What Causes Stress and Anxiety?
Stress and anxiety are nothing new. Since long before the creation of the wheel, stress has played a big part in how we approach and react to the world around us. The fight or flight stress that kept our ancestors from being dinner, isn’t so different from the feeling of work stress that, today, pays for dinner. Stress and anxiety are how our brains and bodies respond to the demands of life, whether that demand is escaping a life-threatening situation or meeting a challenging deadline.
The demands responsible for stress have certainly evolved over time—most people today are not concerned with being the main course. However, the body’s response to stress really hasn’t. When we encounter a situation that we feel is threatening or overly demanding, our body responds by flooding our systems with hormones. These hormones, adrenaline and cortisol being two of the more commonly known, heighten our senses and prepare our muscles to react. This is why raised blood pressure, increased heartrate, and shortness of breath are often associated with stressful situations.
Is Stress and Anxiety Ever Helpful?
It depends how you handle it. Everyone will encounter stress at various points during their day. Stress can be useful when experienced in moderation and handled well emotionally. It helps to motivate and keep us on task. It also helps keep us safe in dangerous situations. However, frequent or lingering stress can take a toll on your overall well-being if not addressed properly.
What’s the Best Way to Handle Stress & Anxiety?
Everyone handles stress and anxiety differently. While some people can quickly recover from a stressful incident with little to no repercussion, others may find it difficult to cope with the anxious feelings as effectively and will continue to struggle after the initial stress dissipates. The best way to handle stress and anxiety will require some personal introspection, and trial and error of various suggestions mentioned on this website, to determine the best way for you specifically.
Taking breaks to relax, taking care of yourself, and reminding yourself what’s truly important will make a significant difference in how you feel. Keeping a balance in your life is vital, as your mind and body need time to recover from stress and anxiety. When the body is exposed to constant stress, it remains in a state of arousal and continues to release stress hormones. The consistent levels of hormones can affect sleep, cause irritability and restlessness, suppress the immune system, and led to many other negative effects on your daily life. These anxious feelings hinder your ability to feel your best and impact your overall mental and physical well-being. The American Psychological Association has been consistently researching stress levels throughout the United States and found that “a sizeable proportion [of people] do not feel they are doing enough to manage their stress” despite reporting “that stress has a negative impact on their mental and physical health.”
Even though you understand stress and anxiety have negative effects on your daily life, it can be challenging to take that first step in improving the ways you cope with these feelings. Many of us have become so accustomed to dealing with stress and anxiety in a negative way, that we do not realize how much our quality of life can improve with simple changes.
Given that the body can find it difficult to differentiate between the stress of a morning job interview and a life-threatening car crash, it shouldn’t be a surprise that classifying various forms of stress can be a challenge. Unfortunately, the pressure of today’s society has normalized stress as a mere function of day-to-day life. As a result, being able to identify what triggers stress and understanding how to deal with it has become a critical aspect of mental and physical wellness.
Stress comes in many different forms and durations. Stressful situations are bound to arise and we can’t always control when or how they do. What we can do is anticipate how a stressful situation will affect us and develop strategies to manage our anxious feelings as they develop.
Routine stress is one of the most common and simple stresses people deal with on a day-to-day basis. We rely on our daily routines to navigate our busy lives. Simple mishaps like waking up late, or hitting traffic on the way home from work, can force us to abandon what feels normal and predictable. This can be very stressful for many people, but is typically short-lived. Preparation and keeping things in perspective are key to minimizing routine stress.
Some stresses we can see coming and prepare for, such as, a large project at work or the purchase of a new home. The stress created by these situations can last for a few weeks, or even months, but is expected to end when the task ends. Prioritizing and simplifying our schedules during these times are ways to prepare for this type of stress.
Sudden changes, such as losing a job, or a sudden death or illness in the family, can be more difficult to cope with because the consequences on our lives are unexpected, longer-term, and often require painful transitions. For many of us, this is the most difficult type of stress to manage. Monitoring changes in our sleep, mood, and appetite, and being open to the help of our loved ones and professional resources is very important when managing the long-term stress associated with a sudden change such as this.
When Stress Persists
Habitual stress can develop into a daily routine for many of us. When you are continuously exposed to stressful situations (or what you perceive to be stressful situations), you can become accustomed to the stress, and ironically, experience distress in the absence of stress. The thought of any life changes, whether negative or positive, will typically come with initial stress and anxiety as you venture in to unfamiliar territory. Anxiety is the nervousness or agitation that remains after the situation which was causing the stress has been removed.
Intermittent anxiety can be elusive. Most people find it difficult to understand or explain what they are feeling, or more so, why they are feeling such strong emotions. It’s important to always keep things in perspective and realize that many of the anxious feelings we experience are often associated with an irrational fear of something happening, or worrying about things out of our control. Furthermore, we typically exaggerate the worst-case scenarios in our mind.
How can we start moving away from this negative pattern? Start working on ways to improve your mood. Adjusting your mindset can drastically change your reaction, both mentally and physically, to all forms of negativity.
Signs of Anxiety
Signs of anxiety come in many forms, ranging from a slight internal nagging to a feeling of being overwhelmed. Without good coping mechanisms for anxiety, even minimal stress can lead to issues with personal relationships, work performance, and an overall lack of interest in things once enjoyed. It’s important to recognize the various signs of anxiety that specifically apply to you and learn what you can do to improve the way you deal with these triggers.
It is important for a person experiencing anxiety and stress to monitor changes in behavior, moods, and physical wellness. Some common feelings that accompany anxiety are restlessness, irritability, racing thoughts, excessive worrying, difficulty concentrating, and occasional sleeplessness.
If you are ever unsure whether you are experiencing regular intermittent anxiety or an actual anxiety disorder or symptoms of a generalized anxiety disorder please always err on the side of caution and see a medical professional. You do not want to follow information or advice online when dealing with an actual medical condition.
Managing Stress and Anxiety
Learning to manage stress and anxiety is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves. Start by identify what triggers stress and anxiety, and find activities that prevent and reduce the side-effects, such as exercise and meditation. Never hesitate to ask for help or advice from friends, families, or professional resources, such as your family doctor or counselor. Research supplements designed to help reduce stress and relieve feelings of intermittent anxiety. Most importantly, don’t be afraid to experiment and take the time to find what works best for you!