Since 1980, diagnoses of anxiety disorders have increased 1,200%, reported Nancy Snyderman, MD, on this morning’s Today Show. (See American Anxiety.) The state of the economy, marriages in trouble, overly busy schedules, and a culture that is too constantly “plugged in” were all cited as common reasons Americans have sought help for problems with anxiety.
Another key reason people experience anxiety problems is due to the gap between their high expectations and their ability to fulfill them. Please, take note of this and evaluate your expectations for your life, spouse and family.
Experiencing panic attacks and inability to sleep, racing blood pressure and heart rate, and feeling so worried you can’t move forward on tasks are some of the ways anxiety might get in the way of living life to the fullest–or even being able to leave the house. Thankfully, many patients who have sought treatment from their physicians have been able to relieve some of their symptoms and function better. Only about a third of people who need help seek it out, say experts.
Stress, as compared with anxiety, is often a motivator for accomplishing our goals. Experiencing stress is not necessarily a problem, and usually does not require medical treatment. It may be a sign that changes are needed, though. Take marriage as an example. If you’re feeling stress that you haven’t connected with your spouse lately, this might help motivate you to take a positive action and schedule time together. On the job, a looming deadline might make you feel stress, but also motivate you to complete the project.
Be aware of your own state of mind, as well as your spouse’s. If one of you is experiencing too much stress, work together to discuss and find solutions. (I’ll include some practical ideas here.) However, if you or your spouse is experiencing what may be an anxiety disorder, a doctor’s help may be needed.
Our world can often seem too hectic, as if we may never get the chance to take a deep breath. Even on vacations, we may be worried about the work piling up for us back at the office. Following are some ways you may be able to reduce stress in your life:
1) Dr. Snyderman suggests unplugging at least one hour before bed from all electronic devices including TV. I’ve written a lot about making time to unplug to benefit your marriage and to have time to focus on each other. Another benefit is improved sleep. Keep the TV out of the bedroom. Put the smart phones, ipads, laptops, etc. in their chargers. Facebook can wait until tomorrow, and you can finish your emails later. It’s important to your health and to your relationships to have this hour block before sleep to read, think, talk and to begin your nighttime routine.
2) Plan your meals. We all have to eat, and waiting until you’re hungry for your next meal is a bad time to be planning what it’s going to be. You’re more likely to grab something unhealthy on the go, or to eat the first thing you find. It takes much less time to plan a few days of meals than it does to run to the store or restaurant each day. In our house, we often make a double or triple batch of something (like tacos, soup, lasagnas, chili, quiche, etc.) and freeze for future meals when we might be rushed. If you have an hour on a weekend, you can make up a few meals for use during the week. Honestly, it doesn’t take much effort, and you’ll be glad you have a homemade meal ready to heat. And it’s less expensive when you buy in bulk and freeze for later. If you have kids at home, teach them to cook and get them involved in helping in the kitchen. Benefits to better meal planning can include improved health (if you choose wisely), saving money, and making your spouse and family feel cared for.
3) Exercise. I’ve not always been a big fan of exercise, although I force myself to do it even when I don’t feel like it. Truthfully, we all feel better when we’ve gotten some exercise and we’re taking care of ourselves. In the last couple of years I’ve started to really enjoy tennis, and I’ve taken up running short distances. Family walks and bike rides round out my not-too-strenuous routine. The research I’ve read on living longer shows it’s important to keep moving rather than worry about completing marathons. Find an activity you enjoy, such as gardening, swimming or horseback riding, and you’ll be more likely to make time for it. Exercising together can be good for your relationship and can improve your sex life when you feel better about your body.
4) Nurture social relationships. I’m all about nurturing and investing in your marriage and family. It’s also important to cultivate friendships and in-person social activities, such as volunteering, church groups, neighborhood groups, etc. The research is very clear that social networks help us live longer (see The Longevity Project). And doesn’t time with friends reduce your stress? Just try to avoid comparing how busy and stressful your lives are! Instead, take a walk or take in a cultural activity together.
5) Many people like me find prayer and/or meditation helps them reduce unnecessary worrying, and stay more calm and positive throughout the day.
6) Make time to hug and kiss your spouse throughout the day. This non-sexual touch is a known stress-reducer. Also, make time for sex, which is also beneficial and releases bonding and stress-reducing hormones.
7) Try to reduce travel time by commuting during off-peak hours or working some or all of the time at home if your job will allow it. Combine your errands to save time (and gas). Bring reading or busy work with you for those times when you’re forced to wait, like at the doctor’s office.
8) Reduce the busyness of your life by cutting out extraneous activities (the fourth birthday party this month) and making time for what you want to be doing. If you don’t have one or two free nights a week, seriously consider paring back.
9) Make your home a pleasant place to be. Save a little energy and kindness for those closest to you. Take a minute before you enter the house to clear your mind and have a positive word for those at home. Try to reduce clutter and stay on top of regular tasks, like laundry. Encourage everyone in the family to pitch in by assigning small tasks. For example, my kids sweep the kitchen floor, take care of the cat, and make their beds (usually). I do the laundry, but everyone puts their own clean clothes away. My husband and I share the shopping and cooking duties. We have a white board for tasks, so that I don’t have to constantly nag.
10. Before you do any of these, you have to decide you want a less stressful life, and then commit to making some small, doable changes. You might even consider bigger changes, like earning less money in exchange for a less stressful lifestyle.
Lori Lowe is the founder of Marriage Gems and author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in all e-book formats at www.LoriDLowe.com.
Photo by Ambro courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net.