Stress and Anxiety
The words stress and anxiety often go together, especially in the conventional medical world.
But although they have similarities, they are not the same.
Both may lead to depression; depression may be a symptom of both.
Stress can come from both our outside world – too much to do, difficult relationships, bad work environment, - and our inner world – the thoughts we have in relation to the world, our perspective or outlook on the world, the way we rationalise things, our health – mental, emotional, and physical. In some respects, we can walk away from some stressors, we can reduce others, we can confront and challenge them.
Anxiety on the other hand is a feeling, or feelings, that inhabit our mind and permeate our whole body, debilitate us which in turn affects our outer world.
The key thing is that both can be dealt with and by more than drugs which is often the first line of approach of conventional medicine. The side effects of drugs can make anxiety worse, and life even more stressful.
The key is not to get too hooked on definitions; take your thoughts, feelings, symptoms, and experiences to your doctor who may suggest medication but explore it first. He or she may also refer a visit to a specialist or specialists.
The key is to get help; the longer you ignore things, the greater the possibility they are starting to contribute to a bigger or more serious condition
The day I snapped
Here, we want to take each in turn and show the symptoms of each.
We also later take a look at the metaphysical causes of anxiety and what you might do. Whilst most of us are aware of our physical, mental, emotional health few will consider spiritual health and yet in the case of anxiety, it is a hugely spiritual (not religious) issue.
A Metaphysical approach to Anxiety
Metaphysical healing, part of the larger field of Energy Medicine, is based on the belief that negative mental, emotional or behavioural patterns, left unchecked, can eventually result in dis-ease or illness and that the transforming of those negative patterns into positive patterns, and nurturing them, can in turn, lead to healing. What you think in your inner world affects your outer world.
Metaphysical / Spiritual causes of anxiety
Anxiety is one of the most pervasive psychological phenomenon of our time and metaphysically stems from not trusting or being able to go with the flow of life. It is a condition that can vary in its intensity and influence on a person’s life, and in an intense form can get in the way of effective communication and healthy relationships, hinder performance at work, arouse panic, and occasionally can cause unpleasant physical symptoms such as rapid heartbeat, breathlessness, nausea, muscle pain, paralysis, or intense headaches.
Anxiety is a hugely spiritual issue. As someone gets close to realising the importance of the higher Self, connecting to the Divine Mind, living a spiritual life with all that that can encompass, they experience an inner tension between the physical world of planet earth and the spiritual world – giving medication will not help
The physical world has expectations of us as mere mortals and the person with anxiety will be feeling the pain of (potential) failure, of letting others down, or the conflict between wanting to operate on their intuition and spiritual ways and what they feel compelled to do on the physical plane by others.
The spiritual person with anxiety is likely to experience Dark nights of the Soul, where there is a need to go into reflection, introspection, into the darkness, a period of putrefaction, of breaking down, to face ones fears, aggressions, angers, griefs, jealousies and bitternesses. There will be an inwards struggle, which often can lead to depression, a struggle for which three seems there are no answers, a place of chaos and madness and much questioning of “who am I?” “Why me?” “Why now?”
If you go with the flow of the anxiety don’t be surprise if what surfaces is your worst nightmares, your worst fears, which have been held hidden for so long in your psyche.
You may be an extremely competent person, having fulfilled many roles, and very skilfully, but suddenly it feels as if nothing you know how to do actually works and the harder you try to control things, to work things through, the more difficult that is to achieve.
Everything you have ever known, all those foundations you laid over the year are now shaken to the core, your means of self-expression taken from you or made difficult, everything seems cold, hard and rigid and mechanical, and you will find support difficult to come by, certainly in the form of people who truly understand what you are going through unless you can find a highly skilled spiritual director. This is a time for much self-love but self-love does not come easy and so you avoid it and remain confused.
What beliefs might this person hold?
It’s not safe to change (which means you stay stuck – remember fight, flight or freeze! You are in freeze mode.)
I can’t change anything (so you stay stuck)
Bad thing always happen to good people. Something bad is going to happen to me.
Things are falling apart.
Everything is a mess.
I am alone, there is no one I can depend / rely upon
No one will understand me
Nothing I do works
I don’t trust others, or even myself
I am angry at /with …
I am bitter towards…
I am helpless, life is hopeless
I am jealous of…
I am lost, trapped
Life is overwhelming
If I make a decision, it’s sure to be wrong
There is no way out
Unless I die
I am dying
What can you do?
This is not something that an individual should face alone; this is not just about healing on a physical or mental / emotional level, but requires deep spiritual healing processes. Finding a genuine, authentic, skilled spiritual healer / therapist or spiritual director I believe is key.
Over time, work on your beliefs.
Identify which beliefs you hold (see some samples above) – identify your own beliefs (think about the rules you have for life – what you / others SHOULD, MUST do or be like
For each, try to trace where the belief came from – it’s likely to be in childhood, were you abandoned, rejected, made to feel you did not belong? Were you shamed, humiliated, betrayed, served an injustice.
Do you need this belief any more?
What could be a new way of believing and thinking? Unless you have been given a terminal diagnosis, and acknowledging we are all on the way to dying to this physical life, what might be a more beneficial belief instead of “I am dying” to help you lead a life of potential and vibrancy eg I live abundantly, healthily, with passion; every cell in my body energises me. All my body systems are working excellently. I have a life fulfilled in every rea – mental, emotional, physical AND spiritual. I easily bridge the material and spiritual worlds.
Try working with Byron Katie’s the work and run each of your beliefs through her filters
Tell yourself there are things you can do, groups you can join to support your spiritual growth and journey – look at www.meetup.com
Instead of telling yourself life is overwhelming – tell yourself, “I can break life into chunks and deal with each in turn” then set about to do it
Physical exercise – not only is physical activity good for your physical health, but it can also improve anxiety, depression, and overall mood. Aerobic exercise or HIT (High Intensity Training) may help against mild depression since it raises endorphin levels and stimulates the neurotransmitter norepinephrine (also called noradrenaline), which is related to mood.
Sleep – whether you’re dealing with major anxiety or just looking to boost your mood, improving your sleep hygiene is a crucial first step.
Ensure good nutrition – aim for a plant-based diet (you can reintroduce meats at a later stage) – according to a study from the University of Melbourne in Australia, women who consumed a diet rich in vegetables, fruits, and whole grains were 30% less likely to suffer from major depression and other anxiety disorders compared to those who ate a western diet consisting of processed foods high in animal proteins, refined sugars and saturated fats. Go to The Diet Doctor for excellent nutritional tips
Rest and Relaxation- take time to wind down, to unwind, to relax, time just for you. Go outside – without enough sunlight exposure, an individual’s serotonin and vitamin D levels can dip low. Low levels of serotonin and vitamin D are linked with a higher risk of the seasonal affective disorder. In Northern climes topping up with Vitamin D3 and vitaminK2. You need both.
Hydration - drink plenty of water – I get about eight sizeable glasses per day; there’s a connection between dehydration and depression and anxiety, so be aware of the amount of water that you’re drinking and drink throughout the day, not all in one large gulp.
Remember this is a condition of spiritual issues so you must nourish your soul.
Work with a Spiritual Director / Teacher
Consider short courses in spirituality or metaphysics
Explore the key teachings of the key world religions – and notice the common simplicity of their messages – calls to forgiveness, care, compassion, healing, and service.
Find a local spiritual group or church that is a fit for you at this time
Practice meditation – many studies have found that meditation does actually “shape” the brain (neuroplasticity). The practice of meditation also improves connectivity between the two frontal brain lobes, corrects the damage from stress, and even promotes cell growth in important regions that are underdeveloped in depressed individuals, like the hippocampus.
Introduce prayer – talk to the God of your understanding, whatever you call it – talk to it and in meditation listen
Be open to attracting into your life people who can support you on your spiritual path and remember the old saying, people come into your life for a reason, a season or a lifetime.
Avoid alcohol – although alcohol gives a momentary “high”, it is a mood-altering depressant drug, but those at risk for anxiety and depression are also at greater risk of alcohol abuse and developing alcoholism.
Avoid caffeine – caffeinated beverages lower serotonin and increase the risk for depression, anxiety, and poor sleep. Reduce your intake of tea (green and black), coffee, energy drinks and hot cocoa.
I love and approve of myself
I trust the process of life.
I now find it easier each day to flow with the process of life
I now flow with the process of life
I now allow only loving and healthy relationships into my life.
I now naturally stay positive.
I now find thinking positively easy.
I now go beyond other people’s limitations and fears
I now go beyond others limitations and fears made on me
I now create my own life.
The Universal Creator is in me and I create a wonderful spiritual life
As I am called to service, I choose to serve The Creator’s Will for me with an open heart
Stress can be useful; it can alert us to take action, to remove ourselves from, or of, a situation, or to stay put, fight our corner, face up to the situation.
Too much stress, not handled well, over a period of time, creates numerous physical, mental, and emotional problems, often resulting in serious medical conditions. Sometimes it is insidious; we are o busy dealing with it, we fail to see the damage it is creating or the toll we are taking.
When your body detects stress, a tiny area in the base of the brain called the hypothalamus reacts by stimulating the body to produce hormones such as adrenaline and cortisol. These help you to deal with any stressors (threats or pressure) you are facing.
Typically, we have three ways of responding – we fight, we flee, we freeze where, instead of fighting or fleeing, then, a bit like a rabbit in the headlights, we tend to freeze in traumatic situations, we get stuck, we just don’t knowhow to respond.
When stressed, the hormone adrenaline is produced and increases your heart rate, raises your blood pressure and provides extra energy, ready to take action. But the body also produces cortisol, known as the stress hormone, which also temporarily increases energy by triggering the release of glucose into the bloodstream, to help the person fight or run away. But what happens if we don’t run away? Where does that glucose go, how is it used up? If it isn’t, it can contribute to body fat, belly fat in particular, and at the same time, other bodily functions which are not immediately needed, such as digestion, are suppressed.
The body is always trying to be in balance and it's response to stress is usually to regulate itself and as the stress dissolves, disappears, so your hormone levels fall, your heart and blood pressure return to normal.
We all need a certain amount of healthy stress (eustress) or pressure to live well. It gets us out of bed in the morning and motivates us throughout the day. Stress becomes problematic when there's too much or too little.
Stress that is too intense or prolonged, causes your body to keep on producing stress hormones over a prolonged period. Because the body is not returning to its balanced level, this increases the risk of a range of physical health problems eg headaches, stomach upsets and high blood pressure and more serious ones too, eg an increased risk of having a stroke or heart attack. People who suffer from chronic (ie ongoing) stress are at greater risk of developing metabolic syndrome, which is a combination of diabetes, high blood pressure and obesity.
Long-term stress can seriously negatively impact your immune system, and so many conditions can arise from a compromised, ineffective immune system such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer, other chronic illnesses, or even an acute illness. Some medications can suppress your immune system.
Stress often leads to poor mental health, to psychological problems, affecting relationships, with oneself and with others, making people feel fear, become distrusting, irritable and angry, depressed and anxious.
An anxiety disorder is a common mental illness defined by feelings of uneasiness, worry and fear. And nausea.
While anxiety occurs for everyone sometimes, a person with an anxiety disorder feels an inappropriate amount of anxiety more often than is reasonable. It may happen too often and for too long each time ...days, weeks, months, or even years.
For example, an average individual may feel some anxiety before going to an interview for a new work placement but a person with an actual anxiety disorder may feel anxiety every time they go to work, or simply even leave their home.
Many people with an anxiety disorder do not realize they have a defined, treatable disorder and so genuine anxiety disorders often will go undiagnosed not just because a person has not recognised the symptoms but perhaps because they have and feel there is something "wrong" with them or they may feel embarrassment and shame which then compounds their anxiety.
People with an anxiety disorder often don't just feel, anxious but have co-occurring mental health issues or conditions such as depression. In later years, they may also be dealing with multiple morbidity ie several medical conditions at the same time eg diabetes, cancer, dementia, atherosclerosis and all of this can weigh heavily on the mind, if not knowingly then at a subconscious level and this can increase serious risks like suicide. Take severe anxiety disorder symptoms and panic attacks as warning signs and have them fully investigated.
If your day-to-day functioning is impaired or impeded, it is likely you have some form of anxiety disorder and so a medical consultation would be called for. This is not a time for shame or embarrassment, emotions which we often feel if we have a mental health condition. But anxiety affects our whole being.
A person with an anxiety disorder often experiences a significantly reduced quality of life and anxiety disorders are associated with possibly fatal heart conditions. So this is not to be taken lightly.
Types of Anxiety Disorders
Several types of anxiety disorders appear in the latest version of the American Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV-TR).1
Acute stress disorder
Adjustment disorder with anxious features
Anxiety due to a general medical condition
Substance-induced anxiety disorder
Symptoms of stress
Emotional symptoms of stress
· You will become easily agitated, frustrated and moody
· You are likely to have difficulty relaxing, quieting your mind, and being at peace in your mind
· You are likely to feel bad about yourself (low self-esteem), guilty, self-berating, lonely, worthless, and down or depressed
· You may experience mood swings ranging from the highs to the lows, and often with no apparent reason for them
· You will feel as if there is no respite between the challenges you are facing, stress becomes constant
· You are likely to feel overwhelmed, like you are losing control or need to take control
· You could start to withdraw, decide not to go out, to avoid others, or avoid pursuits from which you would usually derive pleasure
Physical symptoms of stress
· Aches, pains, and tense muscles – which migrate throughout the body
· Chest pains
· Clenched jaw
· Cold or sweaty hands and feet
· Difficulty swallowing
· Dry mouth
· Frequent colds and infections
· Grinding teeth (bruxism)
· Loss of sexual desire and/or ability
· Low energy
· Low / no motivation to do anything
· Nervousness and shaking, ringing in the ear
· Rapid heartbeat, palpitations
· Upset stomach
· Varying between diarrhoea and constipation, stomach nausea
Symptoms of Anxiety Disorders
Symptoms vary by type of anxiety disorder, but typically, anxiety disorders are defined by:
Feelings of always being on edge
Feeling fearful / fear-filled, often watching your back
Feelings of being fearful or powerless
Mind going blank, forgetfulness
Sense of impending danger or doom
Irritability, easily irritated
Muscle tension, sweating or heart palpitations
Feelings of restlessness
Sleep disturbances, difficulty falling / staying asleep
Anxiety Disorder Treatment
Education about mental illness, anxiety disorders in particular, and lifestyle changes is much needed and often crucial to the success of anxiety disorder treatment.
Anxiety disorder treatment is typically in the form of psychotherapy (a form of talking therapy, most likely CBT - Cognitive Behaviour Therapy) and sometimes combined with medication.
As anxiety disorders often are occur alongside other disorders such a substance use disorder, treatment often includes the treatment for those disorders as well. The client / patient may therefore be dealing with the side effects of medication. It is important, if offered medication, to ask about side effects and then consider the risk.
It is also worth considering therapies available privately in your area.
NHS - Anxiety
Dark Night of the Soul - please do your research and allow yourself to be drawn to a book of this title
Ego - the greatest obstacle to healing the 5 wounds Lise Bourbeau
Videos / websites
DARE Response - how to overcome anxiety