A while ago I came across an article that debated whether our 'age of anxiety' was a medical condition or just the new normal. I don't recall my immediate reaction but I'm sure my jaw crashing on the table must have made a noise. The blunt instrument used to raise such an idea is based on a numbers game. If nearly one in five Americans suffers from anxiety then surely it's part of the human condition, goes the argument. I'm pretty sure such speculation didn't occur during the black death, although in fairness there were equally curious notions as to why such grim times were visited on mere mortals. Hold on, am I seriously comparing anxiety with the black death? Not directly but my equally blunt point is that just because there's a lot of something around in no way makes it acceptable or normal.
Alright, that's off my chest. It was on my chest in the first place because I, like so many others, take anxiety and stress very seriously indeed. I'd much prefer that people suffering with anxiety or stress didn't start believing this was in any way a normal state of affairs. It's a dangerous type of thinking that has many health consequences, and I think it's worth focusing on the evidence.
Let me start by conceding that anxiety affects everyone to some extent and that some level of anxiety is indeed a part of the human condition. Clinical levels of anxiety or stress are of course somewhat different to those everyday concerns or times of stress we all encounter. Ignoring stress however is a time bomb waiting to go off. What's also clear is we seem to be our best judge of how stress is affecting us, and sometimes our own worst enemy for not taking heed of these messages.
There are certain very evident signs that stress is getting to us. We start to feel more anxious, it becomes harder to focus, there is usually a rise in physical, emotional and behavioral symptoms (smoking, drinking, diet, activity). Pushing these symptoms to one side is certainly a way of coping in the short term but the cumulative effects are known to be harmful.
Ask a person the extent to which their stress is having a negative effect on their health and the results are surprisingly accurate. Research published in the European Heart Journal found that such people are twice as likely to have a heart attack. This tells us that our own internal warning systems seem able to predict a health event as serious and common as coronary disease.
Complaints of stress are increasing and while some people appear more resilient or have better resources and coping strategies, we can't afford to ignore personal perceptions if we're at all serious about health and illness prevention.
Published On: July 07, 2013