Are You a Chronic Worrier?

Whether it's part of our physiological or psychological make-up or a consequence of the particular stresses life imposes on us, many women suffer regularly with anxiety. Such longstanding anxiety can take the form of an underlying sense of worry that affects us throughout the day over many years.

Often, anxious feelings and thoughts interfere with falling or staying asleep. Sometimes anxiety comes in waves of panic, characterized by a doomsday outlook and physical symptoms like heart palpitations and shakiness.

I'm speaking to more and more women lately who say they once managed stress quite well in the past but who for some reason are now finding it more difficult to cope with their current situations. This is because, over time, our responses to stressors do change.

For example, before having a child I could fly in an airplane without hesitation and even enjoyed an occasional bout of unexpected turbulence. Now that I'm a mother, though, I can't seem to make it through a flight without some flashes of panic!

Let's take a look at how to assess our personal anxiety levels. First, take a moment to examine recent life events. I generally suggest looking at some of the usual suspects to find the source of anxiety: work, family and personal life, even a lack of exercise and poor diet.

Has there been a major change in your life situation? New job responsibilities? Financial stressors? Challenges in your personal relationships? Whenever even a small life-change happens, a surge in anxiety should not come as a complete surprise.

Next, don't hesitate to talk to your personal physician about your anxieties. Most doctors won't ask about your mental health, so you need to be proactive and bring it up. This is an issue that cannot be addressed well over the telephone, and is impossible to fix in an urgent care center.

If you are able to see a therapist, psychiatrist, spiritual counselor, or even a hypnotist, you can certainly start there as well. But your medical doctor can evaluate you for unusual physical sources of anxiety, including rare conditions like pheochromocytoma (a tumor of the adrenal gland that causes severe high blood pressure and often anxiety) or an overactive thyroid.

Last, consider some treatment and lifestyle options:

  • Eat a healthy diet. Reduce or eliminate caffeine. Skipping meals or eating carbohydrate-dense items alone can lead to hunger which causes jitters, too.
  • Evaluate your supplements and medications. Some dietary supplements and medications can have a stimulating effect like diet aids and cold medicines with ephedrine - but never discontinue a medication without first talking with your doctor.
  • Get moving. Regular exercise has been proven to help improve mood and lower anxiety. Try gentler movement therapies like yoga, tai chi, and Pilates.
  • Be mindful. Meditation - in this case, striving to be inside your body as much as possible and paying attention to the present moment - can help you disconnect from mind chatter and thought patterns that may be fueling your anxiety.
  • Consider medication. Unfortunately, meds for anxiety can be tricky. The classic anti-anxiety medicines, namely the benzodiazepines (BZDs), are habit-forming when used consistently and over prolonged periods, so they should only be used sparingly and with caution. While BZDs are very effective tranquilizers, especially for panic attacks, other options like anti-hypertensive and anti-depressant medications are available.