The Detrimental Effects of Prolonged Stress and Anxiety and What to Do About It
By Rebecca Bolling
No doubt, we are living in very stressful times as a society and this negatively impacting our health. Living with high level stress often leads to increased anxiety and together they perpetuate overall unhappiness and poorer health outcomes. This tends to be a vicious cycle and has detrimental effects not only on our day to day life, but it takes a toll on our bodies and our maturing brains. If we experience high levels of stress too often and for long periods of time, stress hormones are activated and released into our bodies resulting in premature aging, disrupted sleep, elevated blood pressure, autoimmune disorders and chronic pain syndromes. And this is the short list. It can also erode our relationships, our work life, and make it difficult to stay healthy and engage in a meaningful and fulfilling lifestyle. Here are a few ideas about how to lower stress in your lives…
“Taking a news fast” is one of the first things that comes to my mind when advising patient about how to lower stress and anxiety. Did you know that over 80% of our thoughts are negative and recurring? Being more mindful of what negative information you allow to come into your home, your car, and into your mind is a good place to start. This might include unengaging with TV, Facebook, newspapers and online news reporting. Being less engaged with online media overall frees up A LOT of time, headspace, and focused energy that allows you to engage in real life with real people in real time. This naturally lowers our stress, our anxiety and our stress hormones. Check out this news fast article: https://www.drweil.com/health-wellness/body-mind-spirit/mental-health/need-a-news-fast/
Meditating for at least 10 minutes a day can improve your attention and focus in life and teach you to be more engaged in your life and less stressed about it. More meditation is better, of course, but even a short meditation ritual each morning can impart a huge benefit on your life and lower your stress and anxiety. The simple act of breathing deeply and slowly (breath-work) during meditation has been shown to not only lower your stress hormone levels but has also shown to decrease inflammation in your body and improve longevity. You do not have to be an expert meditator, but you do need to be a regular meditator to reap the benefits. Guided meditation from APPS like Headspace, Unplug, Calm and Insight Timer are all good places to start. Personally, I use a lot of the Deepak Chopra guided meditation APPS which work well for me. I consider myself to be a meditation rookie, but I do meditate for 12-15 minutes every morning with Deepak Chopra. I would also recommend the guided meditation tapes through www.healthjourneys.com for specific conditions (insomnia, anxiety, cancer, depression) with Bellaruth Kapernak which I have found to be stellar.
Another thing is to do less multi-tasking. Not giving our full attention to the important things in our lives these days is disruptive to being a productive and engaged human being. If you are eating a meal, enjoy the meal with full attention to digestion without phone interruption. If you are having lunch with a friend be present and intentionally engaged and forget about your to-do lists. Do not miss the opportunity to experience life in the here and now because this moment right now is unique and isn’t coming back. To learn to be more anchored in the present moment consider reading The Little Book of Hygge https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/30045683-the-little-book-of-hygge. A few other good reads on the topic is Cosy: The British Art of Comfort as well as The Little Book of Fika: The Uplifting Daily Ritual of the Swedish Coffee Break.
There are several herbal supplements called “adaptogens” that can be quite helpful. I have been recommending adaptogens for several years in practice and have found them to be quite safe, non-addicting, and very helpful for my patients with anxiety, high level stress and sleep disturbances.