By: Patricia R. Hamilton, MS, LMFT
Is it me, or does this year seem more stressful than most? I recently read a Welcome Back to School letter-to-parents, written by Mr. John Allman, Headmaster of one of NYC’s most prestigious private schools and the former Headmaster at St John’s School in Houston. In his letter to parents, he stated, “I hate to be a downer as we prepare for the excitement of the new school year, but it seems to me that we are living through a profound cultural climate change, and we are suffering through storms of civil division that seem to be pulling our nation apart, as surely as tectonic plates separating our coasts from the heartland. In this Age of the Selfie, we seem to have lost the necessary balance in the timeless need to balance our separateness and our togetherness, our differences and the common good, our diversity and our community. How ought we to go about the work of attending to the collective as well as individual well-being?
With such widespread unrest, some wonder if everyone is suffering with Generalized Anxiety Disorder? You decide…
Symptoms of Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD) From the DSM-5:
The presence of excessive anxiety and worry about a variety of topics, events, or activities. Worry occurs more often than not for at least 6 months and is clearly excessive. Excessive worry means worrying even when there is nothing wrong or in a manner that is disproportionate to the actual risk. This typically involves spending a high percentage of waking hours worrying about something. The worry may be accompanied by reassurance-seeking from others. In adults, the worry can be about job responsibilities or performance, one’s own health or the health of family members, financial matters, and other everyday, typical life circumstances. Of note, in children, the worry is more likely to be about their abilities or the quality of their performance (for example, in school).
The worry is experienced as very challenging to control. The worry in both adults and children may shift from one topic to another.
The anxiety and worry are associated with at least three of the following physical or cognitive symptoms (In children, only one symptom is necessary for a diagnosis of GAD):
Edginess or restlessness
Tiring easily; more fatigued than usual
Impaired concentration or feeling as though the mind goes blank
Irritability (which may or may not be observable to others)
Increased muscle aches or soreness
Difficulty sleeping (due to trouble falling asleep or staying asleep, restlessness at night, or unsatisfying sleep)
Many individuals with GAD also experience symptoms such as sweating, nausea, or diarrhea.
The anxiety, worry, or associated symptoms make it hard to carry out day-to-day activities and responsibilities. They may cause problems in relationships, at work, or in other important areas.
These symptoms are unrelated to any other medical conditions and cannot be explained by the effect of substances including a prescription medication, alcohol, or recreational drugs.
These symptoms are not better explained by a different mental disorder.
Whether these symptoms resonate with you or not, they may apply to someone in your life. Or, maybe it’s just the holidays….. However, it begs the question….What does a country, a community, a family, or an individual do to feel better, grounded, and more at peace? With so much uncertainty in the world, how can we enjoy the holidays and embrace the extraordinary potential and opportunities of a New Year, with peace in our hearts and goodwill toward all men?
IMPORTANT: If you are feeling completely overwhelmed, seek professional help. Anxiety disorders are extremely treatable!
Consider these tips when you are feeling anxious or stressed:
Take a time out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head.
Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest.
Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health.
Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly.
Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary.
Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn't possible, be proud of however close you get.
Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress.
Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
One last suggestion and perhaps one of the most effective… Keep a Gratitude Journal. Commit to writing in it everyday. Be specific in your entries and why you are grateful and for whom. This practice has many long term benefits. Done regularly, it will actually change the wiring in your brain and shift your to what’s right with the world. Luckily, the brain cannot focus on gratitude and despair at the same time. Stay with it and write often. The benefits happen over time. From our grateful hearts to yours. We, The Conative Group, wish you a happy, peaceful, restorative holiday season.