On any given day most people will hear a friend, coworker or family member tell them they are “stressed”. We certainly live very stressful lives. The demands of children, job, home, marriage, community obligations and so much more, use up our time and deplete our energy. Stress is a way of living for too many people. When do we need to be concerned about the level of stress we are experiencing? We need to be concerned when stress becomes anxiety.
Anxiety is a uniquely human response in the body and the mind that arises when a person perceives a threat or danger. Whether or not the danger becomes a reality is irrelevant when a person suffers from anxiety. The symptoms can be just as severe in either case.
Some of the symptoms of anxiety include:
-thoughts of dying or heart attack
The risk of suffering from anxiety increases as the prevalence of external stressors increase. When these stressors reach a level that a person feels they can no longer cope with them, fear and dread set in and anxiety is born. Women of today are extremely vulnerable to suffering from anxiety as the demands of life become more pressing. While career and growth opportunities are greater than they have ever been for women, the expectations for excellence and the support they receive are at unprecedented destructive levels. As women have striven to achieve, they have neglected to find ways to nurture themselves.
Men of today are experiencing new levels of stress as the expectations to share in child care, household duties, extracurricular activities for their children (such as coaching), and care of elderly parents are added to the traditional expectations of maintaining a standing in their jobs, often as the primary wage earner. This creates a climate in which more and more men are seeking help for anxiety.
While there seems to be a constant stream of barely manageable stressors in the lives of adults today, there are several stress triggers that cause stress to overrun its banks and create unmanageable anxiety. These are some of the more common ones.
-The beginning of the school year. As the new school year starts, parents are frantically trying to transition the family from the easier, lazy schedules of summer to the tightly scheduled school calendar. Back are the homework assignments, fights over bedtime, after school activities and piecemeal childcare.
-Holidays, while intended to be happy, warm family events, more often than not are stomach churning races against the clock to get everything done in time.
-Hormonal Fluctuations, whether due to PMS, perimenopause or menopause, add to the stream of distress-not just in women, but in those who surround her.
-Financial Troubles and job loss are very frequent catalysts for anxiety in these tough economic times. More and more people fear for the longevity of their jobs and incomes. Unfortunately, job security is no longer reliably tied to job performance, making the situation that much more stressful.
So, what do we do when that anxiety monster comes out of the closet? The first thought is typically to try and reduce the sources of anxiety. Unfortunately, with the demanding lives we live, that is not usually so easy. School must start, holidays come, hormones wax and wane and jobs are stressful. Even if we could head off some of the sources of anxiety, this approach would leave us always trying to fend off new stressors.
So, we must learn to manage the anxiety. Managing anxiety is necessary at three different stages: before, during and after the stressors overwhelm us.
Regular exercise is a very effective means of managing stress BEFORE anxiety develops. In addition, watching your diet by eliminating caffeinated and highly refined and sugary foods and beverages increases the health of the body and mind, giving you a greater capability to cope with stress.
Creating regular, healthy ways of decompressing when the stress starts to build such as adult “time-outs” are beneficial. This can be accomplished in any number of ways. A night out with a spouse, partner, friend, or even alone helps alleviate anxiety DURING an anxious period. The relaxing effects of yoga and meditation are other methods of relieving anxiety. Sharing thoughts and feelings with a sympathetic friend or group is yet way to quiet anxiety.
Once the anxiety monster is out of the closet, wreaking havoc with your life, you may need more assistance. The methods used in the BEFORE and DURING stages can be applied in the AFTER stage along with efforts that offer greater support. At this stage, medication or seeking out a professional that you can talk with are sure-fire ways to get that monster out of your life…for good!