How to deal with Stress, Fear and Anxiety
Stress seems to be rampant these days. I know several people right now who are unfortunately dealing with big stuff. When faced with life’s big challenges, fear can take hold, leaving us immobile to make any decisions whatsoever. Unanswerable questions arise as we try to navigate unchartered waters. All of the “what ifs” run an endless loop in our heads and can paralyze us, leading to a downward spiral creating ever more stress.
I felt this with my own serious diagnoses. What if I don’t survive? What if the treatment doesn’t work? What if everything does not turn out okay? It was hard to get out of bed some days.
Or maybe your stress isn’t coming from a health concern. Maybe it has to do with the current political climate, like you or a loved one are worried about being deported. Even if you’re a legal but foreign born business person with correct paperwork, anxiety may be setting in. What if I have to travel for work –– will I be allowed back in the country to be with my family?
Or maybe you’re facing financial uncertainty. Your expenses are greater than your income and you’re growing slowly deeper and deeper in debt. What if I can’t pay the mortgage? What if my business fails? I have felt this stress recently too (cancer is expensive!).
It seems like I hear every day about another friend getting a diagnosis or read in the paper of some new crazy stress inducing event in the political world. How do we navigate this constant stress?
And it’s important to manage the stress because the hormones that are released, namely cortisol and adrenaline, are not intended to be in our bodies on a chronic basis. They are natural, and in the right circumstance, benefits of stress that have been wired into our brains to keep us alive in frightening situations, like when for our ancestors, a tiger was hiding in the bushes.
Cortisol and adrenaline, heighten our awareness, make our hearts beat faster, and make us breathe faster, all so we can sprint away from the danger fast. Most of us aren’t dealing with potential tigers these days. Nevertheless, these hormones can be released with a traffic jam, an email from our boss, or stress from news reports about immigration, a diagnosis, or financial pressures. With these situations, our bodies think there is a tiger in the bushes all day long. And without the ability for the body to calm down and stop releasing the stress hormones, the resulting overexposure can disrupt almost all the body’s processes. This puts you at increased risk of numerous health problems, including:
- Digestive problems
- Heart disease
- Sleep problems
- Weight gain
- Memory and concentration impairment
In my three years recovering from two serious, aggressive cancers back-to-back, I learned a few tactics for dealing with stress, fear and anxiety and keeping my body in a healing space. Here are my suggestions to help you navigate today’s kind of chronic stress:
- Take 3 slow, deep breaths. Breathing deeply has been shown to stop the stress response.
- Stay present. The fear comes from the uncertain future. You can’t do anything about the future. All you have is this moment right now. Bonus points for gratitude journaling about how many great things you actually have in your life right now.
- Take what action you can. I get overwhelmed and paralyzed when I am in worry about the future. If I make a plan and take some, even tiny action steps, I start feeling better.
- Stay positive and optimistic. Some people may put faith in this category. If we stay hopeful and optimistic that things will turn out okay, stress reduces.
- Lighten up! Laugh, dance, sing or do other things like watch comedies on TV that lighten your mood and help reduce the downward spiral that fear and anxiety can bring.
- Exercise. Moving your body activates feel good hormones (namely serotonin and dopamine) that counteract the stress hormones.
I hope these suggestions help. I know times can be scary these days for a number of reasons. It is understandable to be concerned. But living in fear, stress and anxiety is no way to live. Take steps to get off that fear rollercoaster and live on the solid level ground of happiness.