Natural disasters. Terrorism. Gun violence. Political divide. Many of the things happening in our country and around the world are not easy concepts to understand.
In difficult times, it’s normal to feel anxious, tense, angry, upset or helpless. These are common reactions to tragic events.
Stress Is on the Rise
If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, you are not alone. The American Psychological Association’s Stress in AmericaTM annual poll found that Americans’ stress levels have increased recently, and there have been changes in the sources of stress.
From August 2016 to January 2017, Americans’ reported stress levels rose in areas like personal safety, political uncertainty, terrorism and the future of our country.
This is the first significant increase in reported stress since the poll began a decade ago. Is it surprising? The increase in violence and terrorist attacks can cause overwhelming thoughts of what-if scenarios.
What Can You Do?
There are ways you can manage anxiety. For starters, focus on things you can control. To avoid increasing your anxiety, try these techniques:
- Engage in activities that help you overcome your feelings of powerlessness. For example, keep tabs on security measures for public places or develop a home disaster plan.
- Limit exposure to news reports. If watching or reading the news increases your feelings of worry, tune it out.
- Spend time with your dog or cat. Some playtime and a petting session may calm you.
- Unplug from social media. Constant alerts, messages and push notifications at all hours can be too much of a negative distraction. Set a time each day to power off or turn on the “Do Not Disturb” function.
- Download a “mindfulness” mobile app to help you stay in the moment and be present. Some apps are free and can help with breathing exercises and simple meditations.
- Distract yourself from thinking about current events. Get involved in activities you enjoy, like reading, listening to music or visiting a museum.
- Share your feelings with family or friends.
- Take part in habits and rituals to help express your feelings.
- Use exercise to overcome stress. Aerobic exercise, such as walking, running, swimming or bicycling may help clear your mind, making it easier to deal with fears.
- Avoid or minimize alcohol and caffeine intake. They can increase your anxiety and disrupt your sleep. Alcohol can also mask your feelings and make it more difficult to handle stress.
When Should You Get Help?
If you’re unable to manage your anxiety with these self-care steps, talk to your doctor about getting help from a mental health professional. Your doctor can help you find a qualified therapist, counselor or psychologist.
While chronic anxiety can strike at any time, it most commonly begins during the 20s. Anxiety has passed depression as the most common mental health diagnosis among college students. And about twice as many women as men experience chronic anxiety.
For most people, anxious feelings will go away in a few weeks. But those who experience an anxiety disorder may continue to have frequent, excessive and repeated moments of intense anxiety and fear.
If you constantly feel extremely anxious about everyday occurrences or routine issues for at least six months, talk to your doctor.
Signs of this treatable condition include:
- Sleeplessness and fatigue
- Muscle tension and aches
- Increased heart rate
- Trouble concentrating
- A sense of impending danger, panic or doom
- Feeling nervous, restless or tense
- Gastrointestinal problems
We have an app for that.
Looking for an app to help you manage stress? Consider downloading Centered, our award-winning free app that guides you through meditation sessions and lets you set a weekly mindful meditation goal. To get the Centered app, text* CENTERED to 33633.
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Sources: Stress in America: Coping with Change, American Psychological Association, 2017; Anxiety: Overview, Symptoms and Causes, Mayo Clinic; Anxious Students Strain College Mental Health Centers, The New York Times, May 27, 2015; Suggestions for Adults: Talking and Thinking with Children About the Terrorist Attacks, U.S. Department of Education, 2005