Ours is not exactly a society built for mellowness. We idolize the go-getters and ridicule the “slackers.” We celebrate the ones who seem to pack 25 hours’ worth of tasks into a 24 hour day and we judge, silently or not-so-silently, the ones who never seem to meet a deadline. We are the products of a culture built on the premise that you will succeed only through struggle and hard work.
And it’s killing us. As a society, we’re more overwhelmed, more stressed, more anxious than perhaps ever before. According to a recent report from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, some 40 million adults over the age of 18 in the US have some form of anxiety disorder. That’s nearly 20% of the entire US adult population.
Although, you don’t need demographic data to know the truth. All you need to do is look at surging rates of stress-related illnesses such as heart disease, stroke, cancer, and other life-threatening conditions to know that, as a population, we’re weighed down and sickened by anxiety (1, 2, 3, 4).
Chronic anxiety doesn’t just rob you of your quality of life, it can also deprive you of length of life. But, it doesn’t have to be that way. It’s possible to break the cycle of chronic, pathological stress. It just takes time, commitment, and the conviction that you - and your life - are worth it.
How Anxiety Impacts the Body
There are still a lot of unknowns when it comes to understanding how anxiety impacts the body. What is known, however, is far from reassuring if you’re one of the millions who are experiencing chronic stress or a full-fledged anxiety disorder.
Studies show, for instance, that chronic stress, often a precondition for anxiety, not only weakens the immune system but also drives inflammation throughout the body (5, 6, 7) and there are other, even more immediate effects. Anxiety activates the body’s fight or flight responses. The brain floods the body with stress hormones, such as adrenalin and cortisol. Heart rate, blood pressure, and respiration increase. Blood surges to the vital organs, while the limbs and peripheral systems are deprived of blood-borne oxygen and nutrients. The body perceives itself to be under constant threat and, thus, it enters a perpetual state of distress.
The evidence demonstrating the debilitating impacts of this continuous state of hyperarousal is all too clear. Studies show that surgical patients experiencing significant preoperative anxiety are more likely to experience adverse events, complications, and poorer outcomes, and they’re also more likely to die during the postoperative recovery period (8, 9). Anxiety in cancer patients has been linked both to recurrence and to lower survival and remission rates (10, 11). Organ transplant patients with anxiety are more likely than those without anxiety to experience complications and to die (12). Likewise for patients with cardiovascular disease (13). Significant prenatal anxiety is a significant risk factor for pregnancy and postnatal complications, including maternal and infant death (14).
These are terrifying data, but by no means are they destiny. There are important and proven steps that you can take today to start managing your anxiety, protecting your health, and forging a long and vital future ahead.
Techniques for Managing Anxiety
Managing anxiety is not a one-size-fits-all proposition, nor can you expect to do one little thing differently and always be miraculously calm. It’s about testing out what things work best for you then adopting them as practices that eventually become habit. What this means is that managing anxiety is about a dedication to a lifestyle of self-care, both literally and figuratively, in mind, body, and soul.
Nutrition: Nutrition is fundamental to managing anxiety, as a mounting body of evidence indicates that diets high in fat and processed foods can significantly increase anxiety. However, a nutrient-rich diet filled with healthy fats, proteins, and carbohydrates as well as essential vitamins and minerals, can help regulate mood and prevent anxiety (15).
Physical Activity: If you want to manage your anxiety, you don’t just need to change your diet. You also need to get moving. Numerous studies show that exercise, from yoga to aerobic exercise to participation in sports, can help relieve stress and arrest the stress-to-anxiety cascade (16, 17, 18).
Mindfulness and Meditation: In addition to nurturing the body through a healthy diet and regular physical activity, you also need to care for your soul and spirit. There are many proven ways to do this. For instance, techniques including meditation and mindfulness have been shown to be highly effective in reducing stress and preventing anxiety (19, 20).
Deep/Slow Breathing: Slow breathing techniques have been shown to induce healthful autonomic, neurological, and psychological changes in patients with anxiety, principally by mitigating the body’s stress response by regulating the action of the central nervous system (CNS) (21).
Cultivating Healthy Sleep: As we’ve already seen, ours is a go-go-go society. And that means that, all too often, sleep deprivation is perceived as a sort of badge of honor. In reality, though, sleep deprivation can be wrecking your health, including your ability to manage stress. If you want to prevent stress and anxiety, then getting consistent, quality sleep is essential. While you sleep, your brain processes the experiences and emotions of the day, while it also clears out the neurotoxins produced by the brain when you’re awake, active, and thinking. Not only that, but the sleeping brain replenishes and regulates vital hormones and neurotransmitters. All of these are key in getting us out of a fight or flight state of being so we can better manage stress and access creative solutions that reduce our anxiety (22).
Building Relationships and a Sense of Purpose: When you are dealing with anxiety, it can be easy to withdraw and isolate and this isolation is often also linked to a sense of loneliness, emptiness, and lack of purpose and meaning (23). So, one of the best things you can do to manage anxiety is to get involved, engage with others, and cultivate strong, healthy relationships. Research has shown that people who have strong social connectedness also enjoy a greater sense of meaning, fulfillment, and confidence, which in turn has been linked to an enhanced ability to manage stress, reduce anxiety, and experience longer lifespans (23).
Spending Time In Nature: No matter where you live, it is possible to benefit from the healing powers of nature. The evidence is clear that even a few minutes spent outside each day, whether in a public park, a community walking trail, or simply your own backyard, can significantly reduce stress levels and elevate your mood (24, 25).
Write It Out: Another powerful tool for reducing anxiety is daily journaling. In fact, studies show that journaling produces a range of benefits linked to the prevention of anxiety. You can begin the morning by writing out your daily affirmations, articulating your goals for the day, or creating gratitude statements to help you start out your day with a more positive, empowered, and optimistic outlook. Similarly, you can spend a few minutes at the end of each day to record your thoughts, express your emotions, and even potentially pinpoint sources of anxiety. Armed with such knowledge, you can then begin to define proactive strategies for addressing the issues that are causing you to feel stressed and worried in your life (26, 27).
How Casa Alternavida Can Help
Anxiety does not have to control your life, and it certainly doesn’t have to shorten it. You can take control of your stress and worry and gain the peace, serenity, and joy you deserve. At Casa Alternavida, we offer an array of services and retreat packages to help you regain your center and find your inner calm. Contact us today to discuss how we can help you regain the health and happiness you were made for.
Casa Alternavida was founded on the principle that there are healthier, “alternative” ways to balance life and work. This alternative is to stop the unconscious addiction to stress, overwhelm, and struggle to focus on a healthy, balanced lifestyle that yields better results. Our practitioners are trained to support you with unraveling those unconscious commitments so you can actively create the lifestyle you want to be living, take charge of your well-being, and reset bad habits. We are experts at creating playful experiences in nature that inspire deep personal insight and long-term positive behavior change. Teams walk away from our facility with new excitement for their projects, practices to work smarter, and a deep appreciation of their companies. If you are a business that cares about your employees and wants to enhance your workplace culture, we are dedicated to providing alternative ways of building resilient leaders and teams.
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