Stress Awareness Month Highlights Modern Health Threat

April is Stress Awareness Month, an important time to raise awareness about one of the greatest risks to modern health. Stress is a normal part of life — nobody is immune to it. Some stress can be a good thing, because it encourages your natural instincts to help you handle emergencies. But about 80% of Americans experience stress at a level that causes physical symptoms. This is called Cultural Stress, and it can be debilitating for our health.

Cultural Stress, or the stress of modern living, is a growing type of stress that is superimposed on the normal stresses of everyday life. Cultural Stress is a product of our overworked, digitally dependent, and technologically invasive lifestyle. As a result, many Americans find themselves suffering from hypertension, weight gain, sleeplessness, and anxiety. In fact, researchers are discovering that stress is our #1 killer because it underlies or aggravates so many other causes of death, from heart disease to cancer to Alzheimer’s.

Connecting the effects of Cultural Stress to our mental and physical wellbeing is something I identified back in 2003. Since then, science has continued to confirm the link between what it calls “oxidative stress” — environmental stressors that overwhelm the body’s ability to neutralize or repair the damage — and its effects on our physical health. To put it simply, Cultural Stress affects us in four main ways:

  • Robs us of our identities
  • Socially isolates us with feelings of loneliness and emotional suffering
  • Makes us susceptible to neurodegenerative diseases, heart disease, age-related cancers, and a host of other illnesses
  • Wears down our physical and mental health, shortening our lifespan and aging us prematurely

Most of my work involves teaching my patients how to manage their Cultural Stress through a comprehensive treatment plan. By focusing on internal care, external care and emotional care, we can reverse the effects of Cultural Stress.

My comprehensive treatment plan includes:

Step 1: Acknowledge there’s a problem. Are you happy? Are you in good shape physically? If you answered “no” to either of those questions, we can figure out why and create a plan for positive change.

Step 2: Take small steps to improve your physical health. When you make an effort to look good, you feel good. Focus on adding fruits and veggies that are high in water to fully hydrate and restore your cells. I also suggest taking some time to prioritize self-care. This can mean something different for everyone, ranging from getting more sleep for your body to repair itself, to embracing the power of movement, which burns fat and relieves stress.

Step 3: Support your mental health through the power of positive psychology. Affirmation cards reinforce behaviors that are known to have a positive impact on wellbeing based on research in affective science and positive psychology. For example, reading these 11 positive affirmation cards twice a day has been clinically shown to lower perceived stress, blood pressure, and heart rate in study participants.

When stress is pervasive, there’s no hiding from or avoiding it. Telling yourself to relax and take better care of yourself is easier said than done. The more hectic our lives become, the more commitment it takes to unplug. But when it comes to your life, you are your own best advocate. Flexibility and moderation are key when it comes to balancing Cultural Stress and enjoying the pleasures of life.


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