With all of the disturbing news flooding the headlines lately, a lot of folks have experienced a significant increase in anxiety. Many feel overwhelmed and don’t know what to do. Here are the basics to keep in mind if your anxiety level is too high and you’re having trouble coping with all of the non-stop crises reported in the media:
1. Lower your exposure to external sources of stress. Effective stress management starts with understanding the level and sources of one’s stress. The challenges posed by our jobs and the demands of family are difficult to control but limiting the amount of exposure to disturbing content on things like television and the internet is controllable. Likewise, being aware of the need for and following through with self-care is crucial. Many of the most anxious people are also the poorest at attending to their own physical and emotional needs.
2. Increase physical activity. Exercise and intentional movement which raises one’s heartrate into the “aerobic zone” (220 – your age X .65) and is sustained for 20 minutes stimulates the release of endorphins in the brain. These neuro-chemicals, in addition to making you feel great, also help to lower stress hormones (like Cortisol) levels .
3. Verbalize and Ventilate. Talk to friends or write in a journal. Putting anxious feelings into words actually lowers the intensity of the worry we experience. Writing and talking about what bothers us changes the location of brain activity from the right to the left lobe. The transfer of activity into the part of our brain in which we can use words and concepts allows us to gain perspective and put our concerns into a more realistic and less threatening view. These techniques are so effective that they are employed by the United States military with soldiers who experience deployment-related fatigue and PTSD. Likewise, being stressed is an especially good time to review one’s support-network and let folks know that you are having a rough time. Being able to share and to receive support is an important aspect of an effective anxiety lowering strategy.
4. Connect with your faith tradition and spiritual resources. The world’s great religions all provide comfort for those who are hurting or who are in despair. Frightening headlines can do more than scare us. They can actually get us to question the nature and destiny of the universe and the very meaning of life. The teachings of the great religions affirm the calming belief and faith that there is ultimate meaning and goodness which transcends the immediate and transient experience of turmoil and danger. Remembering and reconnecting with the sacred texts of your faith tradition can lift one’s spirit and restore a reassuring and anxiety-lowering outlook.
5. Talk to a Counselor. Getting some counseling can help you discover how prior emotional wounds and dysfunctional patterns can make dealing with current stressors more difficult. Raising your awareness of these obstacles can allow you to avoid and get beyond the pain. Being more fully conscious of how the various moments in your life connect and form a meaningful pattern reveals resources and options that were previously hidden.
6. Talk to your Doctor. If the above tips don’t do the job, don’t hesitate talking to your doctor about your stress and possible anxiolytic medication that could help. It is important to know that elevated levels of stress hormones which are caused by anxiety can have many negative physiological and emotional consequences. It is important to address and treat these threats before they become a serious disorder.
Although dealing with stress is not easy, with a little effort and practice, it does get easier.
Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC 8 15 2017