“If you’re not the most intentional force in your life, something else will be.”
Is there a balance between the stressful demands in your life and the relaxation efforts you use to decompress from those stressful demands? Without putting too much thought into the question, say or write the answer: balanced or imbalanced.
If you said imbalanced, then keep reading. We'll breakdown the 4 leading causes of anxiety and discuss the physical, emotional, and situational triggers that contribute to anxiety. Because if you don't know what's wrong, then everything in life is suspect–including the people around you.
We also provide proven strategies to combat the effects of chronic stress and anxiety successfully. The brain is the key organ of the stress response that determines what's a threat and what isn't. An excessive amount of physical and emotional demands impacts how the brain interprets stressful situations. When little things start to irritate you, it's a sign you're not adapting to the stressful demands of life.
To start, let's define what anxiety is and how it impacts your health.
What Is Anxiety?
Anxiety is described as a feeling of worry or unease about an uncertain outcome. Stress in any form that we’re unable to adapt to, is the underlying cause of anxiety. This includes memories of past traumas, lack of sleep, poor lifestyle habits. Also, ambivalent emotions about work or home can be a major factor in the development of anxiety. Toxic relationships often stultify our emotional growth. “Choose your friends wisely,” is sage advice. In many instances the people in our life that cause us the most stress are often there because at one time we entered into relationships out of need and not intention. The stresses that contribute to the development of anxiety cause changes to the body’s natural response to perceived threats–which include:
- Painful memories
- Financial worries
- Health concerns
- Family problems
- Toxic relationships
The Science of Chronic Stress
Research has shown that the cumulative effect of chronic stress can result in the development of anxiety and put you at an increased risk for cardiovascular disease, diabetes, high blood pressure, and other age-related diseases. Symptoms of anxiety occur on a wide spectrum that includes:
- Constant worrying,
- Brain fog
- Feelings of impending catastrophe
- Intrusive thoughts
- GI problems
Chronic pain that occurs as a result of an injury to the body or cumulative damage to joint and muscle tissue can increase the risk of developing anxiety. Elevated levels of inflammation have been shown in studies to contribute to anxiety. Inflammation aggravates aging joints & muscles and leads to chronic pain symptoms. Individuals that experience anxiety as a result of chronic pain often feel insecure about their health and worry about the fate of their family if something were to happen to them. Also, increased inflammation and oxidation in the brain can contribute to physical stress that leads to emotional distress.
If you’re experiencing inflammation: Try This
Changes to diet can help shift the body out of an inflamed state, and reduce the symptoms of pain and anxiety. Also, incorporate anti-inflammatory herbs into your diet like Turmeric, which can provide rapid relief from symptoms caused by inflammation.
Lack Of Sleep
The brain is the key organ of the stress response that determines what’s a threat and what isn’t. Loss of sleep impacts the brain's role in coordinating a balanced stress response. Neuroimaging studies of sleep-deprived subjects showed a 60% increase in emotional sensitivity to negative images. More interesting was the finding that sleep deprivation caused hyper-reactivity in areas of the brain that control emotions. Increased emotional activity from sleep deprivation reduces executive control in the brain. This amplifies the psychological forces of negative thoughts and emotions.
Not sleeping good? Try This
Establish regular sleep patterns by getting to sleep at the same time each night. This is important for balancing circadian rhythms (sleep-wake cycles) which significantly reduces stress and anxiety. Use a bedtime ritual that prepares your body and mind for sleep. A hot shower or bath increases your core body temperature, which research shows reduces the time it takes to fall asleep.
The last two causes of anxiety occur in a continuum, meaning there’s a single event that changes an individual's physical and emotional response to stress. These changes include abnormal regulation of the primary stress hormones and neural pathways that process dangerous and life-threatening situations.
Childhood trauma negatively affects brain circuits that regulate emotions and stress, leading in some cases to lifelong feelings of fear and anxiety.
Traumatic events that occur early in life can significantly alter how we respond to stress and emotional demands. Studies of female childhood abuse victims show a higher prevalence of anxiety and depression later in life. Low self-esteem is often a major trait that follows childhood trauma and is shown in studies to lead to victimization in adulthood. As stated the effects of childhood trauma significantly increases the chances of anxiety later in life, and the development of age-related diseases such as obesity, higher cholesterol, and inflammation.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) is an anxiety disorder that is caused by exposure to an event that is perceived as life-threatening or causing bodily harm, such as:
- Terrorist Attacks
- Sexual Abuse
- Physical Assault
- Car Accidents, or Other Collisions
The physical and emotional response to the traumatic event triggers the development of PTSD. Researchers studying the effects of PTSD find an abnormal regulation of the primary stress hormones like cortisol. When we’re faced with a perceived threat, the body’s stress response sets off powerful biochemical signals that shift the body into a state of physical and emotional hyper-alertness. Once the threat is gone, the body returns to normal. In cases of PTSD, a memory of the event persists. An individual can reproduce the thoughts and emotions associated with the traumatic episode, which triggers the same emotional and physical response. People living with PTSD also have lower levels of the anti-stress neurotransmitters such as GABA and Serotonin, which further increase levels of stress and anxiety.
Many natural herbs can help support a balanced stress response by increasing the activity of anti-stress neurotransmitters. 5-HTP and L-Theanine are popular amino acids that contribute to a calm mind and promote healthy sleep.
The Anti-Stress Strategy You Can Start Right Now
If you’re not using some form of mindfulness practice like meditation to decompress from the stresses of the day, you’re leaving yourself open to increased stress and anxiety. Mindfulness is a simple and effective strategy to identify problem areas in your life and formulate a plan to change or eliminate them. Mindfulness can reduce stress, promote calm, and improve overall health and wellness. Randy Carlson, author of The Power of One Thing: How to Intentionally Change Your Life, writes, “if you’re not the most intentional force in your life, something else will be.”
The Emotional Self and The Powers of Reason
Your emotional self relies on reason to navigate the world and make decisions on what emotions are valid and invalid. Negative thoughts, such as “I have a pain in my right side which means I might have liver cancer” will lead your emotions down a path of worry and anxiety if you don't find better reasons to check it.
Reason receives and expresses what dominates thought. A 15-minute meditation session or other intentional routines first thing in the morning can change the course of your entire day.
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