While rushing to the parent-teacher conference from work, Lisa remembered she forgot to tell her husband she will be late. In the evening, she should start working on the report due at the end of the week, and before that, she must decide on the birthday present for her mother-in-law. Did she get her flowers last year? Lisa wondered whether her life had been reduced to ticking off various tasks.
Does this still fall under the category of stress?
In everyday life, stress and anxiety are often used to describe the same feeling. Although there is an overlap between the two, they have very different origins. Biologically, stress is the natural response of our bodies when facing danger. It can improve our ability to respond to a potentially hazardous or challenging situation.
When you feel stressed, it is usually because of a known cause – you may be catching a deadline for an important document or your car died in the middle of a busy street. But when this safety mechanism triggers without a known cause, or when your reaction to stress is exaggerated and prolonged, we can talk about anxiety or anxiety disorders.
One out of three people will experience anxiety disorder at some time in their lives.
Even though her anxiety had progressed to a level where it had begun to interfere with her daily activities, Lisa chose not to disclose her feelings of helplessness to her close ones for a long time. She noticed that she could no longer relax during the afternoons when she was playing with her children, which used to be her favourite pastime. Several times a day, she would experience dizzy spells and heart palpitations. She would worry constantly, even though she had no reason to.
Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It is the responsible thing to do, as the chances of getting well are better when anxiety is addressed early.
WHAT HAPPENS IN THE BRAIN?
Our reactions to stress are automatic and innate. During evolution, fear and panic triggered in the brains of our ancestors meant they had a better chance of surviving.
The amygdala, an area in the brain that contributes to emotional processing, plays and important role in the fight or flight response. In anxious people, the amygdala is more susceptible to environmental stimuli, to which it responds with an intensive stress reaction and finally causes the connections in the brain responsible for reasoning to shut down.
GOOD NEWS: YOU CAN DO A LOT YOURSELF!
We can ‘train’ our brain to redirect their response to stressful stimuli that can trigger anxiety. An example of this is when we realise that the easiest way to complete our daily tasks is to tackle them one by one according to their priority. To do this, we must encourage the rational part of our brain to prevail over the emotional part and ‘tame’ any feelings of fear and anxiety we may be experiencing.
Be aware of your feelings.
When you start to feel afraid, uncomfortable or tense, stop what you are doing and focus on your breathing. Take deep and even breaths in and then out. This will help you regain your calm and relax any tension in your body.
Keep a positive attitude.
Even if you haven’t reached your goal yet, feel proud about your progress. Fostering a positive attitude will lead to success.
Talk about your problems.
Talking openly with your close ones can help you identify the cause of your stress. You can then face the situation more efficiently.
Take your time.
When you plan your day, make sure to make time for some relaxation and socialising. Think about what makes you happy and leave the things that do nothing to contribute to your well-being out of your schedule.
Limit your caffeine and alcohol intake.
Caffeine and alcohol can increase your stress. Choose water and natural fruit juices instead.
Add some colour to your meals.
A healthy and balanced diet with a lot of fruit and vegetables can help maintain your immune system, which supports your health when you are under stress.
Have a good refreshing sleep.
By getting seven hours or more of sleep per night, you can improve your concentration, memory and productivity, and boost your body’s natural defences.
Exercise every day.
Stay physically active. Outdoor activities improve your mental and physical health.
WHAT IF I FEEL THERE IS NOTHING I CAN DO?
Anxiety can be treated with effective and safe antidepressants. Lisa decided to help herself and her family. She chose a combination of psychotherapy and medicinal products recommended by her doctor. After what seemed like a really long time, she now feels as though she has regained a firm grasp on her life.
It is difficult to avoid everyday stress. By taking the time to relax and maintaining a healthy lifestyle, you can greatly contribute to your mental and physical well-being.
- Dernovšek MZ, Gorenc M, Jeriček H. Ko te strese stres : kako prepoznati in zdraviti stresne, anksiozne in depresivne motnje Ljubljana: Inštitut za varovanje zdravja Republike Slovenije, 2006
- Dernovšek MZ, Valič M, Konec Juričič N. Obvladajmo anksioznost : priročnik z delovnimi listi za vodje delavnic in predavatelje. Ljubljana: Društvo za pomoč osebam z depresijo in anksioznimi motnjami, 2011
- APA. What’s the difference between stress and anxiety? [internet]. 2020. American Psychological Association 2021 [cited 18.2.2019] Dosegljivo na: https://www.apa.org/topics/stress/anxiety-difference
- Inštitut za razvoj človeških virov. Biopsihologija stresa in izgorelosti. [internet]. 2018. [cited 15.2.2019]. Dosegljivo na: https://www.burnout.si/izgorelost-sai/stres-sai/biopsihologija-stresa-in-izgorelosti