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Keeping Anxiety in Check in a Tough Economy

Anxiety expert Jerilyn Ross, author of the new One Less Thing To Worry About: Uncommon Wisdom for Coping with Common Anxieties (Ballantine Books), says there has been a sharp rise in the number of bankers and corporate executives seeking treatment for anxiety. Treatment is usually short-term, but Ross reports that people are requesting even fewer sessions to save money. Women For Hire talked to her.

1) In One Less Thing to Worry About you discuss the latest scientific research regarding anxiety and stress. In a nutshell, what are the findings?

The notion that anxiety, stress and other emotional forces influence the onset and path of physical illnesses, affecting our health in myriad unknown ways, is rapidly gaining credibility in Western medicine. Recent studies suggest, for example, links between unhappy marriages and heart disease; long-term care-giving to a chronically ill loved one and an accelerated aging process; chronic anxiety and the onset, persistence and severity of such medical illnesses as irritable bowel syndrome asthma, chronic pain, eating disorders and substance abuse.

In addition, there is mounting evidence to support what many of us have long suspected: not only are women twice as likely as men to develop an anxiety disorder , but our hormones have a major effect on how and when we experience anxiety.

We are just beginning to understand how anxiety manifests and changes across the stages of a woman’s life, ie. childhood, adolescence and the beginning of menstruation, pregnancy and postpartum, the menopausal transition and beyond.

2) How is the economic downturn affecting women compared to men?

Everyone is concerned about what’s going on with the economy, but women have some different challenges than men. Women are typically the ones who do the family shopping and are finding themselves caught between wanting to provide their husbands and children with the kinds of meals and personal items they’ve been accustomed to, while at the same time feeling the need to cut back on what they spend in grocery, department and other stores.

In addition, many women handle the household finances and are finding themselves in the awkward or difficult position of saying “no” to not only family vacations or new cars, but to the common everyday needs of families.

3) Not all anxiety is bad, right? How can you tell if yours is healthy or toxic?

We all have anxiety and need it to function and survive, but if your anxiety is persistent, excessive and irrational and interferes with your day-to-day life ,it is most likely an anxiety disorder and needs to be treated.

Chronic, untreated anxiety can trigger or exacerbate other psychological or physical problems such as depression, substance abuse, gastrointestinal problems and coronary artery disease. so it is important to address it.

The good news is that even anxiety that feels out of control can be successfully treated with either short-term therapy, called cognitive-behavioral therapy, medication or a combination of both. In One Less Thing to Worry About there are a series of self-quizzes that can help you determine whether the anxiety you’re experiencing is normal or symptomatic of an anxiety disorder.

The Anxiety Disorders Association of America,, , is an excellent source for information about anxiety and anxiety-related disorders, and offers a state by state listing of professionals who can help.

4) In the book you talk about how if women can relate to their anxiety, they can transform it into a protective, motivating force rather than a destructive one. How?

Each of us has a relationship with our anxiety, whether we avoid or run away from it, simply accept it as part of our personality, act impulsively to ease it, or adhere to regimens of anxiety reducing behaviors in hopes of keeping it under control.

By learning to identify and understand our unique relationship or relationships with anxiety we can begin to see how anxiety isn’t simply something that happens to us, but rather something that involves action and reaction; something which we can learn to gain control over and manage.

5) You meet a woman who tells you she is stressed to the max, out or work and barely able to makes ends meet. What free or low cost stress remedies are their for her?

There are several stress busters that I talk about in my book that can be done by anybody, anytime, anywhere. They include:

a. Focusing on your breathing –when you feel anxiety building up take several slow, deep breaths from your lower stomach while mentally picturing the breath going in and out of your lungs.

b. Keeping a stress management diary – keep a small pad handy and make a note of when you feel anxious or stressed, where you are, what you’re doing, who you’re with and what physical sensations you’re experiencing. Look for patterns in your entries and when you begin to get a sense of when and why your anxiety or stress gets started, ask yourself what you might be able to do or change to avert or ease it.

c. Repeating an encouraging phrase to yourself, over and over again, like a mantra. For example, tell yourself, “I’ve had these anxious thoughts (or feelings) before and they’ve passed. They’ll pass again” or “That which doesn’t kill me makes me stronger”

d. Getting your body to move and stretch – Whether you talk a yoga or stretch class (or watch a tape), go for a walk or run (at least 30 minutes, 3-5 days a week) or walk up and down the steps in your office or a nearby building, letting off steam by stretching and moving has lots of stress busting and other health benefits.

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