Managing Stress and Anxiety
Edward Dwyer, MS
Stress and anxiety are part of everyday life whether experienced as a honking horn or traffic jam deadlines at work the death of a spouse divorce or a long-term illness. There is no immunity from the stressful events we all encounter in varying degrees throughout our lives.
The full range of stressors can be merely temporary irritants found in typical daily situations or more prolonged and life altering. These more serious stressors may become physically debilitating or emotionally crippling and can lead to unhealthy behaviors. Regardless of the seriousness however, the ability to deal with stress and anxiety is a part of maintaining good health, happiness and a positive outlook on life.
The role of stress can actually be quite helpful in meeting challenges. Stress is very simply the body's way of dealing with threats from the environment. Early humans were faced with basic challenges to their survival. The foundation of meeting threats can be seen as "fight or flight" response in which the body prepares to face a hungry lion or cross a raging river. The heart beats faster rushing blood away from the brain to large muscle groups, breathing rate increases and becomes shallow, and the pupils dilate to scan the horizon. Fortunately, challenges to our survival have faded with the rise of civilization however even in modern times the "fight or flight" response has remained a part of a person's adaptive function.
A certain amount of stress, of being "keyed up", can actually work to a person's advantage by raising levels of alertness and focus; for example Tom Brady before a big game or Andrea Bocelli preparing for a concert.
Unfortunately, stress and anxiety become unhealthy when the body remains in a state of tension. The unpleasant butterflies in the stomach become tension headaches, hypertension, problems sleeping and concentrating, and can also manifest as panic attacks and phobias. Life can become an emotional roller coaster of sadness, difficulty completing daily tasks, and can lead to relationship and sexual problems. The unhealthy lifestyle brought on by anxiety ultimately robs a person of joyful living and leads to depression, guilt and unhappiness. Eventually, the body also breaks down as the long-term effects of stress and anxiety damage the heart and digestive systems.
So what can be done to battle stress and anxiety? A proactive approach to dealing with life's challenges range from healthy living practices that include eating right, exercise, and awareness strategies, as well as, taking time to enjoy oneself.
Several popular and effective strategies such as meditation, tai chi and yoga can help develop focus while reducing the daily levels of tension or arousal. Mindfulnessor the act of accepting the frustrations of modern life by recognizing both internal and environmental experiences in turn reducing worry, and taking a fresh perspective to familiar experiences, has also risen in popularity and shown great benefits to practitioners.
Other healthy practices include diet and exercise. By working with a physician to develop healthy habits, many people have been able to increase their ability to manage stress through exercise while reducing their own contributions to stress simply by monitoring the foods and drinks they consume.
Another effective way to manage stress is scheduling time for pleasurable activities such as a day at the beach or a dinner at a favorite restaurant. The daily demands of living can often leave little time to enjoy the good things in life. Taking time to complete activities that are enjoyable can lower stress and brings the fun of living back to a person's life.
The variety of different approaches to stress reduction offers a real advantage to finding strategies that best fit a person's individual personality and lifestyle. Starting a serious campaign of de-stressing can be as easy as taking five minutes a day sitting quietly behind the wheel at the end of the workday before starting your car for the drive home or taking an evening walk. The benefits of learning and practicing these strategies can lead to a healthier and happier you.
Edward Dwyer, MS is a Resident in Professional Counseling in the Department of Neuropsychology and Behavioral Medicine at the Riverside Rehabilitation Institute in Newport News. He is teaching a class entitled "Relax: Anxiety and Stress Management" as part of the Williamsburg Area Learning Tree (WALT) beginning March 5, 2015. If you are interested in registering for class or to contact Ed, he can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or through the WALT website.