Stress Awareness Month (April)

Inspiring the world around us through acts of kindness.

< Back to News and Press Page

The calendar is filled with special days, weeks, and months designed to raise awareness of health and societal problems such as cancer and discrimination. But few people are aware of the long history of public efforts to battle stress efforts.

The observance of “stress awareness days” and “stress awareness weeks” began in the United States back in the 1950’s. These calendar events as well as the organisations that created them became joint international efforts in the 1970s. The UK government now officially recognizes April as Stress Awareness Month and actively encourages employers to track and minimize employee stress levels.

Some statistics about stress

It is estimated that more than 35% of adults in the UK suffer from high levels of stress. Mental Health UK, one the UK’s leading mental health charities, says that one in five British workers took time off in 2023 due to mental health deterioration related directly to stress and pressure.

Parental Stress

There are no official statistics for parents, especially full-time homemakers who are not included in workplace surveys. But a recent study by Unicef UK reveals that ⅓ to ⅕ of British parents feel  

What is Stress?

Stress is defined as “emotional strain due to demanding external circumstances”.  When we experience stress our adrenal glands produce cortisol, the “stress” hormone, which helps us stay alert so we can manage the challenge, say a baby that needs to be fed at 2 a.m. or a pressing deadline at work.  So stress is not all bad.  It helps us meet deadlines and achieve goals. The problem is not stress but overstress. Many of us are so focused on objectives that don’t give ourselves time for the cortisol levels in our bodies to go back down.  Maintaining high levels of cortisol for too long can lead to high blood pressure, weight gain, diabetes, and muscle weakness. In one of our recent podcasts, Dr. Mia Eisenstadt, a parenting stress expert, explained that 

“when we have that stress permanently every day the cortisol in our bodies… the stress hormone… is just raised all the time so instead of it just being raised for a little while and then going back to normal…. it’s just permanently up and your body physically adjusts to always having a high level of stress.”

The result can often be burnout.

What is Burnout?

Burnout is a term we commonly use to describe the state of chronic fatigue that results from daily, unmanaged stress. Some would have us believe that burnout is an “occupational phenomenon” rather than a medical condition that can arise outside the workplace.  But at Afrikindness’ we believe that parenting stress is just as likely to cause burnout as workplace pressure. You can listen to our views on this subject by tuning into on our podcast and in particular the episode entitled “Self-Care for Parents: Nurturing the Nurturer.”  

The panel of experts on the Self-Care for Parents episode were unanimous.  Burnout can creep up on anyone who has the pressures of a demanding schedule, including homemakers. Those who don’t listen to the signals of mental and emotional fatigue are particularly prone to developing symptoms of burnout. But anyone can reach the point of overstress.

The following graphic from Mental Health First Aid England illustrates the way in which our bodies accumulate stress and sometimes reach a point of burnout. It is based on the metaphor of a receptacle metaphorically called a “stress container”. This container has limited capacity.  Like our minds and our bodies, it can only take on so many stressors before it needs to be emptied.  The valve at the bottom allows us to avoid an overflow or “overstress” situation. 

Turning the spigot means giving ourselves the rest, relaxation, and self-care that our bodies are often calling for. The trick is to know when our stress container is reaching the point of overflow and to have good techniques for flushing out the accumulated stress (which manifest as excess cortisol and body fatigue).  

The stress container metaphor. 
The trick is to know when our stress container is reaching the point of overflow and to have good techniques for flushing out the accumulated stress (which manifest as excess cortisol and body fatigue).  
Credit: MHFA England

Emptying the Stress Reservoir

Fortunately, there are effective ways to cope with stress and to evacuate our stress container before we reach the state of burnout.  Some of these solutions involve significant changes in lifestyle such as healthy eating and daily exercise but others are more simple habits that can be adopted quickly and easily.

Examples of stress-busting strategies:

  • Setting boundaries with kids, friends, and colleagues (and then enforcing those boundaries effectively)
  • Daily relaxation or breathing exercises
  • Yoga and meditation
  • A fitness routine
  • Walks in nature or time with spent with animals including pets
  • Regular chats with family and friends
  • Mindful activities such as housework, gardening, music, or hobbies
  • Tap into humor or comedy or things that make you laugh and smile

Stress-busting for Busy People

For people who tend to see life as a series of achievements (many of us do), it is best to think of the stress-reducing habits as resilience-boosters. There is no denying that walks, naps, and fitness routines take time out of your day.  But combined with better sleep they make you more energetic, more productive, and ultimately more successful. 

You may still be asking yourself:  “How can I take up an instrument or go on weekend adventures with friends when I barely have time to keep my house in order?”. Remember that successful people have lots of time-consuming interests and hobbies. They tend to be busier and more productive than the average person and yet they manage to take time for themselves and for their self-care routine.

Me? Burnout?

We’ve all known or heard about that chronically anxious person who developed cancer or had a stroke as a result.  Fortunately, when it comes to work and parenting fatigue, our bodies often give us early warnings in the form of illnesses or disorders that are much less serious than cancer. One of the participants in our “Nurturing The Nurturers” podcasts developed hives as a result of overwork.  Many women frequently get stress migraines. Others develop chronic sinus problems.  These can be signs of too much stress.

The following is a list of emotional and physical conditions that indicate that our stress container is overflowing.  They are borrowed from Mental Health UK.  If you recognize more than one or two of these symptoms it is probably time to make some drastic changes including possibly taking time from work.

Emotional burnout symptoms:

  • Feeling helpless, trapped and/or defeated.
  • Feeling detached/alone in the world.
  • Having a cynical/negative outlook.
  • Feeling incapable or full of self-doubt
  • Procrastinating and taking longer to get things done.
  • Feeling overwhelmed
  • lose your sense of purpose

Physical burnout symptoms:

  • Feeling tired or drained most of the time.
  • Getting sick often
  • Body aches
  • Recurring headaches
  • Losing your appetite
  • Chronic insomnia

Why Parents Don’t Always Listen to Their Bodies

Unfortunately, it is all too easy to ignore the warning signs of burnout. Our bodies are good at showing today’s fatigue.  We tend to know when we need a nap, a cold shower, or a cup of coffee.  But humans are not good at measuring stress accumulated over months.  Our stress container unfortunately does not come with a needle gauge or an overflow sensor.

On the Afrikindness podcast we talk about “inhibitors to self-care”.  These are the inner blocks or social pressures that stop parents getting the rest or relaxation they need. For example, many moms seem to think putting your children first is an uncompromisable virtue.  If they are a working mom, especially the first generation in their family to enter the workforce, they may feel immense pressure to excel at work while still maintaining high standards at home.  Men often inherit a macho ethic based on the idea of “working through the pain”.  Stoically, they tell themselves things like “man-up”, “don’t be a sissy”, even as their minds and bodies scream out for some R&R.

The result is that modern parents keep pushing through overwork and parental perfectionism until finally something gives.

Learning to Listen

It can be a real challenge to listen to what our body is telling us. And yet it is telling us things all the time.

You will hear the experts on our podcasts tell you to recognize the inner voice that is telling you that something “is not quite right”.  Concretely, that means that you have to look for signs of deterioration or changes-for-the-worse. Something “is not quite right” when tiredness becomes chronic fatigue.  Something “is not quite right” when sporadic discouragement crosses over into a feeling of constantly being overwhelmed. Something “is not quite right” when your motivation for doing things you enjoy plummets and stays low. Something “is not quite right” when your need for quiet becomes full-blown social isolation and your bandwidth for friends and family is reduced to nearly zero. Something “is not quite right” when the seasonal colds you used to catch become chest or sinus infections that don’t seem to go away.

Challenges for Parents

Kids are actually the first to pay a price when parents are burnt out.  Managing daily stress appropriately will make you a better parent.  But be careful of the temptation to be a perfect parent!  Society has long held up an unattainable standard for mums and dads.  This has led to an epidemic of what some are now calling “depleted parent syndrome”, a form of extreme fatigue due to child care demands. The problem might even be made worse by the fact that many people are now both working and parenting; sometimes as single parents.  And unlike office work which has an end time, parenting can continue late into the night and on weekends!

Perfectionism is not an Option

In 1953, the famous British pediatrician and psychoanalyst, Donald Winnicott, developed a useful concept for stressed-out parents.  (Yes, parental stress was already a problem way back in 1953!)  Winnicott proposed the idea of the “good enough mother”.  The idea applies to dads as well.  It consists of rejecting perfectionism in favor of a mode of parenting that responds to some, but not all, of our children’s needs.  Winnicott believed that the best parents are those who give their children space to cope with problems on their own. Good parents (or rather “good-enough” parents) are not afraid to disappoint their kids.  Real life is sometimes disappointing and so should home life.  Not every meal will seem yummy and not every vacation will be exciting.  There are dual advantages to Winnicott’s parenting philosophy.  Kids will learn from their disappointments and become stronger, while parents will get some rest.

Beware of Shortcuts

Useful coping strategies are easy to enumerate.  The internet is full of lists like the one above. And yet far too many people still rely on cigarettes and liquor or drugs to calm their frayed nerves.  They do this either in secret or with friends down at the pub.  Others have a tendency to hibernate when they feel overwhelmed. Men are notorious for isolating themselves and neglecting their support network when they should actually be sharing with their friends.

Alcohol and social distancing are examples of unhelpful coping mechanisms.  They may alleviate stress in the short term but they decrease emotional and physical wellbeing in the long term.  And they certainly don’t help with burnout. Other examples of ill-advised coping strategies are:

  • Filling the refrigerator with “comfort” foods (bread, pasta, fried foods, and sweets)
  • Staying up systematically late to enjoy quiet time
  • Binge watching Netflix
  • Decompressing by endlessly scrolling youtube, social media, or news headlines

Let’s be April’s Fools

At Afrikindness we believe that people should act responsibly but not take themselves too seriously.  In this sense, April is the perfect month for stress awareness.  Do you remember the April Fool’s jokes we used to play on each other when we were kids?  And while we are at it, some of those other childhood behaviors like jumping in puddles, swimming in lakes, dancing at parties, and spending hours on the phone with friends.  Kids are highly skilled in the art of evacuating stress.  This April, when stress builds up, remember to channel your inner teen.  “Chill” when you need to, knock about with your mates as often as possible, run around the block (or the park) to de-stress, and speak loudly about your needs and your boundaries so there is no misunderstanding.

I Am A...


You have successfully subscribed!

Thank you for successfully subscribing to our Afrikindness newsletter. 
We are so ecstatic to have you be part this journey and we hope you are impacted.