stressed today than we were earlier. Some reasons include:

  • Parental role models
  • Career and financial goals
  • Technology
  • Relationships
  • Perfectionism and social media
  • Care-giver burnout

Mental Health and Self Care in a High Stress Society

The one surefire way to combat stress is to monitor your mental health and take care of yourself. This can help you to be more productive and happier, build and maintain better relationships at work and home, and cope with the problems of daily living in a composed way. Staying mentally healthy improves your mood, reduces negative emotions, and helps you practice gratitude. You become more creative, supportive of your loved ones, and helps you to avoid serious mental health conditions such as depression. 

You could be the island of calmness in an ocean of stress, and you will find that people look up to you. 

Simple ways to ensure that you stay mentally healthy involve making a few changes in mindset and lifestyle. 

Ensure that whatever task you undertake is well thought out, and your expectations are kept at a realistic and practical level. Keep your focus clear on your own motives and feelings rather than second guessing what others may think or feel. The “ought to” disease infects all of us, and we often live our life according to others’ expectations rather than our own. 

Examine what you are truly in control of in your life, and the things that are simply out of your control. Letting go of worrying over many things that you have no control over in the world, such as relationships, and life events helps you to destress. 

Develop your own personal toolkit for dealing with stressful events. Weed out people who suck out your positive energy, or bring in negative energy into your life. You can do it in a courteous but firm way, especially if they are socially relevant in your life. 

Setting personal and social boundaries is important. We need to balance home-maker duties with care-giving for older parents or siblings, children with disabilities, financial problems, illness, and more. Time management can help you to juggle all these aspects in the best possible way. 

Daily kindness and gratitude help to activate the parasympathetic nervous system and create good habits with self care. Start keeping a journal, become more self aware of your body and mind reactions and what your own personal stress triggers are. 

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