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Seven tips for handling stress and anxiety

Last Modified: February 20, 2013

Family Medicine, Women & Children

Do you suffer with chronic pain in the neck and shoulders? Do you get frequent headaches, especially in the forehead or back of the head? Do you bite your nails or literally pull out your hair? Do you feel stressed out all the time, even when your stress level should be low? You may suffer from an anxiety disorder.

What is an anxiety disorder?

Anxiety disorders are very common. I see people who suffer with anxiety every day in my practice. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, approximately 40 million Americans (almost 20%) in any given year are affected by anxiety.

The difference between ordinary life stress and an anxiety disorder really depends upon the impact of the stress on your ability to function in everyday life. If your anxiety or stress level keeps you from going certain places, meeting people, interacting with groups, using the telephone, or in some other way interferes with your life, then you probably have an anxiety disorder. If, more often than not, you feel restless, keyed up or edgy; if you are easily fatigued; if you have difficulty concentrating; if you are irritable; if you have muscle tension; or if you have difficulty falling or staying asleep (or sleep is unsatisfying) -- you probably have an anxiety disorder.

Dealing with stress and anxiety

Fortunately, there are several ways that you can take control of your anxiety and improve your quality of life. Let's explore seven tips for handling this kind of stress and anxiety:

1.  Prayer or meditation. Giving your stress to God can be very powerful. Whether it's Centering Prayer, praying with Scripture, the Jesus Prayer, or some other means of spending time with God within the context of your faith, prayer can help control anxiety. Some meditation techniques, like Transcendental Meditation, have volumes of research supporting their use in treating health problems like stress and anxiety.

2. Controlled breathing. In the midst of a panic attack, regulation of your breathing can make a huge difference. Dr. Andrew Weil, a teacher and writer on holistic health, suggests three different breathing techniques for relaxation.

3. Progressive muscle relaxation. This is a technique that involves tightening, then relaxing, different muscle groups in the body. This website tells how to do it.

4. Exercise. Whether it's regular aerobic exercise (like walking, biking or swimming) or spiritually-based exercise, like yoga or T'ai Chi, movement is a fantastic way to work out your stress and anxiety. Check with your primary care provider before beginning an exercise program, just to make sure it's safe for you.

5. Massage therapy. A good massage by a licensed massage therapist can really work out stress, especially if your stress seems to manifest as headaches or pain and tension across the shoulders and into the neck. The Parkview Women's Health Center offers massage therapy. You can call for details at (260) 672-6500. Or, you can find a massage therapist by zip code here.

6. Counseling. For more severe cases of anxiety or panic disorder, getting plugged in with a good counselor or therapist is essential. A counselor can help you work through your stress and manage your anxiety and panic. Parkview Behavioral Health is a great resource, and they answer their crisis hotline (1-800-284-8439) 24 hours a day. Parkview Behavioral Health offers several resources online

7. Medication. Sometimes anxiety is bad enough that treatment with medication, like buspirone or an SSRI, is the best option for improving a person's quality of life. Your primary care physician or a behavioral health specialist, like a psychiatrist, can help with this. More information is available through the Anxiety and Depression Association of America.

I hope that you find this list of suggestions helpful in dealing with your own life stressors. What else have you found beneficial in dealing with stress? What advice do you have for others who suffer with anxiety or panic?

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