Just in case you are out of the loop, April is National Stress Awareness month. It seems a rather odd label to attach to a month. I mean, isn’t the term “stress awareness” a bit redundant? To be stressed is to be hyper-aware. It’s unlikely that people are walking around stressed without being aware of it. I think they, (whoever “they” are), should consider renaming April something more useful like the National Antidote to Stress month or the National Stress-No-More month.
I’m not sure April was fully briefed when it so graciously accepted the unfortunate label of National Stress Awareness month. For instance, did April know that in 2013 stress related healthcare issues cost employers over 300 billion dollars? That same year, the American Psychological Association reported that more than one-third of the U.S. population identified themselves as extremely stressed. That is a lot of stressed-out people! Furthermore, a recent study also indicates that 77% of people in the U.S. regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress and 73% regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
So what does this mean for April? How can we make its designation as National Stress Awareness month meaningful? Perhaps we should shift from the ever-present awareness to a game plan. As a culture we have become too accepting of stress as a component in our daily lives. In other words, we complain about it, and sometimes make a feeble attempt at lessening it, but we rarely make a committed effort at fixing the sources of our stress.
The top causes of stress in America are job pressure, money, health, relationships and sleep deprivation. Instead of simply acquiescing to the inevitability of stress in these areas of your life I want you spend April doing an inventory. Sit down and create a spreadsheet with headings that indicate the areas of your life where you experience the most stress. Underneath each heading list, in great detail, what the factors are in each area of your life that cause you stress. For example, if your job is the first heading, then list all the reasons your job stresses you out. Pick one thing from the list to work on changing. This is where the awareness shits to action. Part of your spreadsheet might look like this:
- Constant tension with my co-worker Sally. She is abrasive and doesn’t pull her weight making my job harder. I can’t stand working with her.
- I am overloaded at work. I’m expected to do the work of three people.
- My cubicle is too small and allows for too many distractions.
Perhaps you picked number one from the list to focus on first. After some thought, problem solving, and Googling, you take action by setting up a meeting with your HR Director to discuss some possible solutions to the distracting tension with your co-worker. If you are going to stand a chance battling stress you have to think outside the box. You might suggest a meeting with a conflict resolution professional or an in-office transfer. Taking action on just one of the issues contributing to your stress not only helps to reduce stress, but also strengthens self-confidence.
Awareness is great but action is better. We often tackle other problems in our life with dedication while succumbing passively to an overload of stress. April could be the month when all that changes. It could be the month when you take a good, hard look at what is creating unhealthy stress in your life followed by formulating a well, thought out plan with SMART goals (specific, measurable, achievable, relevant & time oriented) directed at alleviating the source of your stress.
Instead of Stress Awareness month, let’s make April National Acting on Stress month. Spring into action this spring -- make stress reduction a priority.