Do you just feel overwhelmed? Have you felt this way for a while? Do you feel like no matter what you do, how much sleep you get, how much work you do, or how many things you check off your list, you still can’t get caught up? Even when you take a much-deserved break, you still need more. Life just keeps coming and coming and it feels like you’ll never be fully refreshed. Does any of this sound familiar? Well, the good news is you are not alone.
We’re starting year three of a global pandemic. That’s right, even though government restrictions have started to lift a little, thousands are still dying every day and COVID-19 is still classified as a pandemic level health crisis. Pandemic aside, we have the recent painful and blatant racial injustices inflicted on the BIPOC community. On top of that, political tensions have rarely been as heavy in our nation’s history. It doesn’t matter if you’re on the right, the left, or somewhere in between. Each side has its extremes and won’t hesitate to tear others down viscerally to make sure their voices are heard. As if all of that weren’t enough, most recently we have the situation in Ukraine. With the world watching and praying for a resolution and that we are not on the brink of World War III, this is a scary and stressful time for everyone.
Add all of this on top of our normal, everyday lives – family, school, work… am I eating right? Am I getting enough sleep? Am I being a good spouse? Are my kids happy? Did I remember to pick up the dry cleaning? When was the last time I called my mom? This is enough to drive the best of us to tears.
It’s probably no surprise that the World Health Organization reports that in the first year of the pandemic, the global prevalence of anxiety and depression increased by 25%. We spoke with one woman, we’ll call her Peggy, who says she never experienced anxiety of any kind before 2020. Now, it’s something that she fights daily. In her late 30s, she says that learning to fight anxiety for the first time ever really is like trying to teach an old dog new tricks. Before, Peggy was able to relieve pressure by grabbing coffee with a friend or getting a massage. Now, she must be much more intentional about taking care of herself both physically and mentally.
Understanding Anxiety & Stress
We’ve said it before and we’ll say it again, sometimes our baseline is stress. We are not meant to be Superman or Superwoman though. Humans were not meant to handle this much chronic stress. The human body releases certain hormones in response to situations it deems stressful, this is natural. However, it is possible to have too many stressors occurring continuously or too often, which keeps the stress system activated. This is known as chronic stress.
Stress can also lead to anxiety. Anxiety is when stress goes to the next level. It’s a stress that persists even after the stressor has subsided. It’s a persistent worry which causes ongoing symptoms of stress in the body and mind. Physical symptoms can include tense muscles, rapid heart rate, trembling, shortness of breath, and hyper-alertness.
Avoiding Triggers for Anxiety
With everything going on in the world today, avoiding anxiety may be one of those things you’ve given up on, along with saying no when cupcakes are offered to you (why say no to joy, right?). But there are still some common triggers that, if we’re more aware of, may be easier to keep an eye on and moderate.
- Caffeine – I know you don’t want to hear this one, but it’s true. If this one is hard for you to give up, I get it. Much of what you read on this website is owed to passion and many cups of coffee. Different people have different tolerances to caffeine. So, you may be fine. If you want to learn more about how caffeine may or may not affect your anxiety, read this. It breaks down the science of what caffeine does to our bodies regarding how it causes symptoms of anxiety.
- Poor Sleep – Kids have a bedtime for a reason. This is to teach us that we need a certain amount of sleep to function as normal human beings. Lack of sleep can lead to a number of physical and mental health issues from high blood pressure to obesity and depression. It’s recommended that adults ages 26-64 should aim for 7-9 hours of sleep per night.
- Stressful Environment – This could mean anything from cleaning up your kitchen to setting boundaries with your boss. If we have something on our minds that needs to be fixed but it’s not getting done, it can cause anxiety. Is your kitchen unorganized? Are you worried your boss is going to call you after you leave the office? Schedule a few minutes each week to organize your physical surroundings. Having things in order may relieve a bit of stress. Worried about work? Talk to someone about it. Can’t talk to your boss? We know some fantastic therapists.
- Unnecessary Conflict – Did someone cut you off on the freeway? Did they forget your extra pickles for the 4th time in a row at the drive-thru? Your instincts at this point may tell you to yell at them, to lay on your horn, to make them feel the same stress and anxiety they’ve made you feel. It may even help you in the moment. But it’s just a band-aid. Engaging in unnecessary conflict is not going to help in the bigger picture with your overall stress or anxiety reduction.
- Social Media – We could write an entire book on how social media affects mental health both negatively and positively. It’s no secret that study after study has found social media to be addictive. According to Pew Research, 69% of adults and 81% of teens in the United States use social media. We enjoy social media for different reasons. Some use it for business, while others use it to keep in touch with far-away family. Some use it for pure entertainment purposes, while others use it to stay informed. Whatever your reasons, a few things are certain – we keep going back, we never know what content we’re going to see, and we cannot control other people or their reactions. For some, social media can be helpful. The diversity of social media opens different ways to meet people, learn new perspectives, and can lead to opportunities that wouldn’t otherwise be available. For someone struggling with anxiety though, this is a perfect storm for an anxiety trigger. They don’t want to put it down because what if they miss something important? They don’t want to pick it up because what if they see something else terrible? This loop of anxious thinking continues over and over until it’s too late and they find themselves amid an anxiety attack induced by scrolling. If this is you, you probably already know this, but try limiting your time on social media. Most apps have features for setting time limits now. Here’s a quick guide on how to set time limits on most devices. If that doesn’t work, quitting cold turkey has been found effective for many. Therapy is also a great option.
- Breathing exercises
- Getting outside
- Making a list (getting organized)
- Spend time with friends
- Self-care (get a massage or just take a long bath)
- Do something fun
Once you’ve identified what anxiety and stress feel like and some ways to avoid its triggers, it’s important to have an arsenal of ways to manage them. Different coping mechanisms work for different people. Finding what works for you may take some time, but you have to start somewhere and there’s no better time than now. Try one of these today:
Empathy for Others
While each of the ideas listed above is all great ideas, another one that we wanted to spend a bit of extra time on, given the state of the world, is empathy for others. With so much of how we interact with one another being done behind a screen, via text, on Zoom, or over social media – having true empathy for our fellow humans is something that, if it could be quantified, I’m sure we would all be shocked to see how far we’ve fallen in the past two years. What do I mean when I say empathy for others?
What is Empathy?
Empathy means having the ability to imagine what someone else might be feeling or thinking. It means setting our own feelings aside and considering things from another person’s perspective.
I believe that most of us do still have that ability. It’s just a matter of whether or not many of us choose to employ it when interacting with one another. When someone disagrees with us on whether a mask should be worn, or for whom we should cast our vote, or any other number of hot button issues that cause one’s defenses to be heightened – we have a choice to make. We can choose to get angry with them and engage in an argument to prove our point or we can choose to see that person as just another human being who is trying to get through life just like we are, dealing with the same things we are from a different perspective. We can choose to see a fellow human, not an enemy. We can imagine what they might be feeling or thinking, instead of what we’re feeling or thinking. We can employ empathy before we employ anger and self-righteousness.
Choosing to be kind and empathetic to others is a form of self-care. This kindness will without fail release tension and stress within yourself.
When to Get Help for Anxiety and Stress
Therapy is helpful at any stage of your journey with stress and anxiety. Whether you’re like Peggy and experiencing anxiety for the first time ever or you’re no stranger to this world of constant worry, Claibourne Counseling is here to help. Particularly if you feel the symptoms of anxiety affecting your everyday life, please reach out to us today to schedule an appointment. We can help you in developing mindfulness and coping skills and just give you an ear to listen. We specialize in treating anxiety and stress and are happy to help.
Sending you light and love,
Claire & The Claibourne Team
~ You are worthy. You are capable. You are enough! ~