“It is unnecessary to do things in a state of anxiety or anguish. That is not the way to be aligned with life.” ~ Eckhart Tolle
Most Adults Under 65 Suffer From Anxiety
Over 90% of Americans believe there is a mental health crisis in the U.S. The US Preventive Task Force recently recommended screening all adults under age 65 for anxiety. The consensus appears to be that everyone is experiencing stress and anxiety at an unprecedented level. Even this news may cause stress and anxiety in someone that might have previously thought they were the exception to this phenomenon. The good news is that for all the many causes of stress and anxiety, there are numerous coping mechanisms and strategies people can employ to help temper their stress and anxiety. It is important to note that mental health diagnoses can relate to stress and anxiety, even general forms of these symptoms. This article is not intended to address severe psychological or psychiatric conditions.
What is Causing so Much Stress and Anxiety?
There are as many causes of stress and anxiety as there are people on Earth. With a subject as broad as this, it isn’t easy to pinpoint the exact cause of these conditions. The war in Ukraine, a never-ending news cycle that generates mostly doomsday headlines, COVID-19, hurricanes and famines, and wildfires are all constant sources of stress in our lives. A few common causes of stress might be easier to measure or identify, which can help you choose how to develop healthy coping mechanisms.
Three Areas to Pay Attention to
- Cortisol Cortisol is a hormone each human body produces to deal with the natural stressors of life. It is often referred to as the stress hormone, and its levels can be measured with testing by a medical professional. If you think of the production of hormones on a bell curve, there seems to be a normal range that is the sweet spot for most people. There are people on both sides of the curve - some producing too much of any given hormone and some too little. If someone is making too much cortisol, it can negatively affect the body and brain chemistry. One of those harmful effects is anxiety.
- Breathing Breathing is a fundamental action all humans perform to exist. Not all humans breathe the same, however. While many people have experienced shortness of breath when feeling anxious or stressed, they often assume that restricted breathing is a symptom of anxiety. In his book, Breath, James Nestor writes extensively about the concept of breathing. He says that poor breathing techniques (developed throughout a lifetime), along with physical ailments and medical conditions, are often the cause of excess stress and anxiety. This, in return, leads to episodes of anxiety attacks that perpetuate poor breathing. It is a vicious cycle that impacts millions of people.
- Trauma Trauma is another deeply complex subject, but one that can have significant influences on stress, anxiety, and a lack of skills typically effective at combating these issues. In his book, The Body Keeps the Score, Bessel Van Der Kolk details insightful research on the effects of trauma on the body and mind. When trauma is not properly addressed, it can lead to many physical and mental health conditions.
Three Strategies for Coping with Stress and Anxiety
- General Practician Doctor A general practician doctor would be the best place to start. Getting a clear picture of your immune, cognitive, cardiovascular, and hormonal functioning is essential. It can be helpful to your physician to know how you are feeling and if there are specific issues, they might be able to address them. If you suspect that your anxiety and stress are higher than expected or above average for you, let your doctor know and ask about testing. It is essential to ask for help. The more informed you are about what is happening with your body and mind, the more capable you will be of combating the daily stressors for everyone.
- Learn to Control Your Breath Learn to control your breath. Our breathing affects numerous parts of our functionality, and many of those areas are deeply connected. Intentional, controlled breathing can lower your heart rate and increase your heart rate variability. When these two functions coincide, it can help regulate the autonomic nervous system, home to the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. The sympathetic system is commonly associated with fight, flight, or freeze behaviors. If you are experiencing too much stress and anxiety, you may also be experiencing a feeling of panic or helplessness. Training in breathwork can help you break away from that cycle and into the parasympathetic state, represented by a calming sensation, better focus, and sharper awareness of how to deal with difficult circumstances. It may seem strange to read that you should practice breathing, but learning to control your breath under challenging situations is a skill and takes repetition to master.
- If Suffering from Trauma, Seek Guidance from a Professional If you are aware of trauma in your own life (or are affected by the trauma in those close to you), please seek guidance from a professional. The stigma around mental health still has teeth, but they are not as sharp and jagged as they once were. There are also numerous apps and online options to find a professional to work with if you cannot find someone online or in person. The emotional and physical benefits of sharing our struggles with a trained therapist are abundant and backed by robust clinical data.
You Are Not Alone
Stress and anxiety have been a fixture of life on this planet for as long as humans have existed. Hoping for stress and anxiety to go away feels like a foolish wish. Developing a greater understanding of your current abilities to manage stress and anxiety is a significant first step to feeling more confident that you will survive and thrive even in the most challenging times. A good second step is to seek guidance from professionals to add more tools to your bag of coping skills. You may find that your development can help you thrive, and possibly, you can help others find better health despite the stress and anxiety that seems ever present.