Stuff happens. How you handle it can impact your health.

With April being National Stress Awareness month, suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline CONTACT We Care is sharing tips for avoiding and reducing stress. Headquartered in Westfield, CONTACT We Care is a suicide prevention agency that operates a suicide prevention and crisis intervention hotline and provides suicide prevention training to the public, community groups and businesses. The agency has more than 200 volunteer listeners and texters.

"Experts tell us that some amount of stress in life is unavoidable," said Joanne Oppelt, the hotline's executive director. "Stress is a natural response to danger and enables us to respond accordingly, such as swerving a car to avoid an accident. But unfortunately, everyday events, such as conflicts at work, financial concerns or anxiety also can trigger stress. And if this kind of stress becomes persistent, it can lead to significant health problems, including depression."

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According to the Federal Occupational Health (FOH) agency, long-term stress can lead to a wide range of illnesses – from headaches to stomach concerns and depression – and can even increase the risk of serious conditions such as stroke and heart disease. Stress also causes other hormones to activate that can suppress functions such as digestion and the immune system, leaving people more susceptible to illness, the agency reports.

To avoid or reduce stress, FOH recommends being flexible – recognize you do not always have control; do not get anxious about situations you cannot change; take control of your actions; and develop healthy living habits. For example, when stressed, take a walk or read, play athletics or do meditation or yoga.

The Anxiety and Depression Association of America offers these specific tips:

  • Take a time-out. Practice yoga, meditate, get a massage or learn relaxation techniques.

  • Eat well-balanced meals and do not skip any meals. Keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.

  • Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.

  • Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.

  • Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health.

  • Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.

  • Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.

  • Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, be proud of however close you get.

  • Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?

  • Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.

  • Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.

  • Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.

  • Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious and look for a pattern.

  • Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.

CONTACT We Care listeners are available for people experiencing stress and/or depression. Calls are nonjudgmental and listeners provide an empathetic ear while helping callers and texters to find a solution to their concerns. Callers can call 908.232.2880 and texters can text “CWC” to 839863.

Research shows a decrease in feelings of emotional distress and suicide both during and following calls to a crisis hotline, according to Oppelt. At the end of a call, callers report decreased feelings of confusion, anger, anxiety, helplessness and hopelessness – all factors that contribute to suicidal thoughts, plans and attempts. There also were continuing decreases in crisis states, hopelessness and psychological pain in the following weeks.  

CONTACT We Care serves Central and Northern New Jersey and is a primary responder to calls to the national suicide prevention line (1-800-273-TALK or 1-800-SUICIDE) that originate in New Jersey. Anyone interested in becoming a volunteer listener or to learn more about arranging for training, contact Sue Fasano, director of programs, at 908.301.1899 or sue.fasano@contactwecare.org.

About CONTACT We Care

CONTACT We Care, headquartered in Westfield and with a listening hub in Morristown and celebrating our 40th year, is Central and Northern New Jersey’s crisis listening line, receiving more than 14,000 calls per year.  CONTACT brings comfort and hope to people in emotional distress through active, empathetic and nonjudgmental listening.  All calls are free, anonymous and confidential.  If you are in crisis and need someone to listen, call our hotline at 908-232-2880.  We are affiliated with CONTACT USA, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, and the American Association of Suicidology.  For general information about CONTACT We Care or to become a volunteer, call us at 908-301-1899 or visit our website at www.contactwecare.org.