Understanding and Coping with Stress and Anxiety
Rahat Sanghavi

Rahat Sanghavi

Jan 13Mental health

Understanding and Coping with Stress and Anxiety

Stress is something that we all experience on a daily basis. It starts off more like a feeling or reaction and is the body's way of making us more alert. Stress, however, is not something that happens only in the mind. Research shows that our bodies can be affected by it. Stress arousal mostly happens in our emotions and relationship. When we don’t recover from our emotional baggage that’s when the problem starts. You’re never making a conscious decision for stress arousal. It’s your nervous system making that decision. When your nervous system feels threatened, sees a challenge, or requires energy, it mobilises energy and puts a stop to more long-term processes.

Stress affects the physiological processes in our body, most affecting the immune and digestive systems. Dysregulation is evident if either of these symptoms is functioning differently from your usual normal. Different people have different symptoms of stress arousal. It can be an outbreak of pimples to pain in the back. Everyone’s stressors will be different based on their interaction with genes and the environment. Anxiety can also lead to depression as a disorder. All this happens based on our interaction with our genes and the environment.

It’s important to understand that mental health concerns are mostly physiological concerns. For e.g. when you experience joy or sadness there is a feeling in your body. Mental health has got so much to do with the way our nervous system is responding to the world.

Is it only traumatic experiences or circumstances that cause anxiety in our lives?

It’s not just trauma that causes stress. Stress exists in our lives. Trauma occurs when our nervous system experiences a sense of helplessness or a lack of control in a situation, we are in. Anxiety occurs when we have experienced something traumatic or we experience chronic stress and have not recovered from it. Trauma may look only physical because it’s the nervous system that’s affected. The basis of anxiety is fear. Anxiety becomes a fear of uncertainty and the future. Anxiety has two parts to it. One part of it is the stress arousal that we experience when we think of anxiety. Anxiety is not bad. But the problem happens when we are not recovering from it. In anxiety, the frontal cortex of our brain is trying to control a situation and then there is the nervous system that is pushing the stress arousal. We can’t distinguish between tangible threats and intangible threats. The nervous system is just trying to keep you safe and adapting to the environment. None of it is problematic unless we can’t recover from that.

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How do you understand that you’re a person who is experiencing chronic anxiety? How do you know that you need to seek help?

We normalize a lot of stress and say that no we’re not having pain or having difficulty sleeping. Our work hours are unfortunately not regulated and people overwork and sleep cycles are disrupted. If your sleep cycle is disrupted it’s a big sign to watch out for. If you do feel not okay don’t invalidate the thought. For the female body, their menstrual cycles are affected a lot as also their PMS. Whenever there is high-stress arousal, our body is constantly giving us signs. It’s whether or not we want to pay attention to it.

If you do not feel okay don’t invalidate the thought. Whenever there is high-stress arousal, our body is constantly giving us signs. It’s whether we want to pay attention to it or not. A disrupted sleep cycle is a big sign to watch out for. Menstrual cycles and PMS symptoms will get erratic in some female persons, We tend to normalize disturbance in sleep or pain and stress. It is important to stay attuned to and validate those changes.

What are the factors that impact anxiety?

When something feels out of our control, that’s actually when it’s going to flare up. When something is not in your control, it’s a threat to the nervous system. Anything that threatens your identity can lead to anxiety and lead to stress arousal.

What are the signs of anxiety?

If you’re struggling to function that is something for you to take note of. Noticing changes in appetite, are you eating a lot more, are you binge eating quite a bit, are you skipping meals? That becomes important. Irritability is something I would watch out for. You think your reaction to things is a lot more extreme. In the Indian context, mental health is not a concept that’s much spoken about. A lot of the signs become very physiological. As a culture, we experience a lot of mental health concerns in a physiological way. That could be irritable bowel syndrome. The changes in the digestive system are also a sign. If you find it difficult to focus and concentrate that again comes up. Procrastination and laziness are again symptom anxiety. If we are struggling to do things that are important to us, then there is something wrong.

Apart from professional help, what is how one can cope with anxiety or stress?

Managing stress and anxiety has to be holistic. As I mentioned earlier, mental health is a wrong term. It’s more nervous system health. One has to focus on getting a healthy lifestyle and on recovery. What we can do is figure out how we can create spaces for recovery. One of the best ways to recover from situations that cause anxiety is by connecting with people. It’s about feeling heard by someone. That is very soothing for the nervous system. If your nervous system is in a defensive mode, then engaging with people can be stressful, and it's very difficult to find that connection. Even small interactions are part of our coping mechanism. Also, keeping an hour for yourself care on a daily basis can help a lot in coping with stress and anxiety.

Every physiological or bodily reaction has a mental health aspect to it which is why we must engage in mental health conversations routinely to have a healthy body. Anything good for your nervous system is going to be good for your mental health.

Disclaimer: This information is educational and should not be construed as medical advice. Please consult your doctor before making any dietary changes or adding supplements.

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