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Stress and Anxiety: “You can't stop the waves, but you can learn to surf.” ― Jon Kabat-Zinn

Jul 11, 2019 at 12:23

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Debbie  Taylor

Debbie Taylor

South Africa

Today the majority of us live faced paced, demanding lives. This prevalence has led to a dramatic increase in people suffering from anxiety and stress. It’s Go! Go! Go! all day 7 days a week, 365 days a year. If you are anything like me, your downtime from work is as busy and stressful as your paying job, with a never-ending to-do list and responsibilities galore. 

You may be as organised as you like, but the reality is a packed, busy schedule full of responsibility invites so many opportunities for anxiety levels to increase. For instance, in a day full of meetings at various of your clients’ premises, you run the risk of compounding being late for every meeting that day, if ONE THING DOESN’T GO ACCORDING TO PLAN in the morning. It seems we live in a snow storm, overwhelmed, isolated and stretched to capacity. Like winter, anxiety and stress are just a season – proper preparation allows us to get through unscathed.

“Anxiety is a thin stream of fear trickling through the mind. If encouraged, it cuts a channel into which all other thoughts are drained.” – Arthur Somers Roche

The reality is that stress and anxiety are an unavoidable part of life for many of us and it can be crippling if left unchecked. So the question is… how do we manage it?

Firstly, in order to manage anything effectively you need to understand what you are dealing with.  Many people are unaware that the physical ailments they are experiencing are actually brought on by stress and anxiety.

The dictionary definition of stress is: a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances, while anxiety is: a feeling of apprehension and fear characterized by physical symptoms; a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease about something with an uncertain outcome; a strong desire or concern to do something or for something to happen.

The trouble with stress and anxiety is that there are many different triggers. With many of us there commonalities in our triggers though, they stem from similar places – fear of failure, fear of change, fear of the unknown, fear of not performing or disappointing someone whose opinion you value. On the other hand you may think you are pretty level headed and that nothing ruffles your feathers, until you need to make a presentation at work or you have to travel to a new place, maybe you realise it’s not the new place or the language barrier you stress about, but rather the flight itself. Some people struggle with anxiety when around crowds and yet others when left alone.

Failing to recognise the root cause of your anxiety or not acknowledging it and responding proactively to it can allow it to manifest into crippling fears or to physically manifest itself as recurring illness or a change in your sleeping and eating habits. In order to identify your triggers you can:

  • Journal, recording how you respond to events or situations.
  • Keep a food diary for a couple of weeks, now I know this feels strange BUT certain foods do exacerbate or even bring on anxiety symptoms, such as caffeine or refined sugar. Recording what you have eaten and drunk and the response you have to it allows you to avoid foods that worsen your symptoms.
  • Stress/Anxiety Table: take a piece of paper, divide it into three columns: one column to list the item that is causing anxiety or stress, the middle column is to describe WHY and the third column is to put in action items to combat this. I particularly like this method as you are identifying your current triggers and ways to overcome it in one exercise.

Listen to your body – it is intelligent enough to give you warning signals – if you know what to look for. Signs of excessive stress/anxiety may include (not everyone experiences everything listed here):

  • restlessness
  • irritability
  • hypervigilance
  • insomnia
  • increase in anxious behaviours (nail biting, fidgeting, grinding teeth, chewing on the ends of your hair or skin next to your nails, rocking back and forth etc)
  • sweating
  • inability to control emotions
  • recurring illness 
  • lack of concentration
  • racing or unwanted thoughts (excessive worrying)
  • fatigue
  • palpitations
  • nausea
  • trembling or shaking
  • dry mouth
  • becoming listless and unproductive

As you become aware of your triggers and physical symptoms for your anxiety and stress, and the situations or events that tip you over, you will start to feel more in control. Being aware allows you to respond appropriately in ways that you know calm you before the anxiety or stress can take over.

Certain activities can be introduced into your daily routine that may help to lessen stress and anxiety in your life, such as grounding, meditation and journaling.  I look at these and other natural ways to manage anxiety and stress in my next blog, so check back soon.

By Debbie Taylor