Life is full of stress. This is inevitable and not always a bad thing—stress is often a result of a busy, engaging and meaningful life.
Whereas a normal level of stress and fear can actually be a healthy response to an immediate threat—pushing us to better prepare ourselves for an upcoming exam or to take care of a situation affecting a loved one—an abnormal level is characterized by excessive worrying and a persistent feeling of discomfort about the future, so powerful that it can overwhelm us in our day-to-day lives. If you are experiencing this, it is possible you may be suffering from heightened anxiety.
The difference between normal levels of stress and anxiety may be difficult to distinguish. When has your stress crossed the line and become problematic? How can you identify the symptoms?
Anxiety affects your life. This level of discomfort disrupts your work, schooling or your ability to complete daily tasks. For example, a socially anxious person often feels like all the focus and weight in a social situation is on him or her, which can lead to difficulties talking and interacting with others. When people feel anxious socially, they often turn to avoidant behavior. They feel as if going out in public or making an effort to spend time with friends and family is overwhelming. This avoidant behavior may seem appealing in the short-term, but in the long haul will result in more pervasive feelings of isolation and a lack of community.
Anxiety causes difficulties in concentration, as the intrusive thoughts dominate. Excessive worry is a hallmark of anxiety—worrying that is irrational, disruptive or out of proportion to the actual risk of a scenario. This fixation on a source of worry prevents concentrating on the task at hand.
People with anxiety experience high levels of self-doubt. They often greatly fear not reaching their goals or being good enough. This can stem from perfectionistic tendencies and holding oneself to unreasonably high standards.
Anxiety begins in the mind but presents symptoms in the body. A common symptom of anxiety is insomnia, as excessive worrying at night can prevent us from giving our mind and body a much needed rest. People with anxiety often report fatigue and changes in appetite. Intestinal problems can be associated with anxiety. Other physical symptoms may include muscle tension, a racing heart, sweating, shortness of breath and chest pain.
If you are experiencing anxiety, here are some ways to decrease the symptoms:
Exercise is a great way to start feeling better and get rid of built-up tension. Although it can be difficult to get going, once you are in a routine, working out is not only a good distraction but has been proven to be effective in reducing anxiety. A regular exercise routine can improve symptoms such as fatigue, concentration difficulties and insomnia.
It is very important to get out of the house and to integrate yourself in society—whether going to read at a coffee shop, taking a walk around the block or getting together with old friends.
Keep a journal not only as an outlet to express your feelings, but also to document the source of anxiety. Once identified, you can address the source of anxiety without ambiguity.
Practice relaxation techniques. Mindfulness meditation is calming, restorative and easy.
Avoid substances and caffeine. Drugs, nicotine, and alcohol can all exacerbate anxiety.
Research shows that one in five Americans is currently experiencing heightened anxiety. Anxiety does not discriminate across age, race or gender. Recognizing symptoms of anxiety and excessive worrying is the first step in breaking the cycle.
Tips for Overcoming Depression
Depression wears a dark veil that blocks you from seeing yourself in the same light that others view you in. It gives you a negative bias, telling you lies that you are unworthy. These feeling and thoughts are symptoms of depression, and are not truly reflective of the reality.
This condition is best described by the cognitive triad of depression, three types of negative thoughts. One is a negative view of the self—beliefs that you are worthless and unlovable, associated with low self-esteem. For this reason, depressed people often disqualify their accomplishments, and dismiss compliments. Two, a negative view of the world at large—that the world is unfair. Sure there are inequalities in the world, but this view tends to discount all the good, and instead see all the things around you with contempt. Three, a negative view of the future. This is apparent in the lack of hope of depressed individuals, and pessimistic thoughts and beliefs. The combination of these negative thoughts is very restrictive, causing an individual to feel trapped, hampered, and sometimes miserable.
Although you do not want to be stuck in a state of depression, know that it is not a sign of personal weakness. You must recognize that depression has biological bases, with abnormal brain function and cognition that is distorted. This does not mean you and your brain are doomed—in fact, some of our greatest leaders and thinkers including Lincoln, Churchill, Newton, and Freud suffered from depression. But how can you get out of the trap of depression?
Set up a daily schedule—one that ensures you get the right amount of sleep. Many times with depression, motivation drops, you feel unproductive, and this hurts your self-esteem. Take on responsibilities at work, school, or volunteering that will give you a sense of fulfillment. Having a regular regimen and structure will help overcome the boredom that accompanies depression.
Make positive lifestyle changes. Food and mood are linked—changing your diet can improve your self-perception and give you nutrients that affect your mood. Getting regular exercise has emotional and physical benefits on your wellness, boosting your self-image.
Find something that makes you happy. This could be picking up a new hobby or returning to an old pastime. For others it may be finding a relaxing place, often in nature.
Try to smile. Even if you are not feeling it and it is manufactured at first, it will become real, as our body language influences our emotion. Watch something light on TV. Write down a couple things per day you are grateful for. Smiling relaxes many facial muscles.
Maintain social relationships. It is important to keep in touch with friends to keep from becoming isolated and feeling worse. You may feel like you want to withdraw from your social life, but keeping these relationships will ultimately provide you support. Spend time with people with positive energy, as this affect is contagious.
Confide in a family member or dear friend. Again, depression is not a sign of weakness, yet we hesitate to talk about it. Opening up to the right person and discussing your feelings will be warming, and provide you a source of encouragement. It will also often lead to a deeper level of connection. Your family and friends are there for you to lean on in times of hardship.
Seek professional help. Think of a therapist as a “life coach” who can give you coping strategies. Cognitive behavioral therapy can help to identify and change negative thoughts and behaviors.
Depression can be overwhelming and draining, but recognize that it is just telling you negative lies. Taking some of these steps is quite courageous and should help you regain emotional wellbeing and control.