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April: Stress Awareness Month

Dr. Katie Vu

April is Stress Awareness Month (thank goodness April Fool’s is only one day), and as obvious as it might seem, stress can have a significant impact on our daily lives and ultimately our health.Stress is not always a bad thing; it’s our body’s way of responding to perceived threats or challenges. It allows us to react quickly in situations or danger without having to think too much about it (think ‘fight or flight’).

However, our bodies aren’t meant to experience chronic stress. Too much stress for too long can lead to a number of issues down the road including high blood pressure, diabetes, heart disease, depression, and anxiety.           

Where does stress come from? Well, stressors vary widely by person and situation. As we mentioned earlier there’s acute stress (ex: fight or flight, an accident, or losing a job), and then there’s chronic stress.

Chronic stress can come from the workplace, personal relationships with others, financial stressors, economic stressors, and even stressors that stem from our childhood (adverse childhood events).

It’s chronic stress that has been found to have an impact on our health in the long-term and therefore is important to learn how to recognize it and manage it.

Chronic stress impacts both our physical and mental health. As mentioned above, chronic stress can affect our organ systems like our heart, our pancreas, our stomach (leading to GI issues), and of course our immune system. It can also cause anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues.

Stress can also impact our work life and interpersonal relationships. Chronic stress has been associated with decreased work performance, more conflicts in relationships, and overall reduced quality of life.

You might ask why all of this occurs just because of stress. If you think about it, all things experience wear and tear, including our bodies. If our bodies are exposed to high levels of stress hormones for a long time, we speed up that process of wear and tear which manifests as chronic disease, sleep disorders, mental health disorders, and decreased ability to function in our daily lives.

Some of the stressors listed above are hard to control at times (for example, financial stressors, job loss, etc.). I completely understand that it’s not easy to try and regain control over our emotions/stress when we find ourselves in those situations.

However, we can do our best to try and re-direct that stress into other outlets so we can help prevent our bodies from experiencing long-term detrimental effects.

Some of the best ways to alleviate stress include:

  • Diet: eating a balanced diet with nutrient-rich foods and anti-inflammatory properties helps the body (think lots of vegetables, lean proteins, whole grains, and some fruits)

  • Getting the right amount and type of sleep: 7-9 hours per night like we typically recommend to all adults. Not getting enough sleep will exacerbate stress and further impact your physical and mental health.

  • Exercise: exercising releases endorphins which elevate our mood; exercise can also decrease the amount of stress hormone in the body.

  • Mindfulness/relaxation: some are reluctant to try these methods, but they have been found to be helpful in redirecting stress! There’s yoga, meditation, mindfulness exercises, and deep breathing. You can search for any of these exercises on YouTube; they’re often free and easy to follow along!

  • Professional help: sometimes, the at-home remedies don’t alleviate all of the stress. There is no shame in seeking out a counselor or therapist to discuss your feelings with, as they can offer more strategies/insight into how to manage your stress tailored to your situation. We have counselors available at our clinic, or you can start with an app like Better Help.


It seems obvious that we should know what acute stress looks like, but I think we often overlook chronic stress and why it’s important to address it. Even though this month is a good time to review stress and why we should manage it, I hope that we take the coping strategies and knowledge we have now and use it as we go forward.

Many, if not all of us, will experience stress in some aspect. As long as we can recognize the signs and remember what resources are available for us, we can mitigate the long-term effects of chronic stress on our mental and physical health.

Please remember that it’s ok to reach out for help whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed. We at Lone Star and those around you, care about you and your well-being. We seek to be advocates for your overall well-being, and are happy to address all aspects of your physical and mental health!

Dr. Vu is a resident physician who sees patients of all ages and provides obstetrical services at Lone Star Family Health Center, a non-profit 501©3 Federally Qualified Health Center operating facilities in Conroe, Spring, Willis, Grangerland, and Huntsville, and serving as home to a fully integrated Family Medicine Residency Program to increase the number of Family Medicine physicians for Texas and our community.