By Carissa Weber, MA, LPC, CSAC
With Spring here, there seems to be a resurgence in new things. New grass, new allergies, and new things to be stressed about.
This post is going to go over all the new and crazy things that are happening in the month of April. Trust me, there is a lot going on!
Stress Awareness Month
April 1st was the official start to Stress Awareness Month. Ever since 1992, April has been celebrated as a time to identify the causes of stress (and ways to cope with it). With how crazy the last two years have been, I think Stress Awareness Month is more important now than ever before.
Stress and the Brain
Stress has a unique pathway in our brain. In case you didn’t know it, we experience stress because our darn amygdala, hypothalamus, and the pineal gland choose to gang up on us and allow the stress hormone, cortisol, to run chaotically through our brain. That Darn Amygdala signals the hypothalamus that the Triple F response is needed. The hypothalamus then tells the pineal gland to release cortisol.
As that is happening, the adrenal glands get the message and engage the Triple F response. As this is all going on (and your darn amygdala is drunk on power), your prefrontal cortex tries really hard to tell the rest of the brain that the trigger to the stress is supposed to be short-lived. Will that Darn Amygdala let that happen? Nope!
Stress’s Impact on the Brain
If you are dealing with long-term stress (anything over 6 months), you will start to notice changes to your brain. One big change you may notice is the ability to remember or recall certain memories. That is because the hippocampus (a.k.a. – the memory center) starts to shrink.
That isn’t the only thing that shrinks. So does your:
- prefrontal cortex (which impacts your ability to make decisions and problem-solve)
- insula (which processes sensory information and spatial awareness)
- number of neurons (these brain cells can decrease with the amount of stress you experience)
- Immune system (since your body is focusing on the stress,
There are so many reasons to control the amount of stress in your life (including reversing the damage it creates in your brain and other parts of your body). This month, we are going to tackle ways to conquer that stress and manage it’s butt into submission!
Counselor Awareness Month
April just isn’t for stress awareness and management! April is when we also celebrate Counselor Awareness Month!
The American Counseling Association (or ACA for short) designates April as a month to advocate for counselors and counseling services. There are approximately 663,000 counselors in the United States working in many different places:
- Therapy offices
- Mental health clinics
- County systems
- Medical offices
I might be biased but bringing awareness to the role of counselors and how they serve the communities allows us to decrease the stigma of mental health. There are many ways you can show support for your local counselors:
- Use the hashtag, #burnbrightnotout, in your social media posts
- Wear the color teal on April 8th
- Engage in the theme “Train your brain with counseling” by participating in counseling services
- Go to any local open-houses counselors and their offices may be having this month in your town/city
Autism Acceptance Month
You read that right. April is also home to Autism Acceptance Month. You might be asking “I thought it was autism awareness month?” Well, you’re correct. April is also considered autism awareness month. I use Autism Acceptance Month for multiple reasons:
- The term, “acceptance” embraces the inclusion of the many differences that come with Autistic Spectrum Disorder (ASD).
- “Awareness is knowing that somebody has autism, acceptance is when you include (a person with autism) in your activities. Help (them) to develop in that community and get that sense of connection to other people.” (Thank you, Christopher Banks, president and CEO of The Autism Society of America)
One in every 44 people in the United States have been diagnosed with ASD. That is over 2% of Americans! When we learn about the unique ways the autistic brain works, we are helping autistic people (check that out at How to talk about autism | Ambitious about Autism) thrive in this world!
Sexual Assault Awareness Month
Now, this is one topic I wish didn’t have just one awareness month. Sexual Assault Awareness Month was first advocated for in the 1990s as a way to bring attention to assault, harassment, and sexual violence. It wasn’t first observed though until 2001.
The numbers behind sexual assault are enough to turn heads and make you feel ill:
- 1 in 5 women will experience some sort of sexual violence in their lifetime
- 1 in 14 men report being the victim of sexual violence in their lifetime
- 46% of people who report sexual assault or violence report knowing the perpetrator as an acquaintance. The other half of survivors? They report the perpetrator was an intimate partner
- Every 68 seconds, someone is sexually assaulted
- Only 45% of the perpetrators of sexual violence go to prison
On April 13th, we recognize RAINN day, which is a day to bring attention to the chaos and destruction sexual assault has on humanity. On this day, you can show your support by:
- Using the hashtag, #WontStayQuiet and #RAINNDay on your social media (Don’t forget to tag @RAINN in those posts)
- Attend a RAINN event to help learn new ways to support survivors of sexual assault and violence
- Volunteer with the National Sexual Assault Hotline
This month is going to be busy! Thank you for taking time to learn more about how important the month of April is to all of us in the mental health care world. Please take time to learn more about the vital topics to help end the stigma and increase support.
- American Counseling Association (2022). What is Counseling? Retrieved from What is Counseling
- Autism Society (2022). Autism Acceptance Month. Retrieved from Autism Acceptance Month – Autism Society. (autism-society.org)
- Cherry, Kendra (2021). 5 Surprising Ways Stress Affects your Brain. Retrieved from 5 Surprising Ways That Stress Affects Your Brain (verywellmind.com)
- Department of Justice, Office of Justice Programs, Bureau of Justice Statistics, National Crime Victimization Survey, 2019 (2020).
- Jimenez Moya, Maria (2022). Autism Acceptance Month is underway. Here’s why the name is important. Retrieved from Autism Acceptance Month: Name change a year ago important (usatoday.com)
- Let’s Talk Science (2020). Stress and the Brain. Retrieved from Stress and the Brain | Let’s Talk Science (letstalkscience.ca)
- Carissa Weber at www.thatdarnamygdala.com
- spn_caro on www.twitter.com
- The National Sexual Violence Resource Center at | National Sexual Violence Resource Center (NSVRC)
- Special Days of the Month at Stress Awareness Month – April – Special Days of the Month