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Don’t mess with stress

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Written by James Combs

A Tavares doctor advises to get treatment for stress and anxiety. 

Deadly mass shootings…

Nonstop negative news stories…

Rising cancer rates… 

Political polarization… 

It’s probably no surprise that 40 percent of Americans felt more anxious in 2018 than they did one year earlier, according to a poll conducted by the American Psychiatric Association. Of the 1,000 U.S. adults surveyed, most attributed safety, health, finances, politics, and interpersonal relationships as the greatest sources of their stress. 

Sadly, there’s no quick fix for any of this. Even sadder, few of those respondents sought out mental health care. 

“Even if you are physically healthy and have no physical conditions, if you don’t take care of your mental health, then you will eventually develop a physical condition,” says Dr. Maxine Ruddock, clinical director of Comprehensive Psychological Assessment Services in Tavares. “If you’re feeling stressed or have anxiety, you don’t want to exercise, you’re not going to eat right, and you’re not going to get adequate sleep.”

Seventy-seven percent of Americans regularly experience physical symptoms caused by stress, according to data from the American Institute of Stress. Dr. Ruddock defines stress as “physiological, emotional, and mental reactions to changes in your environment.” For example, a bride may be stressed over details about her upcoming wedding, but once the wedding is complete, the stress disappears. 

Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illnesses in the United States, affecting 40 million adults ages 18 and older, according to the Anxiety and Depression Association of America. They include generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), panic disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and social anxiety disorder. Unlike stress, anxiety is a sustained mental health disorder and is not necessarily related to a situational factor, Dr. Ruddock says. Instead, sufferers create disastrous scenarios in their head that “take on a life on their own.” 

“A bride with an anxiety disorder would continue worrying after the wedding,” she says. “How will I pay my bill? Will the photos turn out OK? Why didn’t this or that person show up? Anxiety is predicting disaster and it’s irritational thinking.” 

Both anxiety and stress bring similar symptoms, including increased heart rate, increased sweating, shakiness, forgetfulness, and disorganized thoughts. Dr. Ruddock cautions anyone experiencing those symptoms to seek professional help. 

For some, that isn’t an option. Many avoid treatment due to the stigma attached to mental illness. A cancer or multiple sclerosis patient likely will receive sympathy and an outpouring of support. Conversely, someone struggling with mental illness may be met with uncomfortable silence or judgmental stares. 

“It breaks my heart to see a person who is struggling refuse help because he or she is ashamed,” Dr. Ruddock says. “They need to realize that, if caught early, their condition can be taken care of and they can get back a certain quality of life.” 

Failing to seek help could result in serious health conditions. 

“Stress is one of those mental health conditions that highly correlates with heart conditions. Stress increases blood pressure, which eventually starts to weaken heart muscles,” Dr. Ruddock says. “Anxiety is dangerous because the body is sustaining numerous symptoms over long periods of time. Few realize that erectile dysfunction is correlated with stress and anxiety, too.”

Treatment options vary depending on the severity of the patient’s condition. Dr. Ruddock first performs an assessment to determine whether stress and anxiety are being caused by health conditions such heart problems or hyperthyroidism. Once medical conditions are ruled out, then she utilizes talk therapy to discuss situational factors that are causing stress. If those situational factors are removed and symptoms persist, the diagnosis is more likely to be anxiety disorder. 

Patients whose anxiety disorder is mild to moderate in severity will undergo cognitive behavioral therapy, exercises, massage, and aroma therapy. If the anxiety disorder is severe, medication is often recommended.

“Medication takes the edge off and allows them to eat better, sleep better, and keep their minds from racing,” she says. “As a result, they can better process what I’m telling them during therapy sessions.” 


Facts about anxiety

  • Anxiety disorders affect 25.1% of children between ages 13 and 18.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 18.1% of the U.S. adult population. 
  • Anxiety disorders cost the U.S. more than $42 billion a year

Sources: Anxiety and Depression Association of America  “The Economic Burden of Anxiety Disorders,” a study published in the Journal of Clinical Psychiatry


Stress by the numbers

  • 77% of people regularly experience physical symptoms of stress. 
  • 73% of people regularly experience psychological symptoms caused by stress.
  • 33% of people feel they live with extreme stress.
  • 48% of people feel their stress has increased over the past five years. 
  • 78% of people cited work and money as the leading causes of their stress
  • 48% of people who lie awake at night due to stress.

Source: The American Institute of Stress 


Common physical symptoms associated with stress

Source: The American Institute of Stress

  • 51% fatigue
  • 17% teeth grinding
  • 30% muscle tension
  • 13% dizziness
  • 44% headaches
  • 23% appetite changes

Ways to relieve stress

  • Exercise.
  • Consider supplements such as green tea and valerian root. 
  • Write about everything that makes you feel grateful. 
  • Spend time with family and friends.
  • Laugh.
  • Listen to soothing music.
  • Practice deep breathing.
  • Buy a pet. 
  • Practice mindfulness. 
  • Enroll in an exercise class. 

Source: healthline.com 


About the author

James Combs

Akers Media Group's James Combs has been a staff writer for several local publications since August 2000. He has had the privilege of interviewing some of Lake County’s many fascinating residents—from innovative business owners to heroic war veterans—and bringing their stories to life. A resident of Lake County since 1986, James recently embarked on a journey to lead a healthier lifestyle. He has lost 60 pounds and walks nearly five miles a day. In his spare time, he enjoys target shooting, skeet shooting and watching his beloved Kentucky Wildcats!

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