When it comes to fear, panic attacks and anxiety, stress can be a key trigger. But, what is stress and how does it affect us?
Here’s one definition of stress: “a state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or very demanding circumstances.”
Stress has many forms and can be caused by a variety of things. Trying to pin down the causes of stress may be difficult because it varies from person to person. What may be stressful for me may not be stressful for you. It’s a very personal experience, but often has very common results.
Stress and Panic
I have found in my own life that stress is a key trigger for anxiety and panic attacks.
For the past few years, I have not struggled with panic attacks. But today, when things get stressed in my life because of work or other issues, I can sense what I call “adrenaline zaps”. It’s those small, little adrenaline dumps into my body that temporarily get my heart racing. In the past, it would often result in panic, but today, I recognize those “zaps” and immediately take steps to keep the panic from hitting.
When those “zaps” hit me, I first deal with that excess adrenaline to make sure it doesn’t turn into full blown panic. But, I don’t just stop there. I start to think through the past few days and weeks. What is going on that is putting my body and mind under stress? Is it a project deadline? Too much caffeine? Am I worrying about something that’s out of my control? What am I doing to trigger this “zap”?
Almost always, I am able to pinpoint the stress trigger and deal with it accordingly. Most times, it’s a work project that demands 12 to 14 hours a day of work and much less sleep. I find in those times, that I have to slow down, rest and find healthy ways to release that adrenaline, like exercise.
Dealing with Stress
The first thing you have to do is recognize what is causing the increased stress levels. Once you have done that, the next step is to deal with it.
The problem is that we have an incredibly adaptable mental state. We can easily adjust our lives and our thinking around an increased stressed state. We grow more desensitized to this increased stress level, and instead of dealing with it, we numb it with busyness, food, alcohol and other means. I believe full-blown panic hits when our desensitized stress level reaches a point that it triggers the “fight or flight” mode in us and we don’t know why. You need to quickly respond to stress and get to the root of it as fast as you can.
While you are working through the mental and emotional causes of stress, it’s important to deal with it physically as well.
Get some Rest
Stress is often caused by overwork and long hours on the job with few breaks and lots of pressure.
When your work day is over at 5pm, then don’t work anymore. Turn the email off. Shut down the computer. Take time every evening to rest, recuperate and reenergize.
Sleep is God’s natural way for us to heal our body and mind. Try to get at least 7 hours of sleep, if not more. Your body wants to sleep. It’s how it heals itself. Just last week, when I was fighting some serious bronchitis, I slept 14 hours straight because my body was healing itself through rest. So, get some sleep.
For me, exercise is an amazing way to deal with stress. I need to get moving. Everyday, I need to do something. Even if it’s a 15 minute walk, I must get moving at least once a day.
Much of our stress comes from sitting at a desk all day, working on computers and not moving very much. I don’t believe we were created to sit still. Our body just starts to shut down after sitting for a couple hours.
The more you can get your heart rate up, the quicker you can dump that excess adrenaline that’s been building up in your body. Often, I’ll go run or bike for an hour at the end of a work day to burn off that excess stress and adrenaline. And, exercise also releases endorphins into your body, giving you a natural relaxant.
Stress can come in many forms, but the key is to recognize it and deal with it as best you can. Stress is a very personal, unique experience. I encourage you to pray and let God show you what’s causing the stress. He is faithful and wants to help you.
Prayer: Father, show me what’s causing this stress in my life. Give me the wisdom and understanding I need to deal with it.