Written By: Asa
Stress is quite literally killing us. Studies show that stress is a causing factor in the 6 leading causes of death in the United States. Stress is debilitating, and can quickly grow into its’ more severe cousin, Anxiety. Anxiety is a very real, very serious affliction. Even “mild” cases of anxiety are shown to lead to an early death. We must take our mental health seriously.
My wife and I work very high stress jobs. For professional reasons we can’t post the gory details of our job, but we both teach in emotional and behavioral disabilities classrooms. Those kids you hear all the horror stories about on the news? Yep, we call them students. We’re tasked with teaching them, training them, and loving them. It adds stress. Having 2 kids adds stress. Having a proverbial zoo of animals to take care of…stress. There is money, bills, friendships, obligations, and an endless amount of “stuff” that all add stress. While many of those things (kids, friendships, etc) bring a great deal of joy, it is a double edged sword at times.
Here is the truth, we all experience anxiety and stress but not in equal portions. Some of you are very level headed, capable of controlling your emotions, keeping your thoughts in check. And some of us are struggling. Anxiety causes our hearts to race, our breath to become short, our heads to hurt, and out “fight or flight” mechanic to go nuts. So, what do we do when that’s the case?
Identify the Trigger
This is very difficult to do at times. But it is the first step for me in dealing with my anxiety. Can I pinpoint what caused the stress? At times it is a culmination of small things, other times it is one singular thing. But if I’m going to work through it, I need to know what “it” is.
Tell the Truth
Stress hits and panic starts. We mental spin out in the land of “what ifs” and play out a million different scenarios in our head. Usually the more scenarios that play out, the worse the panic gets. Hit pause on your mind (If you can). Tell yourself on the TRUE statements about the situation. No opinions, no strong believes. Only the truth. If the meeting on Friday has you really stressed out, tell yourself who will be there. What time the meeting will take place. Do you know the proposed topic? Don’t guess, do you know? Focus on the concrete things that aren’t going to change no matter what. Only those things need to matter in this moment.
What Can You Do Now?
This one is hard. Especially if the answer is “nothing, I can do nothing right now.” But ask yourself what tangible, real steps you can take right now that can help. Do you need to prepare for the meeting? Can you pay part of the bill today? Can you study for the exam? Is there someone you can call for advice or help? Knowing what you can do in the moments of panic and anxiety and taking real steps towards them can really help calm your nerves.
I’m not good with this one, but it’s probably the most important of all. Know what activities, people or places generally make you feel better. Who calms you down? Does going for a run and getting a burst of endorphins help you? How about a hobby that occupies your mind with something else you genuinely love? What person makes you laugh or can sit with you while you talk? Do essential oils help? Bubble baths? Heck, need to go kiss a puppy? Knowing what you need before you need it will help when the storm of anxiety hits.
When I’m in the middle of an anxiety attack I typically don’t want to do anything. I don’t want to talk. I don’t want to watch tv. I don’t want to do anything but sulk and think. I have learned that spending time with my children helps me shake it off. That a run and a good sweat can help clear my mind. I have learned that hugging my wife and smelling the top of her head can calm my nerves. So I make myself do those things. Not because I feel like it in these moments, but because I’m hoping they work.
Don’t medicate yourself with unhealthy amounts of food or drink. Or the opposite, don’t starve yourself because you’re too panicked to eat. Don’t let yourself get trapped with toxic people only making it worse. Know ahead of time what works for you and do it!
Lastly, professional help.
Everyone should talk to a counselor or therapist regularly. Even if you don’t feel like anything is wrong, talking to a professional and processing life is never a bad thing. Think of it like a physical for your emotions. It would be so much better to train your brain, your heart and all the emotional things inside of you when you’re feeling healthy and strong, than when you’re feeling small and weak.
Please don’t allow yourself to suffer needlessly with mental health issues. There are so many people out there ready and willing to help you. To love you. To talk with you. You matter, I promise. And if you would like to email Ash and I, PLEASE do! We can pray for you, offer as much encouragement as we can, and possibly walk you through whatever it is you are feeling/experiencing.