Are Anxiety and Stress Complicating Your Life?

No question about it, anxiety and stress are major challenges for most of us. Some of both is inevitable, but both can reach a point where they are actively interfering with our ability to function in our daily lives. The good news is that anxiety and stress are also very treatable. First, allow me to define anxiety and stress as I see them.

Stress, or what one might call ‘anxiety of daily life’, is caused by many of the challenges of every-day living. These include:

  • Pressure and stress at Work
  • Rush hour traffic
  • An argument with a loved one or friend
  • A web page that won’t load...or won’t work at all
  • Having to speak in front of a group of people
  • And....the steady buildup of daily challenges and irritations

Sometimes, our anxiety boils over into anger. If this is a frequent issue for you, please check out my page on anger management

Deeper, or ‘Existential’ Anxiety

On the other hand, there is a different type of anxiety. Let’s call this ‘existential anxiety’. When I consider this, I think of four major themes in life:

  1. Death (and the meaning of life)
  2. Freedom (or the lack of it)
  3. Isolation from others (or connection with others)
  4. Meaning (of life, or the lack of it)

Irvin Yalom, the famous existential psychotherapist and Professor Emeritus at Stanford University, has written a great deal on existential psychotherapy and discusses the four themes I outline above in greater detail here. It doesn’t take a rocket scientist to realize that the four themes mentioned above are hugely important in all of our lives. To the degree that these themes are problematic in our lives, we will have significant anxiety.

In order to successfully treat anxiety and stress, it’s vital that you understand BOTH levels (the daily pressures and the major life issues that cause anxiety). 

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Treating Daily Anxiety and Stress

Let’s talk about the day to day variety first. Daily stressors, when they build up over time, can create anxiety and stress that is downright disabling. For some, the anxiety boils over into panic attacks, physical illnesses (high blood pressure, heart problems, etc.), and inability to function at the level we are used to.

What to do about this? Here are some thoughts:

  • Examine your thoughts and feelings in terms of how we react to the events and stressors in our daily lives. Check out this list of cognitive distortions to examine if your thought patterns are worsening your anxiety and stress. In particular, Jumping to Conclusions and All-or-Nothing Thinking are thought patterns that can provoke high levels of anxiety
  • Awareness of the present moment. Being grounded in the present is critical in order to be able to handle the challenges in front of you
  • A regular exercise routine is a very important tool for channeling our stress in an adaptive manner
  • How do you know when your stress is reaching a point that is unhealthy? What are the physical and cognitive signs of this? Early recognition is key. Pay attention to your mind and body, they will tell you when you start to get out of balance. Mindfulness exercises (discussed in the next bullet point) or counseling can help one be able to recognize these signs sooner. 
  • It’s very helpful to have a daily relaxation routine such as meditation, yoga, or simply deep breathing. The key is to do this regularly--preferably, at the same time each day so that it is firmly established in your routine. There is abundant evidence of the health benefits of engaging in a daily relaxation habit. More on this here.
  • Learning to take care of ourselves properly is essential. See my self-care page
  • For more specific, nitty-gritty methods for treatment your anxiety, check out the anxiety treatment page. 

Doing these things regularly will go a long way toward effectively coping with daily anxiety and stress. For more information on daily routines that can make a huge difference in your life, check out my self-care page.

Let us now turn our attention toward the more pervasive anxiety that is centered around life themes.

Anxiety Treatment for Major Life Themes

As I’ve mentioned earlier, our anxiety is often about major life themes. I mentioned four major themes that I usually see clients struggle with. That’s okay, we ALL struggle with issues surrounding death, freedom, isolation, and meaning. They are a big part of anyone’s life. If you find yourself grappling with a tremendous amount of anxiety around these types of issues, here are some ways to come to grips with this level of anxiety:

  1. Journaling or other equivalent self-reflection
  2. Talking with a trusted friend(s)
  3. Mental health counseling

Trust (in ourselves and others) is something that greatly affects the level of anxiety in our lives; and in fact, greatly affects our entire well-being. More on trust here

Existential anxiety is not necessarily unhealthy. It is in fact normal to be concerned about these issues. However, when the level of anxiety becomes detrimental to your life, consider seeing a professional counselor.

Anxiety and Depression Often Go Hand in Hand

These two conditions often go together and feed on each other. Anxiety can encourage sadness, even despair. Depression certainly can foster anxiety. Which causes which? Does it seem overwhelming? If you find that you go back and forth between the two, I strongly encourage you to seek professional help.

How Do the People in Your Life Affect Your Mood?

When thinking about anxiety, depression, or overall happiness, it is important to consider the people that are in our lives on a daily basis. If your support system consists of people who have a lot of negative energy, this will likely contribute to your anxiety and problems. On the other hand, if you surround yourself with people who tend to be more positive and supportive, this will help you cope with these problems. For more on healthy relationships check out this page

Social Anxiety? 

If you feel that your anxiety is primarily centered around social situations, please check out my page on social anxiety. This page offers many tips and insights about social anxiety, social anxiety disorder, social phobias, and effective treatments. 

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