Stress and angst is all around us. We get anxious when we’re stuck in a traffic jam; in long lines at the supermarket; when we disagree with our partner about something; or when your daughter plays her first soccer game. Most people experience anxiety and its associated feelings of trepidation, fear, nervousness, “jitters” or panic. However, if we don’t take measures to relieve our anxiety every once in awhile, it can build up and eventually shorten our lives.
Multiple studies show how stress and anxiety can affect your physical health. Those with consistent anxiety have higher levels of depression. New research also suggests that chronic pain syndromes, like fibromyalgia, are associated with psychosocial stress. Another recent study associated psychological distress with a shortened lifespan.
Some therapists consider anxiety to be a form of psychological preparation or anticipation. Some people go through life in a constant state of low-anxiety, while others don’t. The reasons for these differences are not clear. In the brain, many pathways have been linked to anxiety, including the amygdala, one of the components of the limbic system, which is connected to your emotions. Cortisol, the stress hormone, also increases blood sugar and suppresses the immune system.
Anxiety and Loss
Elevated levels of stress and anxiety are normal during stressful life events, which include the loss of a loved one. Over two and a half million deaths occur in the United States every year. Doctors and therapists call this stressful and challenging period bereavement. Most individuals (80-90%) are able to cope with the loss of a loved one without professional intervention. It’s normal for a person to experience feelings of numbness, intense feelings of sadness, anxiety for the future, or feelings of emptiness. It’s also normal for some to exhibit “searching behaviors,” including hallucinations of the deceased person’s presence, which may make one fear that he or she is going “crazy,” but these are normal experiences.
Sometimes, however, recovering from the loss of a loved one can overwhelm you to the point where you may need to see a professional for guidance – especially if the grieving process lasts longer than six months. Also, if one’s mourning period accelerates to the point where the mourner starts to consider not going on with life, a professional should be contacted right away.