April is Stress Awareness Month

April is Stress Awareness Month. You might think that in a world in which harmful stress has reached epidemic proportions we would not need a month to make us aware of it. But interestingly, though most people have experienced some form of extreme stress and have an idea of its dangers, many do not recognize its symptoms when they happen to them. Becoming aware of how your body and mind react to stress can help you manage it, and may be the impetus you need to seek solutions.  


The staff at Fairwinds – Nantucket’s Counseling Center wants to tell you about how stress works—both the good and the bad, explain the dangers of toxic stress, and provide some advice about how to handle it. Therapy is an excellent tool to help manage stress.


Is There Any Good Stress?

There is! Positive forms of stress are what keep us motivated and active. When we respond to a challenge at work, are going for a promotion, or feel excited about a white-water rafting trip – these can spark what is called “eustress” – a normal part of our functioning. Positive stress usually has an element of excitement or eagerness. Fairwinds’ psychiatrist Dr. Dominic Maxwell explains: “Stress is ubiquitous to biologic and social systems and plays an important role in ongoing development.” Thus, normal stress cannot – and should not – be eliminated but harmful stress can be managed.


Of course, some people react to a new work challenge or the idea of white water rafting as negative stress as these things trigger their anxiety or fears. Everyone responds to environmental and internal stressors differently. Learning to recognize your own stress responses is a great first step in knowing if you are experiencing healthy, “I’m excited to travel to New Zealand” stress or overwhelming “I’m terrified of flying” stress.


Signs of Stress

What constitutes stress is very personal for each of us. However, the symptoms of negative or high levels of stress are recognizable among everyone. There are physical, emotional, cognitive, and behavioral symptoms that you can look out for.  

·        Physica lsigns:

o  Headaches

o  Muscle aches

o  Exhaustion

o  Reduced sex drive

o  Hypertension

o  Stomach upset

o  Racing pulse

·        Emotional signs:

o  Poor morale

o  Hopelessness

o  Feelings of powerlessness

o  Low self-esteem

o  Mood swings

o  Agitation

o  Anxiety or fear

o  Depression

·        Cognitive signs:

o  Memory issues

o  Inability to make decisions

o  Constant worry

o  Perseveration

o  Difficulty concentrating

o  Negative thinking

·        Behavioral signs:

o  Insomnia or sleeping more than usual

o  Spike in substance use

o  Inability to meet responsibilities

o  Self-harming habits

o  Withdrawal

o  Low productivity


Coping with Stress, And Advice from Some of Our Clinicians

When you learn how to identify your stress triggers, you are better able to care for yourself and manage stressful situations. Some strategies include:

·        Healthy diet

·        Regular exercise

·        Mindfulness techniques such as yoga and meditation

·        Journaling

·        Spending time with supportive, trusted friends

·        Gratitude

·        Laughter

·        Professional counseling


Dr. Maxwell advises that “rather than trying to completely eliminate stress, which is impossible, decide how tomanage it.” He shares that for him, exercise and getting plenty of sleep are “fundamental pillars” of his stress management.


Clinical Director Amanda B. Wright, LICSW also reminds us that “stress is ongoing. As it ebbs and peaks it’s important to recognize that it may well be temporary.” How does she deal with harmful stress?“ Every day brings some stress and every day I remind myself to write down three things I’m grateful for, reminding myself that this too shall pass.” She also says that self-hugs are great, and that kids can benefit from them too. To self-soothe and help regulate heartbeat, wrap your arms around yourself and pat gently or lay your hand over your heart and focus on its beating.  


Our psychiatric nurse practitioner Joy Brown explains, “Sometimes people forget to breathe deeply and fill their lungs. Oxygenated blood helps you think more clearly, problem solve, and manage your emotions.” Just as importantly, when you pay attention to your breathing, it creates an immediate moment of mindfulness that can extend indefinitely, lowering your stress. You can’t be focused on the stressful situation if you are focused on each inward andout ward breath.” 


Fairwinds Can Help

Without some stress, we would never venture outside our comfort zones. But the debilitating stress that creates health concerns and limits our ability to function or feel pleasure can be mitigated with effective coping mechanisms.


On Nantucket, life stressors are manifold. Between housing and job insecurity, isolation, and high cost of living, many people live daily with high levels of stress. Fairwinds can help you manage stress, learn to recognize it before it takes control, and manage it in healthy, productive ways so you can navigate life’s challenges.


To make a same-day appointment for a free therapy session through our urgent behavioral health clinic, or to set up an intake with a therapist for ongoing counseling, call or text 508-228-2689.



The Mayo Clinic

Stanford Medicine