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Do a stress checkup to help manage your mental health

Beat back stress by choosing a healthy lifestyle, setting boundaries, and having fun.

We’re living in stressful times. Much contributes to stress today, like the ongoing pandemic with an ever-mutating virus, political division, the war in Ukraine, increased gas prices, inflation, and constant demands of everyday life. There seems to be no end in sight.

There’s little doubt that our mental health is negatively impacted by these stressors. “Now is a good time to do a stress checkup and tune up our toolbox to combat stress,” said Britany Alexander, MD, a psychiatrist at Kaiser Permanente Southern California. Stress is a complex response our bodies have to keep us safe. We are designed to deal with acute stress, but today’s chronic stress is unusual and very difficult to manage.

“Common signs of too much stress include irritability, poor concentration, low energy, and sleep issues,” Dr. Alexander noted. “There can be other signs such as hair loss, nail-biting, and restlessness, among others. These signs can be mild and managed with simple tools and lifestyle tweaks. However, if severe, they could require more intervention.”

Choose a healthy lifestyle

According to Dr. Alexander, a healthy lifestyle is important for stress management. Eating a healthy diet low in processed food, rich in green leafy vegetables, fibrous fruits, lean proteins, and healthy fats will help.

Getting the recommended 30 minutes of exercise 5 days per week is also a great stress inhibitor. Adding mindful meditation into our schedule — even doing a one-minute meditation — can make a difference.

Having a routine sleep schedule — going to bed and waking up at the same time — avoiding caffeine, minimizing drinking alcohol, and turning off devices about an hour before bedtime can help, too.

Set healthy boundaries and have fun

It’s also important to set healthy boundaries at home and at work, Dr. Alexander shared. “Whenever possible, avoid taking work home or being ‘on call’ at all hours of the day and night,” she said. “Don’t be afraid to say ‘no.’”

“We all have different resources available to us, but I encourage everyone to have fun,” Dr. Alexander explained. “Make time for reading. Have a safe gathering with friends and family; pull out a board game. Go to a concert if possible. The message is, ‘Don’t forget the fun!’”

Dr. Alexander notes that if stress-related symptoms go on for more than 2 weeks, or you and others believe the symptoms are disruptive, it may be time to seek professional help. Many treatment options include talking with a trained professional, group therapy, or talking to your primary care physician or psychiatrist to consider medication.

“Stress may be a part of our daily life, but it does not have to impede our ability to feel good and function well,” Dr. Alexander said. “Maintaining good mental health is important for our overall good health.” Kaiser Permanente’s Center for Healthy Living is a great step toward total health. Give it a try today so that you can live it every day!


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