Stress and anxiety. Who doesn’t have them, right? It seems that the older we get, the more there is to worry about.
Paying rent turns into paying a mortgage, getting engaged turns into planning a wedding, and changing jobs turns into way more responsibility.
And that’s all before we start planning what we’ll do during retirement… All this stress affects various parts of our body and can produce ailments like tension headaches, back pain and more.
If you’re not a fan of taking prescription anxiety medication like myself (I’ve heard horror stories), what’s a stressed-out, anxiety-ridden person to do?!
According to MIT News, over 40 million Americans have anxiety disorders (including OCD, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, social anxiety and panic attacks) and many take prescription drugs to help manage their symptoms.
However, pills don’t work for everyone, and some people prefer other methods of managing their anxiety—Cognitive-Behavioral Therapy (CBT), hypnosis, acupuncture, meditation and the like.
For instance, to help curb my OCD, I initially tried various Selective Serotonin Reuptake Inhibitors (SSRIs) and antidepressants, like Prozac and Paxil. However, the side effects and I didn’t get along, so I found an amazing hypnotherapist and learned to get better through CBT.
Hence, I learned there’s a lot of self-care we can do, without popping any pills. Below are primary areas of our bodies that get affected by stress, and natural coping mechanisms* we can try instead of taking ibuprofen or Xanax.
*Always ask a doctor before stopping or starting a medication or non-medication treatment plan.
A lot of stress and anxiety stem from the brain and how it functions. As cortisol, the “stress hormone,” is released, it damages memory centers such as the hippocampus. Psychology Today states that when it shrinks, stress and anxiety go up.
“Studies in women with PTSD resulting from childhood sexual abuse and Vietnam veterans with PTSD have shown 12-26 percent decreases in hippocampal volume, relative to those without PTSD. In another study, patients recovered from long-term major depression showed a 15 percent decrease in volume of the hippocampus, compared to nondepressed patients.” —Melanie Greenberg, Ph.D.
- When feeling overly stressed with work, give yourself a day off to refuel
- Practice mindfulness meditation
Your Nervous System
Has your shirt ever gotten full of sweat, even though you weren’t going for a run? Or have you felt your heart racing, but you can’t blame anything but nerves?
Your sympathetic nervous system is to blame, which is anything but calming. The more often we have physical symptoms caused by this nervous system, the more anxious we will be (which is not good). Of course, increased anxiety levels can also lead to an increase in health problems.
- Take a hot bath (which can help reduce anxiety and muscle tension; two for one!). You know how places like Burke Williams give you water flavored with fresh fruit and tea before you go into the Jacuzzi or steam room? It’s all part of their plan to get you to relax, but you don’t need a spa to do so.
- Take a walk (or partake in any exercise) in a serene environment versus a noisy and chaotic one. Whatever you do, move for at least 21 minutes at a time (20-30 is ideal), so you get your heart rate up.
- Breathe and do yoga.
I am sure we can all relate to stomach, bowel, and bladder-related stress (like being nervous before a big work presentation and having to run to the bathroom A LOT beforehand). How does that happen? Stress causes increased acids and, thus, affects the above.
Back, Head and Neck
Your equilibrium is thrown off when your pituitary, adrenal and hypothalamic hormones are affected. When you’re not feeling as sharp, your back, neck and head suffer. Oftentimes, there are easy solutions to help alleviate the pain.
- Change your diet, like adding more magnesium and less caffeine
- Sleep more – are you getting 7-9 hours?
- Drink plenty of water
- Practice meditation
The CalmClinic has an online anxiety test you can take here.
All in all, there are plenty of options to try before (or in addition to) taking medications for your anxiety. So I’ll see you at the spa!