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Epidemic of Anxiety

By M. Anjum Irfan, M.D., Psychiatry
The Chester County Hospital

Published: June 8, 2009

Elements of anxiety, fear, tension and stress have been integral parts of human existence since the beginning of civilization, but modern-day stress and its various manifestations have been more profound in the last 60 years. Unfortunately, in many instances the evolution of society has caused stress to have a relatively severe impact on the mind and subsequently on the body. Particularly in the current socioeconomic situation, it seems that everybody is stressed out or burned out.

The manifestations of stress may include generalized feelings of tension and anxiety, social anxiety, post-traumatic stress, panic attacks, various phobias, anger management issues, road rage, gambling and addictions. Prolonged exposure to stress can lead to chronic medical problems such as alcoholism, depression, chronic anxiety, diabetes mellitus, high blood pressure, heart disease, acid reflux, and chronic tension headaches. In addition to the social factors, genetic and hereditary predisposition, biochemical and hormonal imbalances and familial influence can make one more susceptible to the negative effects of stress , as can certain personality traits (e.g., avoidance, perfectionism, etc.).

Anxiety and stress in this ever-changing world has become an unavoidable reality of life. The popularity of mind/body medicine is evidence that demand is high for these kinds of treatment modalities. Here are some tips for handling stress:

Try to be involved in local community activities that complement your temperament and aptitude. It is well-known that people with stable networks of support generally deal better with day-to-day challenges. There is growing evidence that supports the role of spirituality in the human social resilience and certainly helps to keep certain psychosomatic illnesses at bay.

It is important to understand the importance of family relationships and support. Generally, there is no substitute for a loving and caring family environment. Many psychologists have pointed out the importance of honest and open communication within the family as a foundation of health.

The old saying goes "a healthy body holds a healthy mind." Try to eat healthy meals at least three times a day with high amounts of fiber from whole grains, vegetables, fruits and salads. For protein, try to eat more lentils, beans, fish, chicken and turkey. Minimize the amount of red meat and avoid processed or fried foods. Use caffeinated drinks in moderation and avoid tobacco.

In addition, the importance of regular physical exercise cannot be overemphasized. The average adult should exercise for about 30 minutes a day at least four to five days per week.

There are number of studies now indicating that regular meditation can be very helpful in redirecting the energy of the body and mind which in turn can reduce the sense of daily stress, anxiety, tension and depression and increase the general awareness of one's own life situation.

Our culture has always valued rugged individualism and self-reliance, and the stigma of psychological or mental disorders has created barriers to getting professional help; however, there are types of stress-related conditions that need expert evaluation and treatment. Discuss this with your primary care physician, who may need to direct you to a certified, licensed practitioner depending on the situation. Your mental health is just as important as your physical health.

This article was published as part of the Daily Local News Medical Column series which appears every Monday. It has been reprinted by permission of the Daily Local News.

Last Updated: 7/27/2009