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Anxiety and Stress

Jan 18,2023

Their effects on us and how we can bounce back – based on science

Anxiety disorders and stress affect large numbers of people and can have a significant impact on our health.  According to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 40 million adults in the United States are affected by an anxiety disorder each year.1 Having this condition can increase the risk of having heart disease2,3 and may lead to poorer health outcomes in those with lung conditions.4 Yet in spite of this, less than half of the population seeks help for anxiety.5 

Stress is another major issue in the US and in fact, it’s the highest it’s been in a long time. High-stress levels are fuelled by the ongoing pandemic, rising prices, and the constant stream of bad news that people are experiencing.6 Stress can affect the brain7  and mental health.8 

Read on to find out more about anxiety and stress, and what you can do to bounce back.

 Anxiety and its effects

Key core features of anxiety are restlessness, fear, and worry, and these can have a negative impact on your quality of life and physical health. When the anxiety becomes debilitating and starts interfering with your work or personal life, you might have an anxiety disorder.9  For example, if the anxiety impacts your ability to focus on your work or interferes with sleep, among other symptoms, this may indicate that a problem is present.

Anxiety is linked to and may arise from stress.10 

Stress and its effects

Stress in and of itself can be defined as a feeling of being overwhelmed and is often tied to our reactions or the way we respond to pressures or threatening situations. 

 When the stress is chronic or high, it can increase people’s risk for high blood pressure11 and premature mortality.12 A study conducted by Anders Prior at Aarhus University has shown that stress is of particular concern for those already suffering from other illnesses. In fact, high stress in those with long-term health conditions was associated with deaths.12 Therefore, if you’re suffering from an illness, it is especially important to find ways to combat feelings of high tension.   

When the stress goes unchecked, it can lead to other consequences. In animals, it has effects on parts of the brain, such as the prefrontal cortex.13 Stress can also affect the immune system, potentially making us more susceptible to physical illness.14

Bouncing back and seeking help

It is important to know the signs of stress and anxiety, as well as their impact on us because knowledge is power. When we know the defining features of these signs and the effects they may have on our health, we can take steps to bounce back. Often the first step to bouncing back is recognizing that an issue may be present and seeking help.

If you’re experiencing debilitating anxiety or stress symptoms, you’re finding it hard to focus on your tasks, or you’re feeling irritable and can’t sleep, this could indicate that an issue may be present. If your well-being is affected, it is important to see a professional.  There are also strategies you can practice yourself to feel better.

How to overcome anxiety and stress:

Physical activity

One strategy which can have a substantial positive influence on your anxiety and stress levels is physical activity. Engaging in 30 minutes of physical activity, even just once a week, can be beneficial. Physical activity is not only good for the body and mind, but it can also improve the status of people affected by ill health. According to science, women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer (at age 55 or over), and who engage in high levels of physical activity tend to have improved survival.15 Exercise is something that can help you feel better, even when you are going through a more challenging time. 

Humor

Something else which can help, especially when it comes to stress, is turning to humor.  Life can become burdensome and there are times when we find it difficult to keep up.  When we turn to humor – whether it’s a funny sitcom or reading a few jokes – we get a bit of “psychological” distance or respite from the problem at hand, even if it’s just for a few moments. Humor can help us feel better and we often start seeing the stressful situation more clearly.16 

Back to the present

And finally, another way of tackling stress or anxiety is focusing on the present moment and doing breathing exercises. Letting go of all thoughts and turning to that oasis of peace found in meditation and quiet breathing. Taking care of yourself and being kind to yourself is important, especially when you’re going through a tough time. The saying, there is no health without mental health, couldn’t ring truer.  

References:

1. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 2022.

2. Celano CM, Daunis DJ, Lokko HN, Campbell KA, Huffman JC. Anxiety Disorders and Cardiovascular Disease. Curr Psychiatry Rep. 2016;18(11):101.

3. Allgulander C. Anxiety as a risk factor in cardiovascular disease. Curr Opin Psychiatry. 2016 Jan;29(1):13-7.

4. Eisner MD, Blanc PD, Yelin EH, Katz PP, Sanchez G, Iribarren C, Omachi TA. Influence of anxiety on health outcomes in COPD. Thorax. 2010 Mar;65(3):229-34.

5. Anxiety & Depression Association of America. 2022.

6. American Psychological Association. 2022.

7. Lupien SJ, Juster RP, Raymond C, Marin MF. The effects of chronic stress on the human brain: From neurotoxicity, to vulnerability, to opportunity. Front Neuroendocrinol. 2018 Apr;49:91-105.

8. Hammen C, Kim EY, Eberhart NK, Brennan PA. Chronic and acute stress and the prediction of major depression in women. Depress Anxiety. 2009;26(8):718-23.

9. American Psychiatric Association. 2021.

10. Pêgo JM, Sousa JC, Almeida O, Sousa N. Stress and the Neuroendocrinology of Anxiety Disorders. In: Stein M, Steckler T. (eds) Behavioral Neurobiology of Anxiety and Its Treatment. Current Topics in Behavioral Neurosciences. 2009; vol 2. Springer, Berlin, Heidelberg.

11. Spruill TM. Chronic psychosocial stress and hypertension. Curr Hypertens Rep. 2010;12(1):10-16.

12. Anders P, Morten F, Karen KL, Finn BL, Kirstine MR, Marie GN, Kaj SC, Stewart WM, Mogens V.  The Association Between Perceived Stress and Mortality Among People With Multimorbidity: A Prospective Population-Based Cohort Study. American Journal of Epidemiology. 2016;184(3):199–210.

13. Mariotti A. The effects of chronic stress on health: new insights into the molecular mechanisms of brain-body communication. Future Sci OA. 2015;1(3):FSO23.

14. Glaser R, Kiecolt-Glaser J. How stress damages immune system and health. Discov Med. 2005 Apr;5(26):165-9.

15. Johnsson, A, Broberg, P, Krüger, U, Johnsson, A, Tornberg, ÅB, Olsson, H. Physical activity and survival following breast cancer. Eur J Cancer Care. 2019; 28:e13037.

16. The Instant Mood Fix: Emergency remedies to beat anxiety, panic or stress. 2021; Happy Place, London, UK.

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