Are you aware that a gang of three killers lie in wait for more than twenty million men and women secretly sucking their life-breath away moment by moment? If you are reading this post, they have probably targeted you, too. The killers have names, Anxiety, Stress, and Worry. You will want to learn to master anxiety and stress.
This article will not only throw light detrimental effects of stress and anxiety but, more importantly, show you how to control it. It offers practical advice, suitable for anyone who desires to overcome their unwanted behaviors. It includes the latest research on the effects of stress and anxiety and the action you can take to reduce or eliminate it.
Each one of us experiences stress and anxiety, some more than others. It is part of everyday life. The distinction between the two is that stress is our response to a threat, whereas anxiety is our stress reaction.
Types of Stress
There are several varieties of stress, all of which carry severe physical and mental health risks.
- Routine Stress. Examples of routine stress include the daily pressures found with school, work, family, and everyday responsibilities.
- Sudden Change Stress. This type of stress includes an unwanted and unexpected change, such as a relationship breakup, unwelcome medical news, or job loss.
- Traumatic Stress. Traumatic stress results from a death of a loved one, a physical assault, a witness to or involvement in a significant accident, a natural disaster, or war. Those involved in traumatic stress often exhibit temporary emotional and physical symptoms but recover after a healing period
Stress is our defense response to dangerous situations. When we feel threatened, our stress response signals the body to face a threat or flee to safety. Under threat conditions, your body becomes defensive by heightening awareness by increasing the heart rate to get more oxygen to the brain—the pulse increases, and muscles tense as the body’s survival strategy. Stress is also a substantial motivator, as you probably discovered when taking a test or interviewing for a job. This everyday stress is transient and not harmful and even if it grows to a more chronic form you can master anxiety and stress.
Chronic stress harms all aspects of your life. It can negatively impact your mood, energy level, relationships, and work performance. More importantly, stress can create a variety of severe health issues if left untreated. Your body may be trying to warn you of such conditions without you being aware. Such conditions are subtle such as headaches, sleepless nights, and fatigue. You might blame them on illness, but chances are the culprit may stress. If severe enough, it can cause many more health conditions, even mental disorders. Such early disorders would include sadness, anger, irritability, and depression.
Here are a few of the physical symptoms caused by stress include:
Effects of Chronic Stress
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pains
- Skin rashes
- Weight gain
- Digestive issues
- High blood pressure
- Heart disease
- Weakened immune system
- Cognitive decline
The symptoms of stress can produce pessimistic thoughts and feelings, leading to unwanted behavior. If you can learn to recognize these symptoms, you can learn to manage them better.
The Influence on Your Health
Chronic reactions to stress can lead to serious health problems, including:
- Cardiovascular Disease. Stress increases the risk for heart disease. It increases blood pressure and cholesterol levels, along with the increase in inactivity, the desire to smoke and consume alcohol. Such habits increase blood pressure leading to the damage of artery walls. There have been several significant studies that confirm stress damages the heart. One such study tracked 68,000 healthy adults for eight years. Those reporting chronic stress were likelier to die from heart disease. Another study concluded that chronic stress increased the risk of coronary heart disease by forty to sixty percent.
- Alzheimer’s Disease. A new study found anxiety may also cause mild cognitive decline to quickly turn into full-blown Alzheimer’s disease. This research, performed at the Medical University of South Carolina. A total of 339 people with an average age of 72 took part in this research. Researchers collected brain MRIs from each person to establish baseline readings for both hippocampus and entorhinal cortex volume. The study gauged participants’ anxiety levels using clinical surveys. Those dealing with cognitive impairment also report elevated feelings of anxiety. Study author Jenny L. Ulber reported, “Mild cognitive impairment patients with anxiety symptoms developed Alzheimer’s disease faster than individuals without anxiety, independently of whether they had a genetic risk factor for Alzheimer’s disease or brain volume loss.”
- Asthma. Stress can worsen asthma. Stress can be contagious between parent and child in that some studies suggest that the chronic stress of a parent might even increase the risk of developing asthma in their children. The study showed that children with over-stressed parents had a substantially higher risk of developing asthma.
- Diabetes. Stress aggravates diabetes in several ways. It tends to increase destructive behaviors, such as overeating, loading up on carbs, and abusing alcohol. Stress also raises the body’s glucose levels in those with type 2 diabetes.
- Skin Problems. When the immune system starts to falter from stress, it starts sending histamine into the body to fight off all the anxiety that is ailing it. Dermatologists are seeing that it’s not uncommon to see hives (urticaria) occur after a major stressful event or that the patients who are most impaired by hives have more limited stress management skills.
- Accelerated Aging. A study published in the National Academy of Sciences Proceedings found that stress can add years to individual immune system cells’ age. The study looked at the telomeres, caps on the end of chromosomes. Researchers checked both the telomeres and the stress levels of 58 healthy premenopausal women. The results showed that highly stressed immune system cells had aged by an extra ten years. The researchers theorized that stress hormones could be somehow shortening telomeres and cutting the life span of cells.
- Weakened Immune System. Stress hormones have detrimental effects on immune function, including reduced NK cell activity, lymphocyte populations, lymphocyte proliferation, antibody production, and reactivation of latent viral infections. These have severe health consequences, such as delayed wound healing, inadequate response to vaccination, and cancer development and growth.
Digestive System Disorders
Prolonged stress interrupts digestion leading to acid reflux, stomach bloat, and even pain. Increased gastrointestinal (GI) response to stress leads to irritable bowel syndrome. These symptoms result from the body’s natural reaction to stress as when stress is detected, the body interrupts digestion to conserve its energy to confront it.
Impact on Relationships
We must learn how to master anxiety and stress as it sneaks into our personal lives through many channels, affecting the quality of our close relationships. When a partner is under stress, it often produces relationship issues resulting from anger and frustration. It, in turn, negatively influences what is said and how we treat our partners. As an example, in a 2009 study, researchers Neff and Karney examined the lives of newlyweds. They discovered that people reacted more intensely to what would have been routine ups and downs in a relationship during periods of high perceived stress. Those under stress tend to blame others for their frustrations. It can create real damage in a relationship, affecting communication and trust, which then becomes another source of stress.
Stress causes people to withdraw and become less affectionate. They spend less time in leisure activities leading to partner alienation. Stress draws out the worst side of people, which can lead to the other partner’s withdrawal. As time passes relationship stagnates, creating more conflict, distress, and alienation in the relationship.
Impact on Job Performance
A demanding boss or a strict deadline is often the cause of work stress. Your body’s reaction to chronic stress can hinder your job success as stress impacts job performance in numerous ways. Stress at a high level is harmful and harms employees’ performance. High stress can cause low morale at work, fatigue, lateness, absenteeism, and trouble getting along with other team members or co-workers. Also, it will create:
- Employee symptoms on the job such as an upset stomach and headaches
- At atmosphere where making decisions are difficult
- Employees will dread coming into work
- Employees will look to leave work early
- Emotional swings at work
Stress leads to workplace burnout. An Archives of Internal Medicine study reported that 45% of practicing physicians are experiencing at least one symptom of burnout. It can lead to dangerous mistakes and lapses in judgment that could affect a patient’s health. Similar patterns appear in workplaces where stress is a regular occurrence.
The Need to Master Anxiety and Stress
According to the Anxiety Association of America, the World Health Organization reports that 1 in 13 worldwide have anxiety issues. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorders worldwide. Though experiencing anxiety is a normal part of our daily lives. Anxiety that is persistent, seemingly uncontrollable, and overwhelming needs attention. If anxiety manifests itself as an irrational dread of everyday situations, it can be crippling. An anxiety that interferes with your routine activities is known as an anxiety disorder.
It is a mental illness that can impact an individual’s daily life. It is the most common mental illness in the U.S. and is one of the most treatable once you learn the techniques to master anxiety and stress.
Anxiety Disorder Fact
- 18% of the United States population (40 million adults) are affected
- 8% of children and teens experience anxiety
- 12% annually experience anxiety disorder
- 5-30% are affected by an anxiety disorder during their lifetime
- 50% more women than men are affected by anxiety disorder
- Anxiety disorder commonly begins in women before age 25
- 12% of the disorders are various phobias
- 10% are social anxiety disorders
- It primarily manifests between the ages of 15 and 35, being less common after 55
- 3 % seek treatment for anxiety disorder
- Many anxiety disorders are highly treatable
Research in the journal Psychological Medicine shows that clinical anxiety is a worldwide health issue. It found that anxiety disorders were more common in Western societies than in non-western cultures. Ten percent of North America, Western Europe, and Australia/New Zealand was affected by clinical anxiety compared to approximately eight percent in the Middle East and six percent in Asia.
The 10 Best Ways to Master Anxiety and Stress
There are many useful methods to manage stress. One of which is through the use of a support network. Emotional support is essential in reducing stress. Having friends and family members to talk with is a proven method for dealing with life’s issues. Additional methods follow:
- Positive Outlook. An important method in handling stress is maintaining a positive outlook. This is one of the simpler methods to master anxiety and stress. A Yale University study proved feeling good about yourself as you age extends your life seven and a half years longer than more pessimistic people. Researchers report that people with positive attitudes deal with stress better and have a stronger will to live.
- Friends and Family. According to the American Psychological Association, social support can help prevent stress and its related diseases. Seniors seem to benefit the most from friends. The American Journal of Health Promotion reported that social support slows the flow of stress hormones in seniors and increases your life. Similar studies have found that social interactions can help older people stay mentally sharp and reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s.
- Establish an Excercise Routine. Exercise is a proven stress reliever and is especially valuable in later life. No impact exercise includes walking, biking, and swimming. Exercise can help block the effects of aging on cortisol levels. A recent study published in Psychoneuroendocrinology showed that physically fit women in their mid-60s had the same stress response as a group of unfit women in their late 20s. Non physically fit women in their mid-60s released much more cortisol in response to stress. Other useful methods include mind-body practices of breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
- Adopt a Pet. Pets improve mood. Studies prove that pet ownership decreases stress in humans. Interacting with a pet increases the stress-reducing hormone oxytocin while it decreases the production of the stress hormone cortisol. A 2001 study concluded that pet-owning patients with high blood pressure reduced their blood pressure when under stress more than patients without pets. Owning a pet also encourages exercise, which is a powerful stress reliever. Pets relieve loneliness and offer unconditional love, which is another stress reliever. A caveat, pets can bring their own stress. But for most, the benefits of pet ownership outweigh the drawbacks.
- Participate in a Relaxing Hobby. Take up a hobby. Nothing is better use of your time than involving yourself in an activity you enjoy. It melts away the worry and stress of the day. Listen to music. Take a dancing listen. Maybe try your hand at knitting. Hobbies are a great way to master anxiety and stress.
- Investigate Mindfulness. Mindfulness incorporates meditation, muscle relaxation, or breathing exercises. Try to schedule regular times to participate in these and other healthy and relaxing activities to include participating in mind-body practices of breathing exercises, yoga, and meditation.
- Enjoy the Outdoors. Being outdoors and enjoying nature reduces pain and illness and speeds recovery time. A recent study concluded that long-distance runners were less anxious and depressed than people who ran indoors on a treadmill. They also showed higher levels of post-exercise endorphins, the feel-good brain chemicals associated with “runner’s high.”
- Volunteer in the Community. Helping others has proven to make you feel better about yourself. While helping others, it allows you to forget about your stress. Time after time, studies show that concentrating on something else is the main reason why volunteering helps to lower stress levels. When you focus on giving to others, you will not focus on the issues that cause you stress. This approach allows you to heal mentally and will make you feel healthier.
- Get Sufficient Sleep. Everyone has an ideal amount of nightly sleep to wake up feeling well-rested and relaxed. Make sure you know how long your ideal sleeping period is. A regular sleep routine calms and restores the body, improves concentration, regulates mood, and sharpens judgment and decision-making. You cope with stress better when you are well-rested. Lack of sleep reduces your energy and diminishes mental clarity.
- Eat Healthy. How and what you eat influences your stress levels. Such things as skipping meals to how much caffeine and alcohol consumed during the day will contribute significantly to your overall wellbeing. As an example, low levels of magnesium negatively influence conditions such as anxiety and panic attacks. Chronic stress depletes the body of magnesium, making this mineral especially important when stressed. Probiotic supplements and probiotic-rich foods like kimchi have positive effects on mental health. Eating whole eggs benefits mental health as eggs contain high choline levels, which play an essential role in brain health to protect against stress. A balanced diet will help you master anxiety and stress.
There is nothing unusual about experiencing stress. It is a common occurrence in our modern-day life. However, it is the unmanaged stress can lead to anxiety. Chronic stress is the precursor to anxiety and anxiety disorder. This debilitating condition can cause many health issues and even shorten our life span. It can be the cause of broken relationships and poor job performance.
There are a number of actions you can take that will reduce or eliminate stress. We have explained methods that have been proven by research. Many of them require little effort to incorporate into your daily routine. They offer significant benefits to leading a more stress-free and joyful life.
Please let me know what methods you use to reduce your stress level in the comments below.