Stress is everywhere these days. Just listening to the news is enough to trigger anxiety and a stress reaction. Now more than ever it is important to take care of ourselves physically and mentally. We all experience anxiety and stress as a normal part of our daily lives. For example, a job interview triggers feelings of anxiety in most people. This type of anxiety generally serves us well making sure we are on top of our game and providing that little bit of extra attention to detail we need to show off our best. These feelings are brief and go away when the interview is over. Likewise, stress, your body’s response to a threat or demand, is also a fundamental part of daily life. When you are cut off in traffic or you have an argument with a friend your body responds the same way it would if you were facing a physical threat such as a lion on the savanna. A wave of adrenaline is released which raises your heart rate and sends blood coursing to your arms and legs preparing you for “flight or fight.” Usually once the situation has resolved, your adrenalin level returns to normal and your pulse returns to normal.
Sometimes it’s not that easy. Our bodies stay in a state of alert. The situation is over but our body is not letting it go. Your Head: An Owner’s Manual Understanding and Overcoming Depression, Anxiety and Stress (Menshealthnetwork.org/library/ownersmanual.pdf) is an excellent resource for ways to reduce the effects of stress and anxiety and to determine when it’s the right time to call for professional help.
Some of the many suggestions they offer to cope with stress and anxiety are:
• Exercise – Anything that raises your heart rate will do – basketball, running, walking, yoga, cycling.
• Have fun – Do things you truly enjoy doing.
• Relax – Spend time with people you are comfortable around.
• Breathe – Sit or lie down in a comfortable place. Close your eyes and focus on your breathing, making your belly – not your chest – rise and fall. In, out, in, out. Inhale for five seconds, hold for one, exhale for five, hold for one, and so on.
• Get plenty of sleep – Six – and not more than eight – hours a night.
• Eat well – a variety of well-balanced foods that meet your nutritional needs.
• Reduce caffeine – no more than three caffeinated drinks daily (if you’re drinking more than that be sure to reduce your intake slowly).
Determining when to reach out for professional help involves taking an honest look at how stress and anxiety are effecting your daily life. Are you limiting activities you would normally enjoy because of worry or fear? Are you experiencing symptoms such as mood swings, irritability, high blood pressure? Your Head: An Owner’s Manual has an extensive list of symptoms and clues to help determine if now is the time to ask for help. Check it out.
Liz Thompson has been a case manager at the Frederick County Health Department for over six years.
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