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Mental Health Month theme is dealing with stress
Teach helpful habits to develop in advance
One way people can help prevent certain mental and physical health problems is to learn how to reduce stress and better cope with it when it does occur.
Learning the best ways to deal with stress is particularly valuable in uncertain economic times when people face possible job loss or foreclosure on their home.
That's why Mental Health America, based in Alexandria, VA, is launching a campaign during May 2009 - Mental Health Month - that focuses on the issue of stress and how to deal with it.
Successfully coping with stress is much more than learning techniques to use during stressful times. It also entails learning good mental health strategies to practice on a regular basis, so it is easier to deal more positively with the challenges and adversity of life.
People are immunized to ward off diseases, yet they are not taught how to promote mental health, says Diana Morales, MPH, vice president of public education for Mental Health America. There are lifestyle strategies that help people deal more positively with challenges and adversity when incorporated on a regular basis.
What can people do to prepare for stressful times? The research shows that people who have a strong social support system do better during difficult times, because they have people who care about them and support them, says Morales. These friends and family members provide someone with which to talk.
"You can't make the situation go away, but the support from friends and family and other people who care helps a great deal," explains Morales.
Also being engaged in one's community helps reduce overall stress and promotes mental health. It gives people a greater sense of purpose and meaning in their lives. Community engagement might be accomplished through volunteer work, says Morales.
Getting enough sleep is important for good mental health, as well as physical activity, such as walking, says Morales.
When these factors are a part of a person's lifestyle, he or she is better able to cope. For example, physical activity can help reduce the anxiety caused by a stressful situation.
There are several coping strategies people can use when a stressful situation occurs. Morales says research shows that relaxation techniques, such as meditation, help reduce stress. Also, focusing on the positive in life is a good way to ease stress.
"There is a body of literature about the healing effects of writing, so if a person is going through difficult times, journaling to know what they are experiencing can be a real outlet for them," says Morales.
Educating on stress
Patient education managers offering outreach education on stress might want to provide information on ways to get a good night's sleep, developing an exercise regimen, or finding a sport to play, or finding ways to get involved in the local community. (For a list of helpful fact sheets on stress, see resource box at the end of the article.)
It's also important for people to understand the signs and symptoms of stress and its impact on a person's health. Symptoms might include: feeling angry, irritable or easily frustrated; feeling overwhelmed; change in eating habits; problems concentrating; feeling nervous or anxious; trouble sleeping; problems with memory; feeling burned out from work; feeling that difficulties in life cannot be overcome; and having trouble functioning in one's job or personal life.
When stress is not dealt with, it may contribute to such physical problems as high blood pressure, heart disease and stroke, decreased immune defenses, cancer, stomach problems, and poorer brain functioning.
For those having difficulty dealing with stress on their own, it is always a good idea to seek professional counseling, says Morales. Help may come through pastoral counseling, discussions with a primary care physician or nurse practitioner, social worker, counselor, psychologist or psychiatrist.
"I think there are a number of places someone could go to get help and get to the path that is right for them," says Morales.
For more information on providing outreach education on stress for Mental Health Month, contact:
Diana Morales, MPH, Vice President of Public Education, Mental Health America, 2000 North Beauregard St., 6th Floor Alexandria, VA 22311. Telephone: (703) 837-4783.
Find educational fact sheets on stress at www.mentalhealthamerica.net. Fact sheets include: Coping with Stress Checklist; Stress: Coping with Everyday Problems; Managing Life's Challenges; Building Social Support; Managing Life's Pressures; Stress: Know the Signs.