Anxiety is defined as constant feelings of worry and uneasiness. It occurs when we undergo high levels of ongoing stress. It comes in different forms and if left to go out of control can turn into a disorder making your life a living hell. Understanding what it is, how it works, and what to do when it shows up will make the world of difference on how it affects your life.
Anyone can have anxiety from one time or another. It is a part of life and can be useful in motivating us to getting things done. For example, preparing for happy moments such as a wedding or an important speech can bring on anxiety; these are all quite harmless. The problem, as mentioned above, is when there are high levels of it on a constant basis, and it is not controlled.
Midlife anxiety falls under this category as well and is more rampant than we realize. It can be brought on when we begin to question where we are after 40 or after 50. It involves feelings of dissatisfaction with life or a career; being trapped in a marriage; battling an illness; the list just goes on. Middle-age depression can also be added this list, but we are mainly focusing on the symptoms of anxiety in this article. The trick is making sure you pay attention to your stress level when anxiety is present to ensure that things are kept under control.
You can tell you’re having anxiety issues because it involves, as we indicated above, feelings of uneasiness and nervousness. If you can identify why it’s happening, that is a good sign because you can isolate the cause and work to correct it. If you’re having these symptoms for no apparent reason, then that’s cause for concern because you are looking at a disorder – an anxiety disorder.
Anxiety disorders include generalized anxiety (referred to as GAD); panic attacks; social anxiety and the like. We’re not going to go into details on each one but, basically, what happens when you have an anxiety attack is your neurons (cells within the nervous system that carries electrical impulses) carry messages to your brain, causing your body to react with the ‘flight or flee’ responses. During this time, you will experience dilated pupils, sweaty palms, racing heartbeat – your muscles would even get more energy to spontaneously pounce, if needed. This mechanism was our make-up from the beginning of time so that we could circumvent danger. Today, we are still wired that way even though our environment is not as threatening. When we go into overload with excessive stress, our bodies react with some type of anxiety.
I remember having serious test anxiety when I was in college. It occurred mostly with my math classes because I always felt challenged by it. I would breeze through tests on other subjects but when it came to math, I would totally lock up, not recognizing formulas that I was fine with before the test. That always fascinated me!
I took a great deal of psychology classes – one of which was coping with stress. In one of the sessions, each student had to discuss how stress affected his or her body, and it was interesting to hear of the various experiences we were all having. One woman explained how she would have trouble swallowing her food during anxiety episodes; she was convinced that she would choke if she attempted to swallow whatever she was chewing. That had to be scary!
The key to winning the fight with anxiety is being able to decipher whether the feelings you are experiencing are really happening and how to stay in control during the sessions. I am referring to these as sessions because that’s exactly what they are. Anxiety attacks come in spurts and range from 10 to, maybe, 20 minutes. Because these feelings are very real to the individual, it is extremely difficult to maintain composure while it is happening. It is possible to do, but you would have to be well versed on how to fight the battle.
Years ago, my best friend died of Leukemia and that threw my life into total disarray. I could not wrap my arms around the fact that she was no longer in existence. Because of that, I began to battle with anxiety issues where I would have panic attacks. These tend to be more intense! I lived in Miami at the time, and it was difficult to cope with because I was alone and very lost. I had just separated from my husband and was adjusting to a single life with young children when she passed on. I decided to relocate back to New York where I had more family and friends. This was a very interesting time of my life because I had to make these major adjustments while battling this condition – and with young boys on my hands.
Anxiety for women in midlife (after 40) is more rampant than we realize because a 40-year-old woman’s body behaves a lot different to one of a 30-year old or younger. Some women in their 40’s begin to experience menopause or pre-menopausal symptoms. Surprisingly, this is another way anxiety could find its way in the life of a woman that is over 40. Although I had just turned 40, I was not having any symptoms of menopause (hot flashes, etc.); thank God! My introduction to anxiety was induced by stress overload.
Exercise is known to help with anxiety issues. However, I was having a very different outcome when it bothered me years ago. I am an athletic person and back then I was super active at the gym doing laps in the pool and so on. When it was time for an episode, nothing stopped it from taking me over. I would have these vicious panic attacks where I would have racing heart beats and shallow breathing. I remember calling the ambulance one time, only to have them come and leave; it was quite humiliating (smiling)!
I’ve never had to watch what I eat so there was no regime in place in terms of my diet; counting calories was never my forte. I would say it is a good idea to learn what the best diet for women over 40 is because this was part of my problem. I was not knowledgeable about this fact so when the episodes were happening after my workout, I could not figure out why. I used to live on sugar back then and after the gym, I would sometimes sit with a chocolate bar and ice cream. It turns out that part of anxiety is your adrenaline going haywire. Guess what was triggering mine? My sugar intake was the culprit! When you are in overload mode (highly stressed), this is not the time to be messing around with anything that would irritate your adrenaline. Rather than be in a relaxed mode after swimming, I would be all wound up because I fed myself excessive sugar – throwing myself into serious tailspins (smiling). The sweets would aggravate things, causing my nervous system (neurons) to send exciting messages to my brain, which in turn, would place me in an uncomfortable mode of nervousness (anxiety).
I found myself taking periodic trips to the emergency room with highly elevated blood pressure. When I got there, things would completely subside. I am known for being gregarious, so I got into a conversation with a staff member about what was really taking place. She explained ‘if your blood pressure gets highly elevated during anxiety episodes and then goes down when you are in a relaxed mode, it is not a blood pressure problem but solely an anxiety issue’. I also learned that you can do simple self-talks to calm yourself down during this time; conversely, you can convince yourself that you are about to have a heart attack or a stroke (smiling). Of course, there is nothing funny about what I am discussing; there are some real sufferers of this stuff. The key, again, is to try and have your methods in place when it comes around so that you can maintain your self-control until it passes. It takes knowledge and time to master the fight against anxiety, and it is also crucial to watch what you are putting in your body during highly stressed periods of your life. For one, start paying attention to your sugar intake as well as other foods that will irritate your adrenaline (caffeine, etc.). Instead, find things to do that will relax you and take those moments to enjoy calming teas such as Chamomile; Sleepytime, etc. These are all methods to fighting ‘the big bad wolf’ (anxiety) naturally. This is where ‘knowledge is power’! Items such as coffee, chocolate, brown sodas (Coke and Pepsi) are all products that contain caffeine and can trigger anxiety. Instead, sit back and enjoy a good cup of relaxing tea. My thing is mint tea; I have it each morning with my breakfast. I use tea bags, but strong tea drinkers prefer other methods as opposed to bags to get a more potent taste of their favorite flavors.
Anxiety is a part of our everyday lives, but it is our responsibility to understand why it’s happening and what we need to do to keep it under control. If it progresses, it can really disrupt one’s life and simple fixes would be a lot harder to follow. Taking time to educate yourself on how to fight back naturally is the way to go as medication just covers it up; it does not cure the issue. The methods outlined in this article will assist in helping you to effectively fight anxiety before it advances into a mental illness and ensures your overall well-being in the long run. Click here to check out this awesome tea infuser for your favorite teas. Use coupon code ‘MIDLIFE10’ and get a 10% discount on us. To arm yourself with more powerful tools, include a massage chair with soothing therapeutic sounds. Because you are dealing with the nervous system, having massage therapy will reduce stress levels as well as promote good blood flow to your body. I am talking from experience when I say ‘these suggested items will make the world of difference in putting your nerves at ease’. Be well!