In National Stress Awareness Month … feelings of anxiety are hormonal!


Stress can often manifest as anxiety. So, what is anxiety all about?

The dictionary definitions are:

1 a feeling of worry, nervousness or unease about something with an uncertain outcome; and,

2 a strong desire to do something, or, that something will happen.

… but what’s really going on?

The impact of certain stressors in our lives will increase the amount of stress hormone that we are exposed to in the body. The physiological impact of this creates symptoms such as nervousness, agitation, fast heart rate and a mental process that can often make you ruminate about events from the day, or the stressful event that’s bothering you. You can end up turning things over and over in your mind – often at night when it’s dark and quiet and then this interferes with your sleep so that you start the next day feeling tired and therefore stressed. Feelings of tension and anxiety are building.

Let’s look a what stress hormones will do to you:

Physically:  increase heart rate, constrict your blood vessels (chronically, this can lead to high blood pressure), cause tension in your limbs (fight or flight), direct blood flow away from digestion (which can cause indigestion), mobilise your blood sugar; and eventually, deposit fat around the middle.

Mentally and Emotionally: foggy thinking, memory lapse, low mood, a sense of waiting for the other shoe to drop (anticipating threat) because you feel an increased sense of vulnerability.

This is anxiety.

Because hormones affect us physically, mentally and emotionally you have to realise that not only does cause precede effect, but effect also causes cause. It can be a vicious, self-perpetuating circle as feeling and thought processes become habituated, if you leave them unattended for too long.

The problem with this is that we often to turn to self-medication to help to get ourselves over the uncomfortable feelings: alcohol to relax and unwind in the evening; or, carbs because they will boost your serotonin level (your happy hormone). However, because your sleep is disrupted and you feel so very tired you use caffeine and sugar to get yourself going in the mornings.

Did you know that there are psychiatric studies that show that a cup of coffee can induce a panic attack!

Self-medicating is not going to solve a problem with anxiety. It will only put a “Bandaid” over your feelings.

We tend to bury or ignore a lot of experiences that cause us pain at some level. Sometimes we are unaware of exactly how we’ve been feeling and thinking – a lot of self-talk can get in the way. Starting a journal first thing in the morning and just writing stream of consciousness thinking can really help you to externalise and discover your true feelings about what’s going on in your life. You can have the a-ha moments you’ve been seeking because it helps you to dump and clear your mind and energy for the day ahead. As you do, engage in mindful (being fully present) self-nurturing. Be gentle with yourself and eat and drink (water, herbal tea) well during the day. Rest in the evening, watch an uplifting movie (avoid news and current affairs) – allow yourself to rest and relax.

It’s a start. This process can help you to break the cycle of worry, allow your body to ‘stand down’ so that your energy feels on a more usual level.

If your problem is more chronic than this you may need additional help, but try this as much as possible and check in with yourself to see how you’re doing.

Does this make more sense to you?

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