Everyone deals with stress. We rush at work, we rush at home, there’s always so much that needs to be done. Stress and anxiety have become part of our lives. But how do we deal with it? Most people don’t. Stress causes havoc on our bodies. Let it roam free and stress will make you sick.
The statistics are staggering. One in every eight Americans between the age of 18 and 54 suffers from an anxiety disorder. That’s over 19 million people! Research conducted by the National Institute of Mental Health has shown that anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness, surpassing even depression.
Anxiety not only takes a toll on our health but on our checkbooks, to the tune of $46.6 billion annually in the United States. Anxiety sufferers see an average of five doctors before being successfully diagnosed. Stress and anxiety go hand in hand. One major symptom of stress is anxiety and stress accounts for 80 percent of all illnesses either directly or indirectly.
Stress is more dangerous than originally thought. You probably already know that it can raise your blood pressure, increasing the likelihood of a stroke. But recently it’s been claimed that 90 percent of visits to a primary care physician were because of stress-related disorders.
Health Psychology magazine reports that chronic stress can interfere with the normal function of the body’s immune system. And studies have proven that stressed individuals have an increased vulnerability to catching an illness and are more susceptible to allergic, autoimmune, or cardiovascular diseases. Doctors agree that during chronic stress, the functions of the body that are nonessential to survival, such as the digestive and immune systems, shut down. Stress is making us sick.
Furthermore, stress often prompts people to respond in unhealthy ways such as smoking, drinking alcohol, eating poorly, or becoming physically inactive. This damages the body in addition to the wear and tear of the stress itself.
Stress vs Anxiety
Contrary to popular belief, there is a difference between stress and anxiety. Stress comes from the pressures we feel in life as we are pushed by work or any other task that puts undue pressure on our minds and body. Adrenaline is released and extended stay of the hormone causes depression, a rise in the blood pressure, and other negative changes and effects.
One of these negative effects is anxiety. With anxiety, fear overcomes all emotions accompanied by worry and apprehension. Other symptoms are chest pains, dizziness, and shortness of breath and panic attacks.
Stress is caused by something happening in your life now. Anxiety is stress that continues after that stressor is gone. Stress can come from any situation or thought that makes you feel frustrated, angry, nervous, or even anxious. Anxiety is a feeling of apprehension or fear and is almost always accompanied by feelings of impending doom. The source of this uneasiness is not always known or recognized, which can add to the distress you feel, and what is stressful to one person is not necessarily stressful to another.
Stress is the way our bodies and minds react to something which upsets our normal balance in life. An example of stress is the response we feel when we are frightened or threatened. During stressful events, our adrenal glands release adrenaline, a hormone which activates our body’s defense mechanisms causing our hearts to pound, blood pressure to rise, muscles to tense, and the pupils of our eyes to dilate.
A principal indication of increased stress is an escalation in your pulse rate; however, a normal pulse rate doesn’t necessarily mean you aren’t stressed. Constant aches and pains, palpitations, anxiety, chronic fatigue, crying, over or under- eating, frequent infections, and a decrease in your sexual desire are signs that indicate that you might be under stress.
Some people are more susceptible than others to stress. For some, even ordinary daily decisions can seem insurmountable. On the other hand, there are those people who seem to thrive under stress by becoming highly productive when being driven by the force of pressure.
Anxiety is a feeling of unease. Everybody experiences it when faced with a stressful situation, for example before an exam or an interview, or during a worrying time such as illness. It is normal to feel anxious when facing something difficult or dangerous and mild anxiety can be a positive and useful experience.
However, for many people, anxiety interferes with normal life. Excessive anxiety is often associated with other psychiatric conditions, such as depression. Anxiety is considered abnormal when it is very prolonged or severe, it happens in the absence of a stressful event, or it is interfering with everyday activities such as going to work.
The physical symptoms of anxiety are caused by the brain sending messages to parts of the body to prepare for the “fight or flight” response. The heart, lungs and other parts of the body work faster. The brain also releases stress hormones, including adrenaline and cortisol. Common indicators of excessive anxiety include:
- Dry mouth
- Rapid heartbeat or palpitations
- Irritability or anger
- Inability to concentrate
- Fear of being “crazy”
- Feeling unreal and not in control of your actions which is called depersonalization
Anxiety can be brought on in many ways. Obviously, the presence of stress in your life can make you have anxious thoughts. Many people’s minds who suffer from anxiety disorders are occupied with excessive worry. This can be worry about anything from health matters to job problems to world issues and can make it difficult to focus or feel secure.
Certain drugs, both recreational and medicinal, can also lead to symptoms of anxiety due to either side effects or withdrawal from the drug. Such drugs include caffeine, alcohol, nicotine, cold remedies, and decongestants, bronchodilators for asthma, tricyclic antidepressants, cocaine, amphetamines, diet pills, ADHD medications, and thyroid medications.
Lacking certain vitamins and minerals can also contribute to stress or anxiety -- for example, low levels of vitamin B12 or vitamin D. Performance anxiety is related to specific situations, like taking a test or making a presentation in public. Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a stress disorder that develops after a traumatic event like war, physical or sexual assault, or a natural disaster.
In very rare cases, a tumor of the adrenal gland (pheochromocytoma) may be the cause of anxiety. This happens because of an overproduction of hormones responsible for the feelings and symptoms of anxiety.
While anxiety may seem a bit scary, what’s even scarier is that excessive anxiety and stress can lead to things like depression. Suffering from depression can be a lifelong struggle, but the good news is that all of this is manageable!
Photo by Eutah Mizushima on Unsplash
We know that stress is a part of life and there’s no getting away from it. In fact, some stress is good stress. It can motivate you to get things done. Stress can make you brave enough to go forward when normally you would hesitate.
You have to be resilient in order to effectively cope with stress and help it enhance your life instead of control it. How do you get strong and resilient? By learning how to take control of your stress and make it work FOR you instead of AGAINST you.
Recognizing stress symptoms can be a positive influence in that we’re compelled to take action – and the sooner the better. It’s not always easy to discern why you’re experiencing stress in each situation but some of the more common events that trigger those emotions are the death of a loved one, the birth of a child, a job promotion, or a new relationship. We experience stress when our lives change and we readjust. Your body is asking for your attention and help when you feel these stress symptoms.
3 Approaches to Managing Stress
There are three major approaches to manage stress. The first is the action-oriented approach. In this method, the problems that cause stress are identified and necessary changes are made to alleviate them.
The next approach is emotionally-oriented. Where you overcome stress by giving a different color to the experience that caused stress. The situation, which causes stress, is seen humorously or from a different angle. Sometimes you can’t avoid the stressor but you can learn to see the humor instead of the doom.
A third way is an acceptance-oriented approach. The first step of this approach is to understand the root cause of your stress. No one understands your problem better than you do. A few minutes spent to recognize your true feelings can completely change the situation. During this process, identify what triggered the stress. Share this with a loved one if you can. If you are overstressed and feel you are going to collapse, take a deep breath and count to ten. This pumps extra oxygen into your system and rejuvenates the entire body.
When under severe stress, meditate for a moment and pull out of the current situation for a little while. Stand up from your current position and walk. Stretch yourself. Soon you will find that the stress has lessened.
You can also invent your own stress management tips. The basic idea is to identify the cause of stress, to pull out from it for a moment, and then deal with it. Taking a short walk and look at nature can be another stress reliever. Even something like drinking a glass of water or playing small games are simple stress management techniques. The whole idea is to change the focus of attention. Then when you return to the problem, it does not look as monstrous.
A few quick things you can do to relieve stress:
Move! According to many psychologists, motion creates emotion. When you are idle, it’s easier to become depressed. Your heart rate slows down, less oxygen travels to your brain, and you are slumped in a chair blocking air from reaching your lungs.
Right now, regardless of how you are feeling, get up and walk around at a fairly fast tempo. Even jump up and down a little bit. It may sound silly but the results speak for themselves. Try it for a few minutes. It works like magic. Exercise can be a great stress buster.
- Smell the roses. Go on that trip you’ve been dreaming about. Visit an old friend. Paint a picture. Just do something for yourself. It’ll jolt your imagination and spur your creativity and help you detach from your daily routine.
Help others cope with their problems. It is very therapeutic when you engross yourself in helping others. You will be surprised how many people’s problems are worse than yours. You can offer others assistance in countless ways.
Get out and help somebody. But be careful. Don’t get caught up in other people’s problems in an attempt to forget about and neglect your own.
Laugh a little. It relieves tension and loosens the muscles. It causes blood to flow to the heart and brain. More importantly, laughter releases a chemical that rids the body of pains.
Every day, researchers discover new benefits of laughter. Let me ask you this question: “Can you use a good dose of belly-shaking laughter every now and then?” Of course you can. What you are waiting for? Go to a comedy club or watch a funny movie.
- Make stress your friend. Acknowledge that stress can be good and make stress your friend! Based on the body’s natural “fight or flight” response that burst of energy will enhance your performance at the right moment. Top sportsmen are not relaxed before a big competition. Use stress wisely to push yourself that little bit harder when it counts most.
- Copy good stress managers. When people around you are losing their heads, watch for who keeps calm. What are they doing differently? What is their attitude? What language do they use? Are they trained and experienced? Figure it out from afar or sit them down for a chat. Learn from the best stress managers and copy what they do.
- Use heavy breathing. You can trick your body into relaxing by using heavy breathing. Breathe in slowly for a count of 7 then breathe out for a count of 11. Repeat the 7-11 breathing until your heart rate slows down, your sweaty palms dry off and things start to feel more normal.
- Stop stress thought trains. It is possible to tangle yourself up in a stress knot all by yourself. If you’re constantly expecting the worst to happen and say negative things to yourself. For example, “If this happens, then that might happen and then we’re all up a creek!” Most bad things never happen, so don’t waste all that energy worrying needlessly. Give stress thought-trains the red light and stop them in their tracks.
- Know your stress hot spots and trigger points. Presentations, interviews, meetings, giving difficult feedback, tight deadlines. These are all things that can get your heart racing. Make your own list of stress trigger points or hot spots. Be specific. Is it only presentations to a certain audience that get you worked up? Does one project cause more stress than another? Did you drink too much coffee? Knowing what causes your stress is powerful information, as you can take action to make it less stressful.
Eat, drink, sleep and be merry! Lack of sleep, poor nutrition and no exercise wreak havoc on your body and mind. Kind of obvious, but worth mentioning as it’s often ignored as a stress management technique. Listen to what your mother used to say and don’t burn the candle at both ends!
Avoid using artificial means to dealing with your stress. That means don’t automatically pour a glass of wine when you think you’re getting stressed out and don’t light up a cigarette. In actuality, alcohol, nicotine, caffeine, and drugs can make the problem worse. A better idea is to practice the relaxation techniques you’ve learned here. Then, once you’re relaxed, you can have that glass of wine if you still want.
Go outside and enjoy Mother Nature. A little sunshine and activity can have amazing ramifications on your stress level and will enhance your entire outlook towards life. Your improved attitude will have a positive effect on everyone in your family and your circle of friends. Things that once seemed overwhelming will soon become trivial matters, causing you to wonder what the predicament was. Not only will you be less stressed, you will be healthier, happier, and more energetic; ready to face whatever obstacles come your way.
- Give yourself permission to be a kid again. Be carefree and creative. Allow yourself freedom to express yourself and don’t worry that you’re not keeping with the image of who you are supposed to be. Relax and enjoy yourself.
- Don’t set unrealistic for goals for yourself. Many people set themselves up for defeat simply by setting unrealistic goals. Whatever your goal is to allow sufficient time to reach it and realize that setbacks will probably happen.
- Learn it is OK to say no. Many people feel that they have to say yes to everyone. You can’t be all things to all people. You must first meet your own needs before you can give to others.
- Make time for yourself, your number one priority; once your own needs are met you will find you have more time for others. And you may find more pleasure in helping others when you don’t feel that you must always put others needs before your own.
- This is a great idea that works. Ok ready, now … YELL! That’s right, scream at the top of your lungs – as loud as you can. While this may not be feasible in your home, it works great when you’re in your car with the windows rolled up. Let out a guttural yelp from deep down inside. It’s liberating!
- Sing (and maybe even dance). Music is extremely beneficial to rid yourself of stress. Think how much better you can feel when you belt out your favorite song at the top of your lungs! Who cares if you can’t carry a tune? You’re doing this for you!
- Take up a new hobby like knitting or crocheting. Don’t worry about being good at it. It’s the process that’s beneficial. Sitting still while performing repetitive movements is calming and stabilizing for many people. It can be time to collect your thoughts.
- Start a garden. Even apartment-dwellers can do this. Inside in pots, pots on the patio, pots, a small spot in your yard. Tending plants, fruits, vegetables, flowers and watching them grow, bloom, or yield food is rewarding. Avid gardeners say working a garden is the best way to control stress and worry. An added benefit is the creation of a more beautiful, restful environment.
- Play with a dog or cat. Experts say pet owners have longer lives and fewer stress symptoms that non-pet owners. Playing with your pet provides good vibes for you and your pet! It’s a form of social interaction with no pressure to meet anyone’s expectations!
- Look at the stars and the moon. It can be a very humbling experience to lay on a blanket with your hands behind your head and gaze up into the night sky. It’s more than humbling; it’s downright beautiful and relaxing!
- Take a candlelit bubble bath. Even men will benefit from a warm bath bathed in the soft glow of candlelight. Lay your head back, feel the bubbles and the warm water, and let your stress go right down the drain.
- Apply Hope Elevating Cream to your wrists, the insides of your elbows, and the back of your neck for a quick pick-me-up and stress reliever.
Now you have twenty-three ways to relax and de-stress! You can come up with your own ways as well. The key, really, is to find something that makes you feel better when you are overwhelmed and practice that method faithfully. You’ll be a happier, healthier person overall.
Pictured: Herbal Mana's Hope Cream
Salleh, Mohd Razali. “Life Event, Stress and Illness.” The Malaysian Journal of Medical Sciences : MJMS, Penerbit Universiti Sains Malaysia, Oct. 2008, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3341916/.
Assaf, Areej M. “Stress-Induced Immune-Related Diseases and Health Outcomes of Pharmacy Students: A Pilot Study.” Saudi Pharmaceutical Journal : SPJ : the Official Publication of the Saudi Pharmaceutical Society, U.S. National Library of Medicine, Jan. 2013, www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3745082/.
“10 Vitamin D Deficiency Symptoms You Can Identify Yourself.” University Health News, 3 Feb. 2019, universityhealthnews.com/daily/depression/10-vitamin-d-deficiency-symptoms-that-you-can-identify-yourself/.