Simply put, being stressed has become more than an occasional event; it’s a way of life for many of us. Day in and day out, the demands we face use up our time, deplete our energy, and well, stress us out. But as we become more accustomed to this way of life, at what stress level do we need to be concerned? The answer: When stress becomes anxiety.
Anxiety is a response in the body and the mind to what a person perceives as a threat or danger. Whether or not the danger is real is irrelevant when a person suffers from anxiety. The symptoms are the same: feelings of dread or powerlessness as well as physical signs like hyperventilation and a faster heart rate. As our stressors increase, so does our risk of anxiety. And when we feel we can no longer cope with our situation, the fear sets in and anxiety is born.
Women are vulnerable to anxiety as the demands of life become more pressing. Nothing is perfect: we’ve got more growth opportunities than ever before, but the expectations of what we expect from others, and what want from ourselves, have never been higher. Men are also experiencing new levels of stress with expectations not only to continue in their traditional wage-earning role, but to share in household duties and caregiving.
Here are four of the more common stressors adults are facing this season:
The stress of the new school year. As children’s workloads increase, parents are frantically trying to keep up with the tightly scheduled school calendar. Grandparents may be called on for duties (picking kids up after school or activities) that weren’t on the schedule in summer.
Holidays, while intended to be happy, warm family events, more often than not are stomach churning races against the clock to get everything done in time. And there may be, as we all know, some unpleasant or argumentative moments in the midst of our carefully planned events.
Hormonal fluctuations. Whether due to PMS, perimenopause or menopause, hormonal fluctuations add more distress both.
Money troubles. Financial struggles and job loss are frequent catalysts for anxiety in these tough economic times. More people fear for the longevity of their jobs and incomes and ultimate care for their family. Unfortunately, job security is no longer reliably tied to job performance, and that makes the situation that much more stressful.
So what do we do when that anxiety monster comes out of the closet? The first thought is typically to reduce or even eliminate the sources of anxiety. But most of the time that’s not possible. Holidays roll around, hormones wax and wane and jobs are stressful. Besides, even if you manage to eliminate one stressor, another is likely to replace it, and you’ll find yourself anxious all over again.
What to do? You’ll find stressors easier to manage if you don’t wait for them to overwhelm you. Here are a few suggestions to take control of stress before and during stressful events.
Before: Regular exercise isn’t good only for reducing stress. It can help you avoid it, so don’t wait until you’re overwhelmed before hitting the stationary bike or going for a walk. In addition, watching your diet by eliminating caffeinated and highly refined and sugary foods and beverages increases the health of the body and mind, giving you a greater capability to cope with stress.
During: No matter how pressed you feel for time, make a point of create regular, healthy ways of decompressing when the stress starts to build. Think of these as adult “time-outs.” Go out for coffee or a movie night with a spouse, partner, friend, or even alone. Try yoga, meditation, or talking with friends. Even a few minutes can help
If you do find yourself getting into the anxiety zone, you may need more assistance. The methods used in the before and during stages can still be applied in the after stage, along with efforts that offer greater support. Seeking out a professional who can help you through therapy and/or point you toward some appropriate medication is a smart to get that anxiety monster out of your life…for good!
Deborah Wagner, Ph.D. is a psychologist and author of the new book, “The Fifth Decade: Is It Just My Life or Is It Perimenopause?” She earned her doctorate in Developmental Psychology at Yeshiva University while conducting pre- and post-doctoral research at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. She recently expanded her twenty-year practice by creating The Wagner Center for Psychotherapy. For more information, visit www.deborahwagnerphd.com or www.TheFifthDecade.com.