Anxiety Decoded: When Stress and Worry Become “Normal”
Life is full of a myriad of emotions. From joy to frustration, and peace to anger, we all also experience an occasional sense of nervousness or worry. Normal times to feel this would be amidst a major life change (positive or negative), going on a first date, alongside a major commitment like a public speech or important meeting at work, or due to financial difficulties.
Some people experience mild worry or stress as activating - it motivates them to be more productive or efficient. However, at certain point - depicted by the stress response curve - stress starts to impact you negatively and affects how well you function as a whole.
This worry, sometimes experienced as tension or stress, activates your mind and body in various ways - temporary and mild physical (e.g., headache, stomach ache, fatigue), emotional (e.g, feeling worried, stressed), mental (e.g., difficulty concentrating) and life (e.g., shift in work-life balance, relationships, and self-care) changes.
When the short-term becomes longer lasting, occurring on more days than not, and affects your functioning in life, or the sense of worry begins to become a preoccupation, you may be experiencing a more chronic form of worry and stress known as anxiety.
Anxiety manifests in many ways but usually involves both the mind and body and looks different for each person. Similar to how worry and stress impacts you, there are physical, emotional, mental and life/behavioral changes that occur when you feel anxious, but they are usually longer-lasting, more severe and have a greater impact on your overall functioning in life.
- Mental - Difficulties concentrating or staying focused, forgetfulness, feeling preoccupied or unable to stop shift attention from anxiety-producing thoughts
- Emotional - Worry, irrational fears, self-consciousness, self-doubt, obsessive thoughts, perfectionism or learned helplessness
- Physical - Muscle tension/aches, digestive problems (constipation, vomiting, pain, discomfort or diarrhea), headaches, problems falling or staying asleep, panic attacks
- Life/Behavioral - Isolation or withdrawal from normal activities or relationships, loss of pleasure or motivation, lose track of items easily, or compulsive behaviors to decrease the anxiety
Anxiety crosses the line into what is called a disorder when it affects areas of life such as relationships, work, parenting, friendships, health, social obligations, and more. Simple adjustments in daily routine and perspective can help shift anxiety tremendously and get life back on track.
Natural Anxiety Therapies
While there are a spectrum of prescription medications available to help ease anxiety, oftentimes, a consistent lifestyle change can do wonders for someone suffering from feelings of anxiety and have lasting effects. Here are a few of our favorites:
- Building Support- Connecting with a therapist who can help you understand your anxiety and help you take steps towards managing, finding a support group, and reaching out to friends and family.
- Calming Rituals - A nightly routine of chamomile tea, a warm bath, an adult coloring book, and/or a fiction novel can do wonders for worry.
- Herbs and Vitamins - Vitamins and herbs have been used for thousands of years to calm the senses and bring about a feeling of peace. Found in tea, tincture, and capsule form. Please consult with your physician, nutritionist, or pharmacist about specific herbs or vitamins that may help you.
- Exercise - Perhaps the most natural stress-reducing activity is elevating the heart rate, even for as little as 5 minutes. Try some yoga (even a few poses in your living room will do), a brisk walk or light stretching to ease the mind. As always, consult with your physician about appropriate exercise for you.
- Breathing - Long, slow, intentional breaths can do wonders for the feeling of anxiety, panic and self-doubt. Counting to six as you inhale and exhale through your nose can help slow thoughts down. It’s nearly physically impossible be feel both anxious and breathe deep at the same time.
- Lavender - Used by the French in baths, tea, and aromatics for centuries, lavender has a natural calming power.
- Nutrition - Practicing mindful eating can also be helpful at managing stress and anxiety effectively. Limiting alcohol and caffeine (including decaf and foods with caffeine) consumption is also very helpful.
- Eat Regularly - It sounds obvious, but low-blood-sugar can contribute dramatically to the feeling of anxiety. Eat protein-rich whole foods between balanced meals (e.g., almonds, yogurt, cheese).
The Power of Presence
Perhaps the most powerful therapy for anxiety can be learned from modern-day philosopher Eckhart Tolle. Author of “The Power of Now,” this writer reminds us to “Realize deeply that the present moment is all you have. Make the NOW the primary focus of your life.”
Anxiety is often provoked by living in the past or future. When we stay present in our bodies, in our experiences, and in the NOW, there is no space for worry. Those feelings can only be experienced when a person thinks about the time to come, or the time passed. It’s by incorporating breathing, the occasional yoga, and a shift in mindset that we can adapt this profound practice into daily life and “be here now”.
If a consistent sense of overwhelm or anxiety plagues your happiness or hinders your sense of well being, please contact Dr. Hick and schedule a free consultation to discuss strategies to reclaim your life and be free of anxiety.
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