“Remember that stress doesn’t come from what’s going on in your life. It comes from your thoughts about what’s going on in your life.” -Andrew J. Bernstein
The word “stress” often gets a bad rap, thanks to “anxiety.” Since stress is often the precipitating trigger in anxiety disorders, it is perceived as a negative experience. Stress is defined as your body’s reaction to a trigger and is generally a short-term experience. Anxiety, on the other hand, doesn’t resolve itself once the triggering event has subsided.
Anxiety is prolonged and debilitating. Disorders, such as GAD (Generalized Anxiety Disorder) leave individuals feeling a sense of doom. Although stress can trigger anxiety, more often than not, the causes of anxiety are not always easily identified.
Years ago, I was diagnosed with agoraphobia and GAD. I felt somewhat relieved to know that a “fear of the marketplace” (agoraphobia) was a logical explanation for some of my distress about running errands or going shopping. In retrospect, I was afraid of being around a lot of people, in situations where I might find it hard to get away if needed. I especially feared being judged when I was a new mother. I feared people might say rude things to my kids, or criticize my parenting style (they did!). A simple comment on how to manage my children when they cried in the long lines, or how I should discipline then if they misbehaved often left me feeling depressed and apprehensive. My head often grew heavy when I even thought about going out in public!
GAD, on the other hand, is a more mysterious anxiety disorder. GAD is defined by WebMD as, “excessive, exaggerated anxiety and worries about everyday life events with no obvious reasons for worry. People with symptoms of generalized anxiety disorder tend to always expect disaster and can’t stop worrying about health, money, family, work, or school.”
So, what is the proper amount of worry about everyday life events? How much is a normal amount of worrying about important things such as health, money, family, work, or school? Possibly, is it an abstract amount of worry that can only be defined by the extent of uneasiness it causes to an individual? Why do some handle such pressures effortlessly, while others are plagued by apprehension or displeasure?
When I experience agoraphobia and GAD as a new parent (who possibly was afflicted by postpartum depression), I was limited into tapping into a source of support, and sources of guidance and encouragement. However, I took advantage of reading and talk therapy in some support groups. I lacked supportive family and friends, so I had to seek out my tribe. Only those people could understand me. Such groups offered a reciprocal dynamic.
What differentiates my ability to cope with stress now compared to those years?
- Closer to a supportive family (father and stepmother)
- Stable job
- Having a reliable source of income (see above)
- Wisdom, experience, maturity, insight, perception
- Ability to reframe events and experiences
- Writing in a journal when I have a difficult problem
- Knowledge and implementation of nutrition and exercise
- Stable environment for my children
- Work schedule that allows me to maximize time with my family
- Seeking spirituality each day
For me, changes in environments, income, neighborhood- physical resources, have contributed, I suppose. Experience, wisdom, maturity, insight, and perception have helped me significantly. These things do not occur overnight, nor can a prescription cure all elements of anxiety or stress. Understanding that we live in a dynamic, cyclic and rhythmic world, and forming internal and external patterns to accompany this understanding is a crucial step in coping with stress.
Break Into Smaller Tasks
I have also learned to break up problems and tasks into smaller pieces. If I am faced with a vast amount of tasks that need my attention at once, I can only delegate- to myself, that is, I must assign myself different steps to complete the tasks. And, most of all, I ask for help, even when I think others might judge me.
Allow Time For Issues To Improve
Just as we need time to adjust our internal rhythm, the problems and external forces surrounding our stress need time. Time for resolution, time to plan, time to delegate, etc. Time doesn’t have to be considered an enemy. When we are mindful about stress, we should actively pace our breathing to reset our bodies from a “fight or flight” response to a response that is confident and able to handle challenges.