science of us

11 Stress Experts on Surviving the Constant Anxiety That Is 2017

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Apparently, there is something called a “supervolcano” hanging out beneath Yellowstone National Park, waiting to envelop Earth in a “volcanic winter” and kill us all. The odds of it erupting anytime soon are relatively small, according to scientists, but still: Notice how they didn’t say it won’t. Add that lingering fear to the potential threat of nuclear war, and the evident effects of global warming, and the near-daily news of mass gun violence, and just about everything Trump does everyday, it’s not hard to feel like you’re drowning in bad news.

If you’re feeling a persistent, low-level dread, you’re not alone. A recent American Psychological Association survey found that 63 percent of American say “the future of the nation” (no small category!) is a significant source of stress. From all available evidence, the news isn’t likely to get any happier or easier to swallow anytime soon, so here are 11 psychologists and stress experts on how to survive the rest of the year. (And the next. If we get one.)

Accept that you’re anxious. “When we fight our body’s natural instinct to fight or flight we end up holding stress in the body in a variety of ways — nail biting, teeth grinding, stomach clenching. If we don’t have a way to release it can tax our body, leading us to get sick. The first step is just having that awareness which can lead to an adaption of a behavior — acknowledging, ‘Yes, I’m stressed.’ The minute we acknowledge it rather than push it away, the more we can create choices as to how to move forward and take appropriate action. For many people the denial of the stress reaction can become the block itself.” — Alexandra Janelli, clinical hypnotist, life coach, and owner of Modrn Sanctuary

Limit your news intake to a regular source and schedule. “Take control of the news cycle. Select a news source that is both reliable and non-sensational and that you feel comfortable with. Next, access that source as few times a day as you can tolerate, preferably the same time each day. Avoid the constant repetition of the all-day news cycle. (This is a variant of the well-known emotion regulation tactic called ‘situation selection.’)” — Harold Koenigsberg, professor of psychiatry at Icahn School of Medicine at Mount Sinai

Assign yourself a time-out. “Be sure to build in some quiet time every day. When bad news seems like the new normal, keeping the news on and watching your phone like a hawk is a protective response. This is a human reaction of vigilance through information, an effort to stay safe and survive. But the onslaught of sounds and sights can be overstimulating, not to mention depressing. The nervous system is likely to get too activated, making you feel stressed and tired. Take a few minutes, whether it’s before bed or before leaving for work in the morning, to just sit and breathe. It doesn’t have to be a complicated meditation, but breathing in more fully, holding the breath gently, and releasing it more consciously, is a fast-acting way to help the mind-body system feel better. It won’t solve the world’s problems, but it will encourage your body and mind to feel ready to rides the waves of another news cycle.” — Dr. Pilar Jennings, author of To Heal a Wounded Heart

Count at least two of your blessings. “Before you go to sleep each night, keep a separate pad or booklet ONLY to write down one or two GOOD things that happened that day. You can even write these down when you are in bed. You may be swayed to review a negative ‘But, this also happened … ’ Stop yourself! Just focus on the good. Then turn out the lights. You should awake refreshed and happy, without the nightmares and fears you were feeling from the day. With a refreshing outlook for the new day, let the evils of the new day roll down your back, remembering you will eventually get into bed with the smile of ONLY the GOOD things that occurred that day.” — Dr. Gilda Carle, therapist and relationship expert

Don’t rely on alcohol to manage your stress. “The world feels more dangerous with almost daily media reports of catastrophes. Whether it is an earthquake in Mexico, a terror attack in NYC, or a hurricane in Puerto Rico, booze for many is a soothing short-term solution. People often turn to the bottle in times of anxiety and stress, especially those who suffer from anxiety and other psychological disorders. However, the long-term effects of sitting in front of the TV and lamenting over disasters with drink in hand can take its toll on the body and the brain. Finding ways to deal with anxiety that are not alcohol-related is key to better health, and disengaging from the anxiety spiral.” — Dr. John Mendelson, chief medical officer of Ria Health

Reach out to loved ones. “Lean on your support system. In times of anxiety and stress it is important to connect with others and talk about what is bothering you. Holding the feelings inside can cause depression and even feelings of isolation.” — Stacy Kaiser, licensed psychotherapist

Laugh more — even if it’s forced at first. “A sense of humor is key to survival. Laugh researchers have noted the medical benefits of laughter. Giggles relieve stress, control pain, lower blood pressure, provide an aerobic workout for the diaphragm, improve the body’s ability to utilize oxygen, and maximize the flow of disease-fighting proteins and cells to the blood. Laughter strengthens the insides, physically and emotionally.” — Dr. Susan Kuczmarski, author of Becoming a Happy Family

Don’t forget to take care of you. “One of the best ways to combat stress and anxiety is to take good care of yourself. You may not be able to fix the world, but you can fix you. Eat well, exercise, sleep properly. That way, when you do hear stressful or anxiety-provoking news, you are in a better place to handle it.” — Scott Dehorty, LCSW-C, executive director at Maryland House Detox, Delphi Behavioral Health

Maybe try aromatherapy? “Embrace new scents: Life in 2017, the constant access to information, can increase stress hormones and heighten anxiety. Try using essential oils, like lavender or chamomile, at work and in the home while taking a few minutes each day to relax and let go of any anxiety you might be experiencing. Essential oils use our sense of smell to connect directly to our subconscious, evoking a powerful emotional response. While research on aromatherapy is typically mixed, I believe that any positive effect — even if it’s only placebo — is good. Taking time to relax will help you learn how stress affects your body.” — Dr. Michele Pole, director of psychology at Caron Treatment Centers

Remember good things still exist, too. “When we focus on all the bad news out there, that negative worldview becomes our reality. When we focus on the positive and on what we’re grateful for, those are the things that grow and become more prominent in our inner landscape. Mindfulness is a powerful tool during times of stress. When we practice paying attention to the present moment — rather than what’s happened in the past or might happen in the future — we begin to take more pleasure in the small, positive things happening around us right now: the beautiful sunset, the smiles we exchange with a co-worker, the sound of a baby’s laughter. We gain perspective and are more able to recognize all that is good in the world.” — Heather Senior Monroe, MSW, LCSW, director of program development at Newport Academy

Seek help if your anxiety is persistent and/or intruding on your daily life. “A lot of people share deep stress right now in reaction to current events. Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertain and stressful situations. It’s your body telling you to be alert and protect yourself. However, it is important to know the difference between feeling anxious and the real and serious medical condition known as anxiety disorder. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the United States, affecting over 40 million people. If you have persistent feelings of intense fear for months, an anxiety disorder may be the cause, and there is no shame in seeking help from a doctor. In fact, it is important to address anxiety disorders openly and without delay. There are many effective treatments.” — Audrey Gruss, founder and chair, Hope for Depression Research Foundation

Stress Experts on the Constant Anxiety That Is 2017