This column is part of The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR Consulting. Click here to take our survey, measure your stress levels, find out your Quality of Work Life (QWL) score and determine whether you're able to cope.
Life can be filled with challenging situations that can cause you stress. These can be caused by issues at home, at work or by relationships, financial or health concerns.
Whatever the root cause of a stressful event, when something is perceived as a threat, the body's nervous system releases stress hormones to protect itself. These chemicals help prepare the body's defence system to fight or flee the danger.
However, when your body releases these chemicals again and again because of feelings of stress – and there's no immediate physical threat – this response can trigger symptoms such as anxiety.
It is quite common for people under stress to feel anxious and worried, with symptoms such as a racing heartbeat, flushed complexion, a tightening of the chest, difficulty concentrating and restlessness.
Under intensely stressful situations, a person may have symptoms similar to some anxiety disorders. The intensity, frequency and length of time a person has anxiety determines their risk level for developing an anxiety disorder.
One common type of anxiety disorder is General Anxiety Disorder. GAD can be described as a chronic state of worry for most or all of every day. It's when a person worries about their health, relationships, money, or work for six months or more. Symptoms include muscle tension, fatigue, difficultly sleeping, edginess and restlessness.
Not all anxiety disorders are the result of an inability to cope with prolonged stress; some can be linked to genetics.
The longer a person stays in a state of anxiety, the greater their risk for developing a mental health condition such as GAD.
There's also a higher health risk for those people who are in a constant state of anxiety. Employees who indicated in The Globe and Mail's Your Life at Work Survey that they are chronically worried were found to have an overall health risk 11 per cent higher than those who are not worriers. This shows that chronic worrying can have a negative impact on employees' physical and psychological health.
This month, the Your Life at Work Survey, done in conjunction with Howatt HR, includes an anxiety screening tool. It helps individuals self-evaluate and become aware of their current levels of anxiety and risk for stress.
If you are chronically worried, there are a few things you can do to take charge and improve your overall quality of life:
Accept your situation: Accept your feelings in the moment for what they are, without judgment.
Practice slow: Try meditation or yoga to calm your anxious mind. Following these practices for at least two months or more can improve your mood and reduce your anxiety level.
Take the 60-day caffeine-free challenge: If your body is moving too fast it makes no sense to add more stimulation. Take caffeine out of your diet for the next 60 days. There may be some withdrawal symptoms, but they will pass in a few days.
Practice positive thoughts: Don't dwell on the negative, and instead think about the positive things in your life, and be grateful for them.
Breathe: Stop and take a deep breath. Fill your lungs and exhale slowly. Repeat three times. This practice can help give you immediate relief from anxiety.
Burn stress chemicals: Exercise daily for half an hour at an intensity level that gets you sweating. This will help you to release stress hormones and relax. Check with your doctor if you have not been active for some time to ensure you are healthy enough to start a new exercise program.
Log sleep: Get six to eight hours of rest each night. Remove all stimuli such as TV, smartphones and the Internet an hour before you go to bed. Reading a peaceful and engaging story can relax your mind and set you up for a good night's sleep.
If following some of these actions doesn't give you relief, don't hesitate to ask for help. If you have tried to reduce your anxiety level and your anxiety quick survey score is high, it's important to know that talking about your thoughts with a trained professional, such as a representative from your company's employee assistance program, can help you find peace. In some cases, a family doctor may recommend medication temporarily to help you calm down.