Between navigating work or school, balancing extracurricular activities and keeping up with the whiplash news cycle of current events, we’re all bound to feel stressed at some point. Some people can take it in stride, with a bad day at work or a car breakdown barely making a ripple in their attitude. But for others, especially those with mental illness, stress can be harder to handle.
Lacey Roy and Sherie Ramsgard, who serve on the board of directors for the Syracuse chapter of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), are hosting a stress management workshop at 2 p.m. this Sunday at the Liverpool Public Library. Ramsgard is a psychiatric nurse practitioner and owner of Whole Mental Wellness in Syracuse.
“The goal of stress management is protecting mental health. It doesn’t matter if one is diagnosed, undiagnosed,” said Roy, who has bipolar disorder. “It affects all of us.”
Stress can affect a person both mentally and physically. According to the American Psychological Association, stress in the short term can cause stomach aches, headaches or just plain feeling cranky. But without healthy stress management, the long-term health effects can be devastating.
“Stress that is left unchecked or poorly managed is known to contribute to high blood pressure, heart disease, obesity, diabetes and suicide,” reads the APA’s website.
While chronic stress can severely affect a person’s health, Roy said that not all stress is bad. The flop sweat that comes with stage fright, the queasiness that precedes a presentation at work — they’re not exactly pleasant feelings, but they are signs that your body is prepared to get through the next challenge by releasing hormones and sharpening your senses.
“Stress in a positive sense — where it’s not severe or negatively intense — can make us more productive and can give us motivation,” she said. “It can take us the next step up.”
For the most part, a person can handle the acute stress of everyday life. But chronic stress can lead to catching colds more frequently, feeling fatigued, overeating or smoking and worsening of cardiovascular and mental health issues.
“When it goes sideways … that’s when it starts causing negative effects in my experience,” Roy said.
People with mental illness, like Roy, can have a harder time bouncing back from stress.
“We have something going on that’s already altering our brain chemicals. Then we have the impact of negative stress,” she said. “It’s a really fine line between controlling triggers when we can, and my brain chemicals might malfunction even if I do everything perfectly.”
Roy and Ramsgard will go into further detail on how to deal with stress in their presentation, but in the meantime, here are a few stress management tips from the Mayo Clinic:
“It’s not your mother’s stress techniques,” Roy said. “We’re excited to be there and bring a new aspect to an age-old topic.”
As May is Mental Health Awareness Month, NAMI Syracuse is also partnering with LPL to display a photo exhibit called “Nothing to Hide: Mental Illness in the Family.” The exhibit runs through the end of the month.
To learn more about NAMI Syracuse, local support groups and mental health resources, visit namisyracuse.org.
Ashley M. Casey is a reporter for The Baldwinsville Messenger and The Eagle Star-Review. She graduated from Le Moyne College in 2012 and previously worked for the Scotsman Press.