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.
Anxious All the Time?
If you find yourself worrying too much in your everyday life, you may also want to see a doctor. You may have a condition called Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), which is characterized by excessive worry and anxiety that are difficult to control and that cause significant distress and impairment.
Doctors diagnose GAD by assessing if you’ve had three (or more) of the following symptoms for the last six months:
- Restlessness (or feeling keyed up or on edge)
- Being easily fatigued
- Difficulty concentrating (or feeling your mind going blank without warning)
- Muscle tension
- Sleep disturbances (difficulty falling or staying asleep or restless unsatisfying sleep)
Another worrisome condition is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), which is similar to GAD, but is directly connected to a stressful life event, like being on a battleground or experiencing a natural disaster.
The diagnosis criteria for PTSD is very specific but includes:
- Recurrent thoughts or intrusive distressing recollections of the traumatic events (this may manifest in dreams, everyday experiences, or in the form of hallucinations or flashbacks)
- Efforts to avoid thoughts, feelings or conversations associated with the traumatic event
- Amnesia or inability to recall important aspects of the traumatic event
- Feelings of detachment or estrangement from others
- Restricted range of affect or inability to have loving feelings or other emotions
- A general sense of a foreshortened future (not expecting to have a normal lifespan, marriage or career)
GAD and PTSD are concerning because they can lead to other psychiatric problems like panic disorder, major depression, or alcohol abuse. If you are concerned that your worries and anxiety may be reaching this dangerous level, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider or a local psychiatrist to discuss possible therapies. These could include anxiety-reducing medication, talk therapy, or home remedies, like special relaxing herbal teas.
Try some of these other tips to help lower your angst level for a more sound life:
- Get More Sleep: One common complaint of distress is lack of sleep. It can put your brain on edge, which forces it to go into survival mode. If you have trouble falling asleep, try these natural remedies to supercharge your sleep. Do you know all about the health benefits of sleep? Test yourself with this quiz.
- Meditation: The well-documented effects of regular meditation include lowered blood pressure, less heart disease, decreased chronic pain, and increased mental clarity. Try Dr. Mao’s approach to meditation in 3 easy steps.
- Yoga: Dr. Oz recommends doing the 7-minute sun salutation yoga exercise every day. Not only does it keep him in shape, it keeps his mind focused and clear. Try beginner yoga poses with Dr. Oz.
- Teas and Other Calming Foods: Some foods and teas have natural components that help soothe the brain. You can access a comprehensive list in both our Worry Cure and Diet Plan and Best Teas for Stress and Anxiety.