Many on our planet report feeling stress and anxiety. Mission Australia report that the percentage of young people who report mental health concerns has doubled in the past six years. Over 44% of young people report stress as their highest concern. Our world also has an ageing population, many of whom are at risk of poor health and end of life issues around stress and anxiety. We find that we are asked to serve humanity in this area and pass on articles with solutions, not concerns nor further problems. We offer this article for your ruddy health and enduring peace!
What’s the difference between stress and anxiety?
You may be feeling tense or wound up, have a racing mind, shallow breathing or a faster heart rate, or perhaps are noticing changes in your appetite and that your sleep is interrupted. Many of us grapple with these symptoms of stress and anxiety – 35 per cent of Australians report having a significant level of psychological distress and 1 in 4 experiences anxiety at some stage, according to recent surveys by beyondblue and the Australian Psychological Society. Sometimes this can be associated with life changes, including pregnancy.
“Stress is not always in response to negative experiences, and may arise in any situation that requires some sort of response, change or adjustment,” explains Emma Sheerman, psychologist at The Anxiety & Stress Clinic. While stress typically occurs in response to a current or imminent pressure (a looming deadline, for instance), anxiety tends to be more future related. “Anxiety may be a feeling of fear or uncertainty about future events and our perceived ability to cope, should these events arise,” she says.
According to the Sleep Health Foundation, symptoms of chronic stress can include:
- muscle tension
- poor sleep
- low immunity
- upset stomach.
Extreme anxiety can manifest as panic attacks, which involve sudden surges of fear. Symptoms include:
- feeling nauseous, dizzy or breathless.
Strategies that can help
- Prioritise a healthy lifestyle
A healthy diet and regular exercise help maintain mental wellbeing. So does prioritising sleep – a 2013 University of California, Berkeley study found a lack of sleep fires up brain regions that contribute to excessive worrying.
- Challenge unhelpful thoughts
Anxiety is often underpinned by what are called ‘cognitive distortions’, or negative and unhelpful thoughts. “The first port of call is recognising if you’re having an unhelpful thought and asking, ‘Is this thought helpful?’ and ‘Is there an alternative way to look at it?’ ” advises Sydney psychologist Dr Maria Scoda.
- Ease up on yourself
Overloading your schedule with responsibilities and commitments is a fast track to feeling stressed. Instead, simplify your day so that it’s based on realistic goals and timelines. If you don’t tick off all your ‘to dos’ in a day, that’s fine too.
- Practise mindfulness
Being mindful of how you’re feeling can help you feel calmer faster.
“Explore your experience of stress and anxiety and notice what’s happening internally and around you,” advises Sheerman. “This allows you to step back from the situation and ask, ‘How can I respond to this in a helpful way?’”
If you would like to learn mindfulness skills, This Way Up has created a free Intro to Mindfulness course. The course contains four illustrated lessons, guided mindfulness audio exercises and is delivered online, so you can learn the skills at home, at your own pace. This Way Up is an online initiative from the University of New South Wales and St Vincent’s Hospital, Sydney.
Anxiety and depression during pregnancy
Becoming a new mum can be exhilarating and wondrous as the miracle of a new life takes form inside you. But it can be equally daunting once the reality of this life-changing experience sets in with mind and body altering effects. So, it’s common for pregnant women to encounter low moods or high levels of worry while adapting to their new circumstances.
To support expecting Mums through these motions, a team of psychologists at St Vincent’s Hospital have developed a free online course, The MUMentum Program, which enables women to learn skills to manage worry and low mood in the privacy of their own home at a time that suits them.
If you are between 13 and 30 weeks pregnant, and are experiencing persistent low mood or high levels of worry, St Vincent’s Hospital invites you to apply to take part in a research study to help evaluate the program.
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