November 1st to the 5th is recognized internationally as Stress Week, centred around International Stress Awareness Dayon November 3. Celebrated annually, this week is dedicated to raising awareness around stress prevention.
Stress is a normal response our bodies experience in certain situations and environments. Small doses of stress help us function by helping us meet deadlines, get places on time, and prepare for important events. However, consistently high levels of stress can be detrimental to our health.
Stress and FASD
Prenatal alcohol exposure (PAE) causes changes to stress pathways in the brain, which can impact how people with PAE and FASD respond to stress. Stress management is an important skill for children with FASD because a child’s ability to cope with stress can impact their physical and emotional health throughout their life. Healthy stress management strategies can reduce feelings of anxiety, improve self-regulation skills, and build resilience, plus can help children feel in control, know how to relax, and improve executive functioning.
Caregivers of people with FASD experience significantly high rates of stress, even more so than caregivers of people with other disabilities. Caregiver burnout can happen when caregivers experience increased and sustained levels of stress. Caregiver burnout is characterized by:
- A loss of interest or motivation to care for the individual;
- Distancing yourself from other loved ones;
- Feeling irritable, hopeless, or helpless;
- Changing patterns in appetite and sleep; or
- Feelings of self-harm or feelings of violence towards the person you care for.
Interventions, support groups, and periods of rest can improve well-being and reduce the chances of caregiver burnout.
Alcohol and Stress
When people are stressed, they may use alcohol or other substances as a coping mechanism. However, using substances to manage your feelings and emotions is not healthy.
Alcohol impacts the balance of chemicals in our brains. It is a depressant, which means it reduces “neurotransmission levels” and disrupts the communication between our nerve cells and our brain. Alcohol affects our thoughts, feelings, and actions. The more we drink, the bigger impact it can have on our brains. High rates of alcohol consumption are linked to both mental and physical health challenges.
Manage your stress
As the world continues to fight COVID-19, stress levels across the globe are heightened. While some stress can be seen as a motivator, it is important to recognize the stressors in our lives so that appropriate measures can be taken to ensure we are staying healthy.
Monitor your stress levels
- Keep track of your stress and anxiety levels to understand what experiences or activities make you stressed. You can monitor your stress levels by practicing self-reflection and bringing awareness to your daily activities and emotions. You could also take an online test* to measure your stress levels.
Use healthy coping strategies
- Everyone is different and everyone manages stress differently. Find healthy coping strategies that work for you. New strategies may involve getting active, eating healthy, sleeping regularly, or trying a new hobby.
- If you have tried a number of different coping strategies but are continuing to struggle with anxiety and stress, you may need extra support from a medical professional. You can contact someone like your family doctor, a psychologist, a psychotherapist, a social worker, or another health professional for help. Canadians can also access online support through Wellness Together Canada and other online portals.
*Note: these tests are not intended to diagnose conditions or to replace a professional assessment from a health care practitioner.