We hear and deal with a lot of stress in our day-to-day lives. Between our overloaded schedules and often constant connection to social media, there is a lot to stress over — money, raising housing rates, debt — especially student loans and medical bills, etc.
For most of us, stress can’t be avoided. Stress or stressors (sorry if this is a little psychobabble-y) are naturally charged activities or situations that we have to endure to have our needs met (housing, groceries, medical care, etc.) They are stressful because we don’t often want to deal with the menial tasks, but HAVE to.
Anxiety, on the other hand, is different. Anxiety is our response to these externals sources of stress in our lives/environment. We all know that person (on TV or in real life), who has a lot of stress but seems to respond with very little anxiety. It may look like acceptance that the stress-source is a part of life, handling it with experience or an “oh well, crap happens” attitude, or something else entirely.
We respond to stress like our ancestors responded to running away from saber tooth tigers because that is how we are wired and our genes haven’t caught up and adapted yet. You know that racy rush of adrenaline you get when nervous or scared? That is what we are talking about here, and you may notice it is a short burst that fades quickly. This works great running from a saber tooth tiger, but when used continually, it doesn’t work as well can actually be bad for your physical and emotional health. For more on this in amazing detail, I recommend the book Why Don’t Zebras Get Ulcers by Robert Sapolsky.
So what can you do about anxiety if you can’t give up one of the stress sources? Recent research has suggested that emotions are like alarm bells telling you something isn’t right (anxiety, fear, depression) or is right (joy, elation). We tend to ignore the negative emotions and try to “tough it out” — which usually means the alarm bells just turn up the volume.
One simple brain hack is that research has suggested just acknowledging negative emotions helps you experience them temporarily and then move on from them. As an example, check in with yourself now and try to identify 3 emotions you are feeling. If you’re having trouble, check out this awesome feeling wheel (which will be the star of a future blog post – spoiler alert!). There is also a feelings wheel app if you are interested
Emotions are, if you can believe it, temporary! You have the power to overcome them instead of suffering from negative emotions longer than necessary,