Anxiety & Stress

Anxiety and stress are different from each other but can also inter-relate and feel similar, especially how it feels in the body. Stress usually has a trigger or cause (a stressor), whereas anxiety can be ongoing excessive worry. Stress can sometimes lead to anxiety and other challenges, such as depression.

 

Agents of change (community organizers, leaders, providers, etc.) often struggle with stress because of the sense of responsibility for changing the world. We fill our "plate" too full and further stress about finding balance. Often, this sense of responsibility for changing the world leads to anxiety, because we are focused on the future "what ifs." We often set very high self-expectations and become both anxious about achieving expectations and about being "enough". Often, anxiety and stress are connected to inner-criticism and also burnout. We sacrifice ourselves for the cause and burn out quickly, or experience health problems. Learning self-love, self-compassion, and balance are essential in sustaining us and our important work.

Signs of anxiety include excessive worry, tension, ruminating thoughts, compulsive thinking, being easily fatigued, muscle tightness, trouble sleeping (insomnia), irritability, and difficulty concentrating. Anxiety can also cause headaches, digestive problems (such as Irritable Bowel Syndrome), high blood pressure, etc.). In his book The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle writes about compulsive thinking being addictive because we no longer have the choice to stop and because it gives us a false sense of pleasure, that turns into pain.

There are various ways to reduce anxiety and stress, including mindfulness stress reduction, meditation (especially guided meditation), and CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy). CBT includes self-talk, affirmations, and ways to check possible unrealistic thoughts. Many people experience relief from anxiety with medication. I suggest shopping around for a good psychiatrist if going the medication route. I am not a doctor. I encourage folks to do research on side effects, including tapering off. There are also many alternative medicines that have a history of success, such as acupuncture, exercise, ayurvedic medicine, diet, etc.