Dealing with stress

Many people experience periods of anxiety when they are under stress, or going through major changes, such as moving home or jobs. For the majority of us, anxiety plays out by worrying about what may or may not happen, feeling tense, irritable and reactive. It can cause you to feel tired and have difficulty relaxing and/or sleeping as you struggle to deal with challenging life experiences.

Many people find that these symptoms of anxiety are transient and disappear after a few days or weeks as worries subside, and life gets back to relative normality. The old adage applies here: ‘A problem solved is a problem halved’.

However, for others these symptoms of anxiety do not disappear after the stressful event has passed. They may continue to feel anxious and worried, sometimes without any specific event triggering the feelings.

If these worries, fears about the future, and physical symptoms, such as fast heart rate and sweating, become severe enough to interfere with your ability to cope with daily life, you may be suffering from anxiety. For whatever level of anxiety you may suffer, it is possible to manage the symptoms. Here are some techniques that can help:

Understand the nature of anxiety

We all experience anxiety; it is a natural human state and a vital part of our lives. Anxiety helps us to identify and respond to danger in either ‘fight or flight’ mode. It can also motivate us to deal with difficult challenges.

However, there is another side to anxiety, a side which, if not addressed, can cause significant emotional distress and unmanageability. An anxiety disorder can lead to a number of health risks and it’s important to understand its nature in terms of severity, triggers and behaviour. Anxiety can be exhibited through a variety of behaviours including panic attacks, phobias and obsessional behaviours. Anxiety at this level can have a truly debilitating impact.

Gain awareness of underlying factors of anxiety

Some life experiences that are stressful or traumatic, such as family break-ups, ongoing bullying or conflict at home, school or work, abuse, or traumatic events, such as car accidents, can make people more susceptible to anxiety. These extra stress factors may be more than a person’s normal coping mechanisms can deal with comfortably, and may leave them vulnerable to experiencing anxiety.

Anxiety disorders, such as panic, phobias and obsessive behaviours, may be triggered by a range of specific external or internal stimuli. These could include traumatic memories, specific objects, particular situations, physical locations, or a persistent general worry that something bad will happen in the future.

If the anxiety is triggering to the point of a panic attack, part of the process of understanding our anxiety involves being curious about our developmental history, and also learning to regulate our physical state.

Set healthy limits for communicating and developing relationships

The lives of those with the most severe forms of anxiety can become completely dominated by their condition, and often their anxiety can impair their ability to sustain healthy personal relationships. People with anxiety may start withdrawing, they may stop attending social functions, they may become snappy, irritable and irrational, or they may worry unnecessarily that something negative is going to happen.

The first step is to start to identify our ‘reality’, in particular some of our thoughts and feelings. This can be very difficult when anxiety has been present for a while as we generally feel overwhelmed by our emotions. Identifying them can be hard. However, being able to share in our relationship that we are dealing with anxiety and having an ally you trust can be very helpful.

Learn relaxation techniques to calm your stressed nervous system

Anxiety and depression are among the most common conditions cited by those seeking treatment with complementary and alternative therapies, such as exercise, meditation, tai chi, qigong, and yoga. Several studies have demonstrated therapeutic effectiveness superior to no-activity controls and comparable with established depression and anxiety treatments.

Use distress tolerance and mindfulness skills

Mindfulness focuses on changing the relationship between the anxious person and their thoughts, rather than changing the thoughts themselves. We become a witness to our process, we become aware.

Meditation can help people break out of the ‘automatic pilot mode’ that leads to negative ways of thinking and responding. Carl Jung stated that unless we make “the unconscious, conscious, it will direct our life, and we call it fate.” With the help of therapy, we can interrupt this unconsciousness, truly becoming aware of the way our environment triggers our physiology, and thoughts and the emotional states it then triggers.

Anxiety can be debilitating condition and can impact many facets of your life. Whether it’s brought on by stressful situations or you have a genetic predisposition to anxiety, the effects of anxiety can be managed. The first step of acknowledging there may be a problem is often the darkness before the dawn.

By Steve Stokes, Program Manager at South Pacific Private, Australia’s leading mental health and addiction treatment facility offering inpatient and day programs to treat anxiety disorders, mood disorders, post-traumatic stress disorder, behavioural addictions, alcohol addiction and substance abuse.