Stress Awareness Month 2024

By Ashley Barnes, M.S.

What is Stress Awareness Month?

Stress Awareness Month has been recognized during the month of April since 1992; it spreads awareness of the ways in which stress impacts our mental and physical health as well as urges us to find healthy ways to manage our own stress.

What is stress and how does it impact us?

What exactly is stress? According to the American Psychological Association, stress is defined as “the physiological or psychological response to internal or external stressors. Stress involves changes affecting nearly every system of the body, influencing how people feel and behave” (2024). In other words, stress is our own response to stimuli (stressors). Stress can be acute (responses to short term stressors) or chronic (response to ongoing, long term stressors), and not all stress is bad. Some stress can help us better navigate situations such as job interviews or help us get out of a dangerous situation. 

However, chronic stress can start to negatively impact our minds and bodies. Stress can prompt lifesaving reactions in the body that help us evade threats, but when experienced long term, can disturb the immune, digestive cardiovascular, sleep and reproductive symptoms. The study of stress often intertwines endocrinology, psychology, and biology, as it clearly impacts how we function as a whole. For example, someone who experiences chronic stress may also experience low libido, headaches, experience weight gain or weight loss, and suffer from an upset gastrointestinal system. In fact, the University of California, Los Angeles (UCLA) conducted a recent study that linked stress to the development and exacerbation of irritable bowel syndrome (IBS) (UCLA Health, 2023). 

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), stress can cause the following: difficulty sleeping and nightmares, changes in appetite, energy, and desires, difficulty concentrating and making decisions, feeling of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration, worsening of mental health conditions, worsening of chronic health problems, physical reactions such as headaches and body pains, and increased use of substances like tobacco and alcohol (2023).

The aforementioned impact of stress on our minds and bodies emphasizes the importance of developing coping skills for managing stress. The following are healthy ways to cope with stress:


We know that exercise is recommended for improving our physical health but has also been researched and observed to have positive benefits on mental health. It increases endorphins in our bodies, which help us effectively cope with stress and pain. Further, when we exercise, studies show that this can in turn positively impact our sleep cycles, enhancing our quality of sleep (Korb, 2015). 

Exercise can look different for each of us depending on our ability status and the time we are allotted with our various responsibilities, but finding ways to integrate exercise into our schedules is recommended. Here are various exercise ideas:

  • Practice yoga
  • Taking a walk through your neighborhood
  • Go on a run
  • Attend a class (pilates, cycling, zumba, dance, etc.)
  • Play your favorite sport (tennis, basketball, pickleball, etc.)
  • Go on a scenic hike, solo or with a friend
  • Dance to your favorite songs


There are many definitions of mindfulness. As it pertains to mental health, mindfulness describes the practice of acknowledging what is happening in the present moment, both outside of yourself (the world around you) and with yourself (your emotions and bodily sensations) without judgment. “Research in mindfulness has identified a wide range of benefits in different areas of psychological health, such as helping to decrease anxiety, depression, rumination, and emotional reactivity. Research has also shown mindfulness helps to increase well-being, positive affect, and concentration” (UCLA Health, 2023). 

Here of some ways you can practice mindfulness:

  • Stop looking at your phone screen, take a deep breath, and notice what is happening around you
  • Attune to your senses: What do you see? What do you hear? What do you smell?
  • Practice Meditation
  • Do a body scan: What sensations do you notice in your body starting from the top of your head to the tips of your toes?
  • Take slow, deep breaths


Don’t “sleep” on the benefits of a good night’s sleep. Obtaining an adequate amount of sleep helps us cope with stress better, has a positive effect on memory, and improves mood (Korb, 2015). The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention suggests adults acquire around 7 hours of sleep per night (CDC, 2017). Sleep hygiene is a term we are suggested to get familiar with and describes good sleep habits that can help improve sleep quality. 

Seek Support:

Seeking help from a mental health professional such as a psychiatrist or therapist can also help us learn how to manage our stress in healthy ways through developing action plans to change our reactions to stress as well as our environment in some cases. 

Please contact us at the Mental Health Center for sensitive, attentive mental health care. We look forward to supporting you!


  • The American Institute of Stress – provides education information on everything stress-related as well as resources for healthy coping.
  • Why Zebras Don’t Get Ulcers – written by renowned Stanford University biologist, Robert Sapolsky, this book provides insight into the biological mechanisms of stress, also including a self-help element.



American Psychological Association. (2024). APA Dictionary of Psychology: Stress. American Psychological Association. Retrieved April 11, 2024, from 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023). Coping with stress. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Retrieved April 11, 2024, from 

Korb, A. (2015). The upward spiral: Using neuroscience to reverse the course of depression, one small change at a time. New Harbinger Publications.

National Institute of Mental Health. (2021). 5 things you should know about stress. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Retrieved December 11, 2021, from 

UCLA Health. (2023). Study links stress to onset of IBS. 

UCLA Health System. (2023).