Americans are suffering from stress, depression, and anxiety now more than ever. It is estimated that 46.6 million adults are managing some form of stress with many unable to afford professional healthcare. Mental illness and suicide are becoming more prevalent each day and while some anxiety in life is normal, chronic stress can have a huge impact on physical health, sleep health, and personal relationships.
The good news is that there are many holistic approaches to managing the typical stresses of life. However, when it comes to dealing with serious mental illness such as Schizophrenia, Bipolar, Obsessive Compulsive Disorder, and Post Traumatic Stress Disorder, professional medical treatment is advised.
Stress is a biological reaction to an emotional or mental fear, initiated by a fight or flight response and can be caused by internal and external factors
How Is Stress Defined?
Stress is a biological reaction to an emotional or mental fear, initiated by a fight or flight response and can be caused by internal and external factors. Heartrate is accelerated, lungs jump into action causing labored breathing, digestion comes to a standstill causing gastric discomfort, loss of hearing, tunnel vision, shaking, all accompanied by an overwhelming feeling of dread. A panic attack makes the sufferer feel as if they are dying and the physical reaction in the body is utterly exhausting every muscle, fiber, nerves, and mental state is depleted.
There are various types of anxiety disorders but they each have the same underlying symptom of excessive fear;
Generalized Anxiety Disorder: chronic exaggerated worry about everyday life
Social Anxiety Disorder: intense fear of social situations
Panic Disorder: chronic panic attacks that feel like a heart attack
Phobias: avoidance of certain things or everyday situations
Certain medical conditions can initiate anxiety such as; irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and mismanaged diabetes
What Causes Stress?
Certain medical conditions can initiate anxiety such as; irritable bowel syndrome, high blood pressure, and mismanaged diabetes. External factors such as financial troubles, work issues, relationship worries, grief, loss, feelings of guilt, low self-esteem, and trauma can have a huge impact on anxiety levels.
Although anxious feelings and stress can be overwhelming, your natural response to danger is the fight or flight response. This is what keeps you alive; when you pause for a moment at a green light and a car speeds through the junction, when you call a cab instead of walking home in the dark, when you de-escalate an argument. Your mind evaluates the danger and responds accordingly to keep you safe.
This natural reaction, while beneficial to us, can easily get out of control and cause anxiety issues, panic attacks, insomnia, and make you more susceptible to illness.
What Are the Physical Symptoms of Stress?
- Increased blood pressure
- Heavy or labored breathing
- Digestive system slows
- Muscles become tense
- Immune response decreases
- Chest pain
- Frequent illness, colds, and infections
- Stomach upset
- Loss of libido
What Are the Emotional Symptoms of Stress?
- Avoiding loved ones
- Avoiding social activities
- Decreased energy
- Low self-esteem
- Inability to relax
What Are the Behavioral Symptoms of Stress?
- Avoiding responsibilities, work, not showering, procrastinating
- Extreme changes in appetite eating too much or not at all
- Increased intake of alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes
- Pulling hair out
- Incessant scratching or nail-biting
The long term consequences of chronic stress are mental health problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, skin problems, and gastric issues
The long term consequences of chronic stress are mental health problems, heart disease, high blood pressure, heart attack, stroke, obesity, sexual dysfunction, hair loss, skin problems, and gastric issues. Stress and anxiety are your body analyzing a perceived threat and in many instances could be overreacting, which is why finding holistic ways to managing stress is crucial to your mental, physical, and sleep health.
How to Reduce Stress and Anxiety
Remember Everything that Has a Beginning Has an Ending
If you’re having a bad day at work or school, arguing with a loved one, angry at the gridlock causing you to be late just remember it began so it will end. That goes for panic attacks too, recognizing your panic attack and accepting it when it starts is half the battle. Learn to ride the wave and let it pass.
You’re in Control
While you can’t control the weather or that impending deadline, you can control how you react to situations that fuel anxiety. Calming breathing techniques are not just for yogis, inhaling deeply through your nose, pausing for the count of 2, and exhaling through your mouth 5 times in a row has an immediate calming effect.
Positive mantras are another technique to quieten that negative internal dialogue. Saying quietly to yourself or in your mind, ‘I’m going to ace this test’, or ‘I am calm, collected, and full of energy’, or any positive statement quickly switches your mindset and puts your attention on a positive course. Bonus good vibes for saying your mantra in the mirror, there’s something about looking into your own eyes as you recite your positive statements, it seems to have extra benefits.
You Are What You Eat
Your physical health and emotional wellbeing are impacted by your diet. A lack of vitamins, especially a lack of b vitamins can increase anxiety. Your body needs nourishment from healthy food to operate fully, you wouldn’t attempt to drive your car with a flat tire! Drinking fresh clean water every day is also vital to keep anxiety at bay, if you’re having a sudden anxiety attack, sip water for an instant calm down.
Physical activity not only keeps you healthy but reduces stress and helps you sleep better. Choose an exercise that makes you feel happy, that can be anything from a gently walk in the park, swimming lengths at your local pool, lifting weights in the gym, or Hoola hooping. As long as it puts a smile on your face and gets your body moving. Start small and don’t forget to stretch!
Nighttime Rituals to Ease Stress and Sleep Better
- Remove devices from your bedroom and shut down 1 hour before bed
- Enjoy a hot bath or shower and get into clean cozy pajamas
- Ensure dim lighting in your bedroom unless you’re reading
- Light some nice smelling candles
- Put a hot water bottle under your blanket for extra coziness
- Write a night time gratitude journal of what you’re grateful for
- If negative invasive thoughts enter your mind as you are falling asleep, switch gears and think of something you’re grateful for and meditate on it
- Remember, you’re only human and it’s okay to have a bad day, forgive yourself for any transgressions and do your best to learn from your mistakes
Stress and anxiety are no fun but they are natural processes that occur in the body to protect you.
Controlling these natural urges may seem impossible, especially when you enter panic mode. However, key is to focus on what you can control, your breathing, your posture, water, and food intake, enjoying gentle exercise, and above all getting some fresh air every day.
Switch focus on a recent positive experience, be it an encounter with a friendly dog at the park, making all the green lights on the way to work, or simply being grateful for the wildflowers growing in your neighborhood.
Take a deep breath and enter gratitude, it’s always there for you.