I have yet to meet anyone who is truly stress or worry free. On a personal level the day-to-day stressors of life can at times feel overwhelming. Globally, an awareness of the injustice and inadequacies in the world can be a real stress trigger for many, especially as as we learn more about changes in the environment and natural disasters. Some people possess the amazing gift of resiliency and are able to re-focusing on the positive despite experiencing harrowing life events and/or facing daily challenges such as chronic pain, poverty, and loss. Others, struggle with maintaining perspective when stressors accumulate to the point where free-floating or generalized anxiety attempts to rule their thoughts, mood, and behavior. It is important to recognize the difference between rational or helpful concern as opposed to generalized anxiety disorder. For example, being concerned that all the candles are blown out before going to sleep is helpful if it leads to checking and blowing the candles out once, but when re-occurring what if thoughts about the candles and the house burning down habitually disrupt sleep and create tension – this is problematic.
Anxiety can be such a joy stealer and invites those suffering to spend way too much time thinking about what could go wrong, as opposed to what is really happening and the potential for successful outcomes. You spend time with anyone in the later stages of their life who struggles with anxiety and they will tell you, “I wish I worried less and lived more”. Worrying about things we cannot control, often leads to more worrying and a loss of focus and energy on enjoying the here and now. Have you ever been walking or driving home on a beautiful, sunny day and spending so much time worrying that you don’t even feel the sun on your skin? Have you ever been sharing coffee with a friend or family member and spending the majority of time worrying about them judging you or whether you can pay your bills? For those of you who are parents, how many times has your worry for what might happen to your child agitated you to the point of yelling at them to be safe?
There are some wonderful self-help resources for recognizing and coping with generalized anxiety disorder such as The Relaxation and Stress Reduction Workbook (Martha Davis et al.) and Full Catastrophe Living (Jon Kabat-Zinn). To access a great web resource please refer to http://www.anxietybc.com. Additional web resources for children and teens experiencing anxiety are www.worrywisekids.org and www.teenmentalhealth.org
Sometimes it is the simplest interventions that can make the most difference when anxiety is getting the better of us, such as:
- Cutting down on caffeine, especially later in the day to avoid sleep disruption
- Respecting the need for sleep and avoid unnecessary late nights
- Getting fresh air and exercise even for 15 minutes to unwind and release tension in the mind and body. Anxiety often leads to muscle tension and headaches that can be treated with yoga, massage, acupuncture, naturopathic medicne and homeopathy, rather than ongoing masking with pain medication.
- Talking it out or journaling so that the irrational what if thoughts can be rationalized and put in their place
- Breathing deeply for 5-10 minutes and meditating or focusing on just breathing – not problems.
- Being mindful of tendencies to self-medicate and mask worries which in the long-run create more stress and worry (i.e. emotional eating, avoiding socializing, substance use)