Although the terms “stress” and “anxiety” tend to be interchangeable in common usage, medically they are different. Stress is a normal reaction to a specific threat or situation and as such, it is not a disorder. Typically, once the cause is removed, the levels of stress hormones return to normal. However anxiety is a bona-fide medical condition. In order for anxiety symptoms to be diagnosed as an anxiety disorder, the symptoms will have persisted for at least six months. Anxiety is one of the possible consequences of a prolonged high level of stress, and that goes on without an identifiable cause. Anxiety is the prolonged feeling of apprehension or fear, perhaps without a known cause. The person afflicted worries about what lies ahead, and often suffers from physical symptoms such as panic attacks, dizziness. The DSM-IV-TR identifies these anxiety disorders: , obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), separation anxiety, childhood anxiety disorder, specific phobias, panic disorder, panic disorder with agoraphobia, and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
Anxiety symptoms can include constant worrying or obsession; it may be over seemingly small things or larger fears. There may be a feeling of restlessness or general unease; a feeling of being on edge without any specific cause. There is often trouble sleeping, and a feeling of fatigue, of being tired even after a night’s sleep. There may be muscle tension or trembling, which may lead to aching muscles. Concentration is poor and the mind tends to “go blank”. There may be irritability, generally feeling crabby and crappy. A constant feeling of tension may lead to being easily startled, or even trembling. Digestive upset is common, with loss of appetite, or conversely seeking sweets, overeating, drugs or alcohol in the attempt to feel better. Sweating, nausea or diarrhea may occur, as well as shortness of breath or rapid heartbeat.
The earlier chronic stress and anxiety is addressed, the easier it is to overcome. At least, by acting quickly, there is less damage to health, including lowered immune response and damage to cardiovascular system. Holistic health practitioners recommend a number of strategies to help bring down the stress levels. Anxiety disorder is a medical condition that has gone on for a while, and generally will take a more comprehensive approach in order to heal. Here’s how to deal with stress and anxiety:
Mindful Meditation and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy
Daniel Smith, who wrote about his struggle with anxiety disorder in his book A Monkey Mind, states: “For me, it’s mindfulness meditation or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), which is tailor-made for anxiety.” A Boston University study found that anxiety symptoms were relieved for people who used mindfulness or Cognitive Behavioral Therapy with the most dramatic results being for those with obsessive compulsive dis order and acute stress disorder. The National Association of Cognitive-Behavioral Therapists also has CBT webinars.
Cognitive therapy has been shown to be very effective in helping with anxiety disorders. Therapy will work best when the individual also contributes to the process by developing strong self-care habits. Mayo Clinic suggests a number of lifestyle programs which will lead to better health outcomes. Daily exercise is at the top of the list. According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, people who get regular exercise are 25% less likely to develop an anxiety disorder over the next five years.
The 21-minute cure
Dr. Drew Ramsey highly recommends exercise to stay healthy and happy; he calls it “The 21-minute cure”. He has written a book on self-care, healthy habits and good nutrition called The Happiness Diet. “I generally ask my patients to spend 20 to 30 minutes in an activity that gets their heart rate up, whether it’s a treadmill or elliptical or stair stepping—anything you like. If you rowed in college, get back to rowing. If you don’t exercise, start taking brisk walks.” — Dr. Drew Ramsey, author of the book “The Happiness Diet”
Help from Nature
Dr. Oz suggests that lemon balm has been used for hundreds of years as a soothing relief from stress and tension.
Dr. Sarah Gottfried writes in the Huffington Post that the scent of cedar wood, sandalwood and frankincense are especially calming. She has written a series of three articles on anxiety disorder, with an incisive analysis of the physiology of the disorder, along with her journey to find a way out.
Dr. Gottfried’s series of article are well worth reading. The better we understand the invasive nature of escalating stress, the better prepared to regain our health. Dr. Gottfried draws not only from her medical training and research talents to bring us to a clearer understanding of this life-devouring disorder, but shares solutions that have worked for her as developed from her own experience with the condition. Check out parts 1, 2 and 3 to get the full impact.
Take a Deep Breath
Dr. Anthony Weil highly recommends some breathing practices which can be used throughout the day to break the cascade of overcharged stress hormones. He calls his simple exercise of taking a moment to breathe the 4-7-8 breath:
Self-Care: Eat Well
The Mayo Clinic suggests a healthy diet to support the body’s resilience, and that some stress and anxiety is due to allergies and/or poor diet. Another excellent guide is Dr. Anthony Weil’s book “8 Ways to Optimum Health”.
Laughter is the best medicine
According to Psychology Today, laughter does so many good things for us, it’s a wonder we don’t try it more often. It reduces blood sugar levels and pain. It builds and restores a sense of positive emotions and connection between people. Research brings us evidence that laughter helps the cardio-vascular system function better, flexing the blood vessel walls and increasing oxygen and blood flow. In the article, Michael Miller, M.D. of the University of Maryland reports that in a preliminary study of 20 healthy people, triggering laughter proved to be as good for the arteries as aerobic activity.