May 16—ATHENS — Now that April and Stress Awareness Month have come to a close and everone has moved well into Mental Health Awareness Month, it's a good time to talk about the difference between good stress and bad stress and how they affect mental health.

Some stress can be good: It is what is described as "what motivates us to get up and go to work and take care of one another." We all need some awareness and worry in order to remember to pay our bills; take the kids to school/sports/extracurricular activities; do tasks and chores on time, etc. Otherwise, things may go undone/unfinished. So some amount of stress can motivate us and help us fulfill responsibilities, which can lead to a more fulfilling and happier life.

When asked to describe types of good stress, respondents have given examples such as having a baby, planning a vacation, buying or remodeling a house, moving, and starting a new job or project at work. These are all things that many folks want to do and are even excited about, but nevertheless experience some amount of stress going through the process. This kind of stress is typically short-term but ultimately can be beneficial as it allows individuals to focus their energies on a specific goal or task.

So how about bad stress? Well, that is the kind of stress that feels like a pileup. It may make you feel jumpy and anxious and can be harmful to your health. It can also lead to confusion, decreased concentration and feeling bad overall. When asked for examples of bad stress, many responders described relationships that are strained, financial difficulties, concerns with their job or work place issues, and untreated medical or mental health challenges. These stressors can be either short-term or long-term. Long-term stressors can lead to negative health effects such as headaches, anxiety, high blood pressure and insomnia.

What it boils down to is that stress becomes problematic when it takes over someone's life. The key to managing it is identifying what individuals deem as bad stress and figuring out ways to manage these things in a healthy manner. For many, the difference between good stress and bad stress is how we feel about it and what we do to address it.

Those who are feeling bad stress can help themselves by finding someone to talk to: a friend, neighbor, faith leader or therapist. Just reaching out and talking with a trusted source can reduce stress. And while it seems intuitive, it is important to remember to eat well, stay hydrated, get good sleep and get up and moving.

Deep breathing exercises at least twice per day (no more than 10 minutes total) can help, as can finding ways to reduce the bad stressors where and when possible. These are all things each one of us can do to help manage our stress levels and have a better quality of life.

Visit the Thriving on the Farm site from the Rural Georgia: Growing Stronger initiative for stress assistance and other resources from University of Georgia Cooperative Extension.

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