Anxiety seems to be the new buzzword these days. Everyone is experiencing it and is acutely aware that they’re experiencing it, for children and adults alike. I have mixed feelings about how it’s almost “cool” to be anxious now, but I’ll save that for another day. The truth is that having anxiety on any sort of regular basis does damage to your body’s delicate system. Did I just make you more anxious? Bare with me.
Anxiety is the product of our body’s “fight or flight” response. It’s our body’s way of protecting us from dangerous (or perceived dangerous) situations. Think of a time where you may have been driving when suddenly you see a deer out of the corner of your eye darting toward the road. You may remember feeling a surge of energy, enabling you to think quickly and stop or swerve. After the moment passes, your heart was likely beating wildly, your face was hot, you may be dizzy, your breathing was heavy, and hands may have shaken (sounds like anxiety or a panic attack, right?). After a few minutes (maybe an hour or two depending on the event and the person), the feeling passes and your body returns to normal. This is fight or flight that is effective. Your brain’s “go” system gave you a surge of hormones, enabling your pulse to quicken, getting extra oxygen to your brain, and enabled your senses to be sharper to save you. Once you were safe, the “stop” system told your body the danger had passed and your hormones return to normal. Chronic anxiety, we are talking almost daily worries about your job, friends, relationship, safety, and what have you, is all “go” and no “stop”. There’s no moment that your brain tells your body the message “it’s ok now” because the danger isn’t always something you can put your finger on. Here’s where we run into trouble.
Having difficulty losing weight? You can count all the macros you want and still not get the results you want if these stress hormones (cortisol is the big one) are hanging around beyond the time they’re actually needed. Getting colds, flus, viruses often? These hormones (or your preschooler…) could be to blame. Stomach issues? IBS? Fatigue? High-blood pressure? Low libido? Even things as serious as cancer, stroke, and heart attack have a link to these hormones.
There’s always a product (medication, oils, CBD, supplements, etc.) that promises to cure all these things. Can they help? Sure. Are they the solution. Not likely. (Although if you believe it helps, it usually does to some degree. The placebo effect is real and worth noting.) The biggest and most important thing you can do is work on triggering your body’s “stop” system (parasympathetic nervous system if you want to get fancy).
- Meditation, Tai Chi, and Yoga are all documented and well-researched forms of getting those levels down in real time. Look for groups in your area or seek a class or therapist if you want intensive training. Being able to train yourself to trigger that “stop” response once you realize you’re in “go” mode and don’t need to be is invaluable.
- Exercise. Move. That. Body. This deepens your breathing and oxygenates your blood. Cue that relaxation response.
- Talk. Get it out. Talk about the feelings, the solutions, and gratitude for what’s good. Staying on “the problem” for too long will only make it bigger.
You only get one body. If you want to live long and in a healthy body, one you cherish and can take you to do all the things you want to do, take care of it. Sometimes that means more than just eating your greens and avoiding cigarettes, but it’s worth the effort tenfold.
I tried to keep this user-friendly but if you’re interested in more of the studies and science, I suggest reading:
The material and contents of this post are for informational purposes only and are designed to provide helpful advice on the subjects discussed. The information is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis or treatment. For diagnosis or treatment of any medical or emotional condition, please consult your physician, mental health professional, or other qualified health provider.