by Dr. Hojat Askari, Medical Director, Thumb Butte Medical Center
“Stressed” is a word people often use to describe themselves when they’re on a work deadline or dealing with a family situation. But how do we know if stress, or its cousin anxiety, is becoming an issue in itself?
The two produce similar symptoms but are different in origin.
“Stress” is more commonly defined as a mental and physical overreaction triggered by an ongoing, identifiable situation such as short-term work deadline or long-term extended unemployment.
“Anxiety” is more of a generalized sense of heightened worry or awareness that isn’t not linked to a specific stressor, or it persists after the stressor is resolved.
Both create symptoms including irritability, fatigue, insomnia and muscle tension, and both can lead to chronic health issues like high blood pressure, inflammation, heart disease or illnesses connected to a weakened immune system.
There are many coping mechanisms that can help with both stress and anxiety, which often are difficult to differentiate or coexist with each other:
- A healthy lifestyle — Yes, this one comes up again and again. A healthy diet heavy on fruits and vegetables, regular exercise and maintaining your sleep cycle are crucial for dealing with any stressors and getting a handle on your response to them during or after the fact.
- Eliminate the stressor or tame your response — It’s often next to impossible to eliminate something that’s requiring so much of your mental energy, but sometimes you can find ways to shift some responsibilities to reduce the load, or build up your social connections with others for support. Evaluating your response and whether it’s helpful also can help.
- Meditation and mindfulness — It takes many forms, but the goal of leading you to a state of inner calm and reflection is the same. Just starting out with taking five or 10 minutes in the morning or evening to sit quietly and focus on your breath can help you gain more emotional stability and get you interested in learning more about these practices.
- Reconnect with nature — It’s been proven that spending time in natural spaces, especially green ones, can lower blood pressure, elevate mood and boost the immune system. We certainly have a lot of open space surrounding our Greater Prescott communities, but even a few minutes in Courthouse Plaza or other parks can help you recover from stress or anxiety more quickly.
- Prioritize pleasurable activities — Whenever we feel overwhelmed by a situation stress or anxiety isn’t far behind. One of the best ways to cope is to find time for at least some of the hobbies or activities that make us happy; pushing those away just makes things worse.
These are just some of the simple coping activities you can try, but if you still feel stress and anxiety is taking over your life, it’s a good idea to seek help from a health care professional.