Healthy Ways to Deal With Stress and Anxiety
New York City and stress go together hand in hand. In Frank Sinatra’s ode to love for the Big Apple, he coined the often-quoted phrase, “If you can make it here, you can make it anywhere.” While there is so much to love about New York City, Sinatra warns listeners about the multitude of distractions and the magnitude of the pressures this city can put on you.
Stress and anxiety are inevitable occurrences in life. However, when these feelings become ever-present, they can be quite overwhelming and exhausting. Fortunately, there are actions you can take that can decrease your stress levels and address anxiety.
What is anxiety?
In short, anxiety is a response to stress. It is a normal and healthy response in many situations or circumstances. It makes us alert, focused, and primed for reaction. It can be beneficial when harnessed and applied toward addressing the problem that is causing distress. However, if the anxiety lingers for long periods and begins to interfere with your life, it is apt to impact your relationships, your work or school performance, and your overall sense of well-being.
For many struggling with high anxiety, life can feel like living on a tightrope high above the city. You may find yourself in a constant state of agitated nervousness, physical tension, and on persistent alert for potentially stressful interactions or circumstances. Generalized anxiety disorder, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and obsessive-compulsive disorder are some of the more commonly known anxiety-related disorders.
Anxiety can also lead to panic attacks, and those who struggle with panic disorder are susceptible to these gripping episodes. While mental terror defines panic attacks, they also have physically disorienting and debilitating effects. They can cause racing heartbeat, shortness of breath, chest pains, dizziness, and weakness. Your motor skills may become impaired, and you may even shake uncontrollably. These episodes of panic are no-joke intense and scary. Some severe bouts of anxiety can easily be mistaken for heart attacks and strokes by those suffering from them, especially the first few times they occur.
While chronic anxiety is limiting and debilitating to those who experience it, the low-level version of anxiety is a necessary physical and mental reflex. The fight-or-flight response — the body’s natural reaction when danger or distress arises — is an adaptive form of anxiety because it alerts us to threats to survival. However, with high levels of chronic anxiety, an individual experiences tension, worry, and fear in the absence of any immediate and present threat or danger. The dangers that one perceives are often heightened when feeling anxious. This constant magnifying of problems can leave you alternating between a seemingly never-ending state of trepidation and hyper-vigilance for potential catastrophes and exhaustion.
Who does anxiety affect?
Anxiety is the mind and the body’s response to stress. From an evolutionary perspective, it is meant to aid in taking action to mitigate physically dangerous and distressing events. Everyone has moments when anxiety kicks in, but those who have experienced trauma and painful experiences growing up are most susceptible to it. Moreover, some people are predisposed (for a variety of reasons) to experience heightened, disruptive responses to stress and anxiety. Anxiety is linked to and leads to specific phobias such as social phobia or agoraphobia, the fear and avoidance of situations that could cause panic or in which escape would be difficult.
While there are risk factors that make some individuals more vulnerable to anxiety than others, anxiety disorders are experienced by nearly 1 in 5 Americans every year.
If you’ve never experienced even a brief, intense feeling of anxiety, you are likely one of the very few. Because anxiety is such a common struggle, it is vital that everyone learns healthy ways to manage stress and anxiety.
Talk to a professional
Suffering from stress or anxiety makes you a human having a very human experience. While anxiety is quite common, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, most people do not receive treatment for anxiety, similar to how most people do not get help for depression or related disorders. If your anxiety is getting the best of you regularly, it may help to talk with an experienced NYC therapist. Therapists in New York City understand how trying to meet the daily demands in this busy metropolis can cause or contribute to stress and anxiety. They can help you pinpoint and disarm triggers, and develop an understanding of the roots of your anxious responses. They’ll also work with you to implement coping methods that promote calmness and resilience to help you treat anxiety.
To achieve your goals, it is essential to know as much as possible about what you are facing. The same is true for coping with and creating long-term changes related to anxiety and panic disorders. Your first line of defense is stress management and self-care — especially techniques that help you to soothe your mind and body. Relatedly, coming to understand the life factors that contribute to your anxiety is key to gaining a sense of control over an experience that makes you feel out of control. With the help of a therapist, you’ll be much better equipped to cope with anxious reactions and feelings when they occur.
Trained NYC therapists can help you to navigate the many stress factors that permeate our city. In collaboration with you, they can talk you through and examine past experiences to help you pinpoint situations and thought processes that put you on edge and explore why. These triggers, life events, and experiences are different for everyone. Even people who suffer from the same type of anxiety disorder are likely to experience anxiety and panic differently.
For example, two people who are working to address symptoms of agoraphobia may have the same fear of being in similarly uncomfortable spaces, but their anxiety is triggered by very different elements within the same environment. One person may feel a sense of panic if they believe they cannot escape a room safely in an emergency. The other may start to feel their heart pound, and their limbs weaken in the presence of strangers at a gathering in the same room.
In this example, the key is to gain intimate and practical knowledge of what situations cause anxiety and a specific phobia such as agoraphobia. The same principle is applicable when addressing many forms of anxiety. Understanding the diverse interconnections of beliefs, thoughts, our body’s reactions, interpretations of physical sensations, and emotional responses underly making real and lasting changes to anxiety. Our therapists, like many other skilled mental health professionals, can walk you through this process.
Once you understand what factors cause your anxiety to rise and why, you and your therapist can lay out a treatment plan to either cope with the signs and symptoms, or aim to avoid them altogether.
Take care of your body
Rest, exercise, and time in nature are some of the best-prescribed remedies for just about every medical condition under the sun, and the same is true when it comes to managing stress levels and minimizing anxiety symptoms. As the Mayo Clinic explains, exercise may help ease anxiety by releasing endorphins (feel-good brain chemicals) and moving your body also gives your mind a break from worrying. Furthermore, exercise naturally builds a positive self-image and resilience, which is a significant help in the treatment of anxiety disorders.
Rest is equally as important as exercise in maintaining your mental well-being and calm. When you aren’t well-rested, you are more susceptible to feeling moody, disengaged, and reactive to stressors. A sleep-deprived mind and body are not likely to be effective in coping with the symptoms of anxiety and may have an adverse effect. Conversely, when you’re well-rested and alert, your mind and body are more prepared to take on stress successfully. You are also more likely to be in a positive mood and have more psychological resilience.
Food is fuel for your mind and body. The saying that you are what you eat refers not only to the effects that different foods have on your body but on the mind, as well. If they aren’t getting proper nutrition, then your body and mind won’t support you to achieve your physical and mental health goals. As an example of the power of foods, avocados, eggs, kale greens, nuts, berries, and dark chocolate have all been identified by specialists as being good brain foods and can improve certain health conditions. Of course, it is always wise to consult a medical health care professional before making changes to your diet or pursuing specific treatment options.
Mindfulness is gaining in popularity in the western hemisphere, especially in large urban areas like New York City. According to the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California at Berkeley:
“Mindfulness also involves acceptance, meaning that we pay attention to our thoughts and feelings without judging them—without believing, for instance, that there’s a “right” or “wrong” way to think or feel in a given moment. When we practice mindfulness, our thoughts tune into what we’re sensing in the present moment rather than rehashing the past or imagining the future.”
Meditation is the most popular form of mindfulness practice. Relaxation techniques are great for stressful situations because they teach you to slow your thought process, observe, be patient, and notice how your thoughts affect you and your mental well-being. Meditating will enable you to be more accepting of your thoughts and better recognize what stokes your anxiety. It is even a practice that you can use to soothe your mind and body while experiencing intense panic and anxiety.
Yoga is an ancient practice that comes from regions that now compose modern-day India. Yoga has experienced a resurgence in recent decades in the US and is now widely available in many gyms and studios and on many apps. Yoga promotes both mental and physical health, as it partners mindfulness, stretching, and breathing in a way that strengthens psychological and physical balance. The core of yoga is to be accepting of your current state and honoring it and to engage in deliberate, sustained practice to strengthen your body and well-being.
Being mindful means being thoughtful about what you eat and drink. Simply put, alcohol and caffeine are poor companions for anxiety. With alcohol in your system, you’re less able to make healthful physical and mental health choices. For example, when drunk you might make choices that you regret the following day. Or, as the Cleveland Clinic reports, a hangover can spur anxiety too. Caffeine results in physical stimulation and jitters that can be catalysts for feeling on edge and anxious. While you may not need to completely remove alcohol and caffeine from your diet, be aware of how much you consume and how they impact your mind and body as you find ways to address your levels of anxiety.
Take time to laugh
Sometimes, a wave of anxiety might appear to come out of nowhere, but this is rarely the case. Frequently it comes from giving too much mental attention (even in the background) to something that causes stress and sends your mind into an overly anxious or panic mode. If you find yourself dwelling on unpleasant circumstances or things in life that you know make you anxious — especially those that are out of your hands — try taking your mind off them with a light distraction. Comedy works wonders in these instances.
When you find yourself on the brink of tension and pressure, laughter is the best medicine. Whether you choose to find funny YouTube videos, watch a slapstick comedy movie, or venture to a comedy club, the key is to laugh. The natural calming effect that comes from laughing releases endorphins and dopamine. Laughter might also help you to find a new perspective, and assist you in finding the strength to believe that, ultimately, you’re going to be okay. Once you’ve laughed off some steam, you are likely to be more ready to find self-compassion and to accept what is out of your hands and mindfully address issues within your control.
The power of positive self-talk
As told by the BBC, “there’s a growing body of research to indicate that self-talk can help memory recall, confidence, focus and more.” Most of us are more accustomed to berating ourselves with negative self talk. For example, how often have you told yourself some version of you’re too slow, too unattractive, or not successful enough to matter? This negative type of self-talk leads us to one place: nowhere good. On the flip side, you can use positive self-talk to redirect your mind from negative anxiety-producing thoughts to your strengths (yes, you have them), your ability to cope, and the ways you’ve been able to find success, however you define it.
Granted, this will take practice, but here’s a powerful example. When you are in the grip of intense anxiety or even a full-blown panic attack you can use the power of self-talk to remind yourself that your body has just gone into panic mode and what you’re experiencing is an incredible surge of stress hormones (such as adrenaline) in your body. Although it may seem insurmountable to bring about changes with just your mind, positive thoughts, words, and images can bring your nervous system back to a state of calm.
Stress and anxiety: The big picture
Anxiety is your nervous system’s way of protecting you in moments of real peril. It is a neurophysical reaction to a perceived threat. It is your “fight or flight” mechanism, and it serves an important purpose. However, our minds and bodies are complicated. For a wide variety of reasons, this system designed to keep us safe might come to be overactive and cause us to experience mental stress and strain. Although more people talk about it openly, there is still hesitation for many to find help. If you’re struggling with anxiety, do what you can to not struggle in silence. Reach out for professional help. Therapists in our practice are here for you.