High Anxiety: When Does Worrying Become A Problem?

By: Alan Pollock

Topics: Health

With a global pandemic threat, the struggling stock market and divisive politics in Washington, you might be forgiven for feeling a bit anxious lately. Add to those worries the problems of ordinary life, and those feelings might be overwhelming.

According to information posted by the National Institute of Mental Health, it’s important to remember that stress is a natural reaction.

“Occasional anxiety is an expected part of life,” they write. Stress can be brought on by experiencing traumatic events or repeatedly viewing frightening news reports. Because its effects are cumulative, the stress of worrying about the coronavirus, for instance, is compounded by ordinary worries about school or job performance, life changes like job loss or divorce, or financial concerns.

“Not all stress is bad,” the NIMH reports. In dangerous situations, stress helps the body face threats or flee to safety, and in non-life-threatening situations, it can be an important motivator. Stress can help people perform better in job interviews or when taking tests, for instance.

The key to understanding stress and anxiety is its duration. Normally, stress abates when the stressful situation ends.

“Coping with the impact of chronic stress can be challenging,” the NIMH reports. “Because the source of long-term stress is more constant than acute stress, the body never receives a clear signal to return to normal functioning.” In such a case, the body’s stress response can cause digestive problems, headaches, sleeplessness, sadness, anger or irritability. Over time, that can contribute to serious health problems like heart disease, high blood pressure, diabetes and other illnesses, including depression and anxiety.

When anxiety persists or interferes with a person’s daily functioning, it becomes more than a temporary worry or fear, and becomes a disorder.

“For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities such as job performance, school work and relationships,” they write. People with generalized anxiety disorder show symptoms for at least six months and can experience significant problems with social interactions. Symptoms like these mean it’s time to start a conversation with your doctor. People should also seek help right away if they experience suicidal thoughts or feel unable to cope; the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours a day at 1-800-273-TALK.

But for people struggling with more ordinary day-to-day concerns, there are effective ways to manage stress before it increases the risk of negative health effects. The first step is to be observant and to recognize one’s own bodily response to stress, like sleep loss, increased alcohol or substance use, being easily angered, feeling depressed or having low energy.

Regular exercise is a key stress-buster. Just 30 minutes per day of walking can help boost a person’s mental outlook and improve their health, the NIMH advises. Take advantage of warm temperatures and spring-like weather to spend time walking on local conservation land or on the beaches.

It can also help to try activities designed to help you relax. Check the local community center calendars to find out about relaxation and wellness programs, particularly ones that incorporate meditation, muscle relaxation and breathing exercises. Schedule regular times for these activities.

If you feel like you’ve got too much on your plate, set goals and priorities.

“Learn to say ‘no’ to new tasks if you start to feel like you’re taking on too much,” the NIMH advises. “Try to be mindful of what you have accomplished at the end of the day, not what you have been unable to do.”

Social isolation can also compound stress. For everyone, but particularly for seniors, it’s important to spend time with others. Don’t hesitate to reach out to friends, family members, the council on aging or church groups.

According to a report about post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) published by the U.S. Veterans’ Administration, watching news coverage of frightening events—like the 9/11 attacks—is linked to stress symptoms. Experts recommend staying informed about stressful situations like the COVID-19 outbreak, but limiting any excessive exposure to those news items if they’re causing feelings of anxiety. Remember, young people feel stress too, and youngsters often take their cue from adults when it comes to reacting to stressful events.


Coronavirus Update

March 3, 2020

With the spread of the new coronavirus COVID-19, public health officials are encouraging people to practice common sense precautions to stay healthy. Chatham Health Agent Judith Giorgio said the risk to local residents from the coronavirus remains low.

“It is important to note that residents are much more likely to become sick with a cold or the flu than to be exposed to COVID-19,” she said. “The Health Division is continuing its efforts to provide flu prevention strategies to the public,” Giorgio said, and many of the precautions are the same. They include washing hands frequently with soap and hot water for 20 seconds; cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces; practicing good cough hygiene; refraining from touching one’s face with unwashed hands; staying home when sick; and avoiding contact with those who are ill.

“It is not too late to get a flu shot,” Giorgio added.

On Monday, Barnstable County Administrator Jack Yunits requested a $250,000 appropriation for any potential emergency response expenses related to the coronavirus. If approved by the county commissioners, the funds would be available if an emergency response is declared by state or local officials.

As of Tuesday afternoon, there was one confirmed case of COVID-19 in the state, though a second presumptive case was being investigated. Both individuals are recovering under quarantine.

For updated information, follow the coronavirus links at www.CDC.gov or www.Mass.gov.