August 28, 2014
Anxiety can feel as though an incredibly loud and boisterous parade is charging right through your very being: blasting bands, flashy floats, animals, and announcers ad nauseam. This chaos within can cause headaches, chest pain, difficulty breathing, excessive sweating, aches and pains, and other noxious anxiety symptoms. Further, our thoughts become anxious and race with worry and obsessions. Often, panic sets in. As if this weren’t bad enough, we have to live in the midst of this parade. We have to deal with parade garbage (think about it—debris, litter, road apples) while simultaneously dealing with everything else around us. With pandemonium on the inside, how do we deal with all of the stuff on the outside?
Anxiety and Stress Are Connected
To be sure, life can be downright crushing. It’s often full of stress. When you have to destroy a rainforest in order to write your to-do list, you know you’re dealing with too much. Or maybe the number of items is small but they’re daunting in nature. The actual number of tasks is relatively inconsequential; what matters is how they impact your well-being. As the more than forty million people living with anxiety disorders can likely attest, overwhelming stress is often closely connected with overwhelming anxiety.
When it comes to stress, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed, it can be hard to sort out cause and effect. Is your overwhelming stress causing your anxiety? Or perhaps is your overwhelming anxiety causing your life to feel intensely stressful?
Working with a therapist to sort things out can be very beneficial. However, you don’t have to know with certainty whether you’re anxious because of stress or whether stress is worse because you’re anxious. Personally, when I’m overwhelmed and the anxiety-and-stress parade is marching around painfully inside of me and interfering with my outer world, I really don’t care which is causing the other. I just know that anxiety and stress are there and connected; I’m overwhelmed and I want the parade to stop.
Ways to Reduce that Overwhelmed Feeling
Because anxiety and stress are often Co-Grand Marshals in this obnoxious internal parade, they can be reduced together. Each of the following techniques has been proven to reduce both stress and anxiety:
Avoid All-or-Nothing Thinking
Anxiety can loom so large that we begin to think in extremes: You might think, “I’ll never get this done,” “I can’t do anything right,” “If I don’t do this perfectly, I’m a failure,” “I’m a horrible partner/parent/employee/boss/person,” “I made a mistake and now people hate me,” and on and on. Of course we feel high anxiety about the outcomes of these things we’re telling ourselves.
Recognizing how we’re thinking is a helpful step in reducing anxiety. Over the next few days, simply notice your thoughts. What are you telling yourself? Once you become aware of all-or-nothing thinking, you can change how you think and what you say to yourself. “I missed a deadline” changes from “I’m horrible and I’m going to be fired,” to “I made a mistake, but I do many good things, too. Overall, I’m valuable and am not likely to lose my job over this single incident.”
Break (Or, Rather, Don’t)
When we’re anxious and stressed, it’s easy to look at all of the tasks that lie ahead of us and become overwhelmed. At times, we’re stopped in our tracks and completely shut down. We have reached our breaking point. At this point, anxiety is very high, and our ability to cope seems very low. The good news is that we have the power to prevent ourselves from breaking.
The trick? Break! Take breaks, and break up tasks into bits and pieces.
To avoid hypocrisy, I will admit upfront that I find it extremely difficult to take breaks. After all, when life is overwhelming with all of its demands and anxiety is flaring as a result, it just doesn’t seem logical or even possible to walk away from stress for a while. However, it is vital. Even a short break can help your mind refresh and reset, and often when you return to your task you do so with a clearer head. Stand and stretch, get some fresh air if possible, massage your temples, breathe deeply. Snacking on something nutritious and energy-sustaining can give your brain and body a needed boost. For me, it seems that I don’t have time for a break, but in reality, when my anxiety decreases, I feel less overwhelmed, and I’m actually more productive when I take short breaks here and there throughout the day.
Further, anxiety often surges when tasks loom large in front of us. Life can be incredibly overwhelming when everything seems like one big mess, but it’s easier to manage when we break things into manageable bits. Take my desk. It often looks like an office products store exploded on top of it. When I stare at it, I’m overwhelmed and I’m hit by a wave of anxiety that makes me feel like I’m drowning. When I stare at the entire mess, I feel daunted and can hardly begin to fix it. I’ve learned to break the task into bits. I’ll clear one area then take a break. I might choose to put the rest aside and move onto something else, or I might come back and tackle another section. Either way, I’ve taken control, I can do something about the mess, and I feel my stress and anxiety ease.
To-Do List? How about a To-Done List!
Of course listing the tasks that lie ahead of you is a way of organizing yourself, feeling in charge, and reducing stress and anxiety. Yet it can be overwhelming to look at a huge list that never seems to shrink even when we break it into bits. When we only focus on what we have to do rather than taking stock of all that we have already done, we feel stressed, and anxiety often skyrockets. To keep this in check, consider creating a list of things you’ve already accomplished, a to-done list, if you will. It’s very satisfying at the end of a long and stressful day to think about all that you’ve done and to write it down. Then, when your anxiety tells you that you’re not in control, you can see for yourself that you are indeed in control and are accomplishing things. link to article
Whether you’re overwhelmed by anxiety or your anxiety is making you feel overwhelmed, it’s stressful. The good news is that it truly is possible to take steps each and every day to rid yourself of anxiety.
What works for you when you’re overwhelmed by anxiety?
Coping with symptoms of mental illness can be a daily struggle for the mentally ill. Each person develops his or her own strategies to cope with these painful experiences. These strategies can be as unique to each person as people can make them. What works for you to battle your mental illness symptoms might not work for me, and vice versa.
We learn these coping strategies over time in the crucible of our illness and the ways in which we gain insight into our symptoms and how they uniquely affect us. That’s why it’s not very helpful to say to a mentally ill person struggling with their symptoms, “Just do this,” or “Just do that.”
What Works for You Might Not Work For Me
Don’t get me wrong. I definitely want to know your coping strategies, because they just might work for me too. But unfortunately, they may not. The problem comes when we minimize other peoples’ suffering by making a “cookie-cutter” declaration that our coping strategies will work for everyone.
They won’t, and it can engender feelings of inadequacy which can exacerbate the pain we feel. This would be the last thing we’d want a suffering person to experience. So please know, the following are only suggestions to try and help you get started, if you haven’t already.
Put Together a Utility Belt
If you’re familiar with Batman, you know he wears a utility belt. This utility belt is full of little gadgets and weapons which he uses when he fights the bad guys. Batman has supreme confidence in his utility belt, because it’s worked for him in the past.
The idea here is to establish a collection of coping strategies you know have already worked well for you. Have them at the ready so when depression,anxiety, and other bad guys come knocking, you’re ready to fight. Here are a few examples of items you could place in your utility belt. The utility belt is also commonly referred to as a wellness toolbox.
Find Someone you Trust
This can be an important coping strategy for folks with mental illness. Most of us know that many mentally ill people are terribly isolated. Many literally have no human interaction beyond common niceties. They just don’t feel safe among others.
Although this isolation would be considered a negative coping strategy, such as drinking or drugs, you are where you are. At the same time, perhaps you could set realistic goals for yourself to become less isolated. This is important because having another person who knows and cares about you can be invaluable.
Identify your Negative Strategies and Replace them with Positive Ones
We all have coping strategies already, or we probably wouldn’t be alive. But some of those strategies are negative for us because they don’t contribute to our wellness, and sometimes they can make things worse.
Even Some Positive Coping Strategies Can Be Damaging
For example, I really enjoy listening to hard, driving rock and roll music. Did I say loud? Since music is one of the most effective of my strategies, I often retreat to listen to my tunes. It’s definitely a positive strategy for me.
However, since I have an anger management issue as part of combat posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD), I discovered that when I was angry my beloved music would sometimes make me feel angrier. This is because in that musical genre the songs are frequently anger based. They also can replicate the physical attributes of anger, such as making your heart beat faster. Since I definitely don’t need help feeling angry, I stopped doing that as a coping strategy for anger. I still listen, just not when I’m angry. It’s important when you identify a negative coping strategy to not just get rid of it, but replace it with a positive one.
Be Gentle With Yourself
Prepare an Affirmation Portfolio
Write down several affirmations you find particularly helpful to you when you are down. Things such as, “I am a good human being, worthy of respect and love.” When you encounter a period of stress or a flare up of symptoms, pull out your affirmation portfolio and use the affirmations to help you get centered on healthy thoughts about yourself and the world around.
These are but a few of a multitude of different coping strategies. If they work for you, great. If not, that’s fine too. Just develop ones that you find beneficial in helping you cope. link to article
Seasonal Affective Disorder
SAD is distinguished from typical depression. Symptom onset occurs in late autumn and ends in early spring with the majority of symptoms in the winter months. Sometimes referred to as the “winter blues” (a more mild form of SAD), it can be exacerbated by cloud cover or perpetually grey skies.
We all have a biological (internal body) clock. This is called a circadian rhythm, which controls your sleep/wake cycles. Light helps our bodies know when to be awake. For some folks their biological clocks respond differently in the winter when the sun goes down early and rises late.
Serotonin and melatonin hormones are natural components of our biological clocks, which aid in the wake sleep cycle. A lack of sunlight can cause some people to have an imbalance of hormones and symptoms of winter blues.
Sunlight stimulates the production of serotonin and adrenalin, chemicals that cause us to be active, alert, and awake. Light is a primary trigger that tells your body when to start its sleep cycle.
When it is dark outside, our bodies produce melatonin. Melatonin is a sleep related hormone that tells our internal clock it is night time, causing the lethargy that is necessary to sleep or to hibernate.
Due to longer periods of darkness in some regions of the country our melatonin increases. At the same time, when there is less daylight our serotonin levels decrease which can lead to symptoms of depression.
Two factors are said to determine if a person develops SAD, distance from the equator, and genetics. Some folks are predisposed to depression and some may be more vulnerable depending on where they live. Prevalence rates suggest inhabitants of Florida are less likely to experience SAD as compared to those living in the north.
Symptoms may include:
- Sadness or irritability
- Increased sleep duration, without the feeling of being refreshed
- Difficulty waking or being alert, may take naps in the afternoon
- Feeling apathetic, don’t care, low motivation
- Increased appetite, especially carbohydrates and possible weight gain