While conducting research for my first paper in grad school, I tripped across the Facts and Statistics posting of the ADAA. From their website consider the following facts:
- Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the United States age 18 and older (18% of U.S. population).
- Anxiety disorders are highly treatable, yet only about one-third of those suffering receive treatment.
- Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year, almost one-third of the country’s $148 billion total mental health bill, according to “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study commissioned by ADAA (The Journal of Clinical Psychiatry, 60(7), July 1999).
- More than $22.84 billion of those costs are associated with the repeated use of health care services; people with anxiety disorders seek relief for symptoms that mimic physical illnesses.
- People with an anxiety disorder are three to five times more likely to go to the doctor and six times more likely to be hospitalized for psychiatric disorders than those who do not suffer from anxiety disorders.
- Anxiety disorders develop from a complex set of risk factors, including genetics, brain chemistry, personality, and life events.
Okay, so what is anxiety, and what does it look like? According to the experts, people with generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) experience constant, chronic, and unsubstantiated worry. Do you worry a lot, making emotional down payments on things that aren’t necessarily happening? Do you worry about your own or your loved ones health, about family, money, or work? Each is a symptom of GAD. This worrying goes on every day, possibly all day. It disrupts social activities and interferes with work, school, or family. You might experience physical symptoms like:
- muscle tension
- difficulty sleeping
- gastrointestinal discomfort or diarrhea
Okay, so you find yourself among the millions that are stressed and anxious to the max. Don’t fret, I am right next to you on the front lines of anxiety, having the great “post traumatic stress” label slapped on me last December – but in reality, I’ve been dealing with chronic stress for a really long time.
First thing to know.
It’s going to be okay.
When you’re in the middle of an anxiety moment, it sure doesn’t feel that way. Your wondering if you’re having a heart attack, going insane, or if you’re going to start mindless screaming and wake up in a rubber room. It’s okay, you’re not alone. I know that we’re not sitting in the same room at the moment, but part of me is there with you with these words. I can tell you from my experiences down the rabbit hole that there is life after those moments of extreme anxiety and need.
First, you know the mantra of THM – clean water, clean food, sleep and exercise. I went to the wellness center after a four month hiatus for the steroids to work their magic on my neurological connections yesterday. It was great to be drenched in sweat and back in the exercise saddle. I walked – well, trotted – the six flights of stairs in the only high-rise on BSU’s campus – the Teachers College – with my friend Michael to the practicum clinic where we’ll be seeing clients starting in January, but will intern as soon as next week. Michael is a former pro football player turned psychologist. Steep climb, but well worth it. It’s great to have a professional sports psychologist as a friend – he’s really motivational.
So what will really spark the “calm down” genie in your bottle? How to break the cycle. Here are nine stress management tips from Michael Castleman, writing for Readers Digest:
“Stress is a fact of life, but being stressed out is not. We don’t always have control over what happens to us, says Allen Elkin, Ph.D., director of the Stress Management Counseling Center in New York City, and yet, that doesn’t mean we have to react to a difficult, challenging situation by becoming frazzled or feeling overwhelmed or distraught. Being overly anxious is not just a mental hazard; it’s a physical one too. The more stressed out we are the more vulnerable we are to colds, flu, and a host of chronic or life-threatening illnesses. And the less open we are to the beauty and pleasure of life. For your emotional and bodily benefit, we’ve consulted experts and come up with 37 easy, natural alternatives to anxiety. Enjoy!
1. Breathe Easily “Breathing from your diaphragm oxygenates your blood, which helps you relax almost instantly,” says Robert Cooper, Ph.D., the San Francisco coauthor of The Power of 5 (Rodale Press, 1996), a book of five-second and five-minute health tips. Shallow chest breathing, by contrast, can cause your heart to beat faster and your muscles to tense up, exacerbating feelings of stress. To breathe deeply, begin by putting your hand on your abdomen just below the navel. Inhale slowly through your nose and watch your hand move out as your belly expands. Hold the breath for a few seconds, then exhale slowly. Repeat several times.
2. Visualize Calm It sounds New Age-y, but at least one study, done at the Cleveland Clinic Foundation, has found that it’s highly effective in reducing stress. Dr. Cooper recommends imagining you’re in a hot shower and a wave of relaxation is washing your stress down the drain. Gerald Epstein, M.D., the New York City author of Healing Visualizations (Bantam Doubleday Dell Press, 1989), suggests the following routine: Close your eyes, take three long, slow breaths, and spend a few seconds picturing a relaxing scene, such as walking in a meadow, kneeling by a brook, or lying on the beach. Focus on the details — the sights, the sounds, the smells.
3. Make Time for a Mini Self-Massage Maria Hernandez-Reif, Ph.D., of the Touch Research Institute at the University of Miami School of Medicine, recommends simply massaging the palm of one hand by making a circular motion with the thumb of the other. Or use a massage gadget. The SelfCare catalog offers several, such as the S-shaped Tamm unit, that allow you to massage hard-to-reach spots on your back. For a free catalog, call 800-345-3371 or go to www.selfcare.com.
4. Try a Tonic A study at Duke University in Durham, NC, found homeopathy effective in quelling anxiety disorders. Look for stress formulas such as Nerve Tonic (from Hyland) or Sedalia (from Boiron) in your health food store, or consult a licensed homeopath. To find one near you, contact the National Center for Homeopathy, 801 North Fairfax St., Suite 306, Alexandria, VA 22314; 703-548-7790 or go to www.healthy.net.
5. Say Cheese Smiling is a two-way mechanism. We do it when we’re relaxed and happy, but doing it can also make us feel relaxed and happy. “Smiling transmits nerve impulses from the facial muscles to the limbic system, a key emotional center in the brain, tilting the neurochemical balance toward calm,” Dr. Cooper explains. Go ahead and grin. Don’t you feel better already?
6. Do Some Math Using a scale of one to 10, with one being the equivalent of a minor hassle and 10 being a true catastrophe, assign a number to whatever it is that’s making you feel anxious. “You’ll find that most problems we encounter rate somewhere in the two to five range — in other words, they’re really not such a big deal,” says Dr. Elkin.
7. Stop Gritting Your Teeth Stress tends to settle in certain parts of our bodies, the jaw being one of them. When things get hectic, try this tip from Dr. Cooper: Place your index fingertips on your jaw joints, just in front of your ears; clench your teeth and inhale deeply. Hold the breath for a moment, and as you exhale say, “Ah-h-h-h,” then unclench your teeth. Repeat a few times.
8. Compose a Mantra Devise an affirmation — a short, clear, positive statement that focuses on your coping abilities. “Affirmations are a good way to silence the self-critical voice we all carry with us that only adds to our stress,” Dr. Elkin says. The next time you feel as if your life is one disaster after another, repeat 10 times, “I feel calm. I can handle this.”
9. Check Your Chi Qigong (pronounced chee-gong) is a 5,000-year-old Chinese practice designed to promote the flow of chi, the vital life force that flows throughout the body, regulating its functions. Qigong master Ching-Tse Lee, Ph.D., a professor of psychology at Brooklyn College in New York, recommends this calming exercise: Stand with your feet shoulder-width apart and parallel. Bend your knees to a quarter-squat position (about 45 degrees) while keeping your upper body straight. Observe your breathing for a couple of breaths. Inhale and bring your arms slowly up in front of you to shoulder height with your elbows slightly bent. Exhale, stretching your arms straight out. Inhale again, bend your elbows slightly and drop your arms down slowly until your thumbs touch the sides of your legs. Exhale one more time, then stand up straight.
Want more tips from the pro’s? Check out the whole list of 37 ways to chill here.