There are four great reasons to rid your life of anxiety and worry.
1. It just feels awful
It sucks to be anxious all the time. In fact worry is one of the most unpleasant emotions that we experience as humans. It saps our energy, our strength and our motivation and there’s a powerlessness that seems to take over, preventing us from taking positive, constructive action. Anxiety comes with its own kind of psychic suffering that can (and does) immobilize you.
2. It accomplishes nothing
Worry contributes absolutely nothing to your life, to the lives of those around you or to the world. It has never improved any situation or solved any problem. While there are some who might fool themselves into believing that their worry will lead them to a solution to whatever perceived threat is hanging over their heads in the moment, it’s never true.
3. It blocks your potential
With every new bogeyman, we dream less, we hesitate more and the sphere of our infinite potential shrinks. Our potential and performance as human beings is stifled and we back away from the great things of which our unbridled imaginations are capable. Worries are constraining, restricting, limiting. In the face of them we believe less, try less and become less. They cause us to set limits for ourselves before we’ve even tried.
But the reason I want to focus on today is…
4. It makes you sick
It’s been more than well documented that stress, worry and anxiety are injurious to your health. From skin conditions and irritability to high blood pressure, ulcers and heart attacks, constant worry simply isn’t good for you.
The Mayo Clinic reports that anxiety can result in restlessness, panic attacks, increased heart rate, hyperventilation, sweating, trembling, feeling weak or tired, trouble concentrating and gastrointestinal problems. Healthline adds depression, headaches, irritability, heart palpitations, muscle aches and loss of sex drive as resulting from worry.
Are we having fun yet?
You’ve also likely heard of the hormone Cortisol. Often referred to as “the stress hormone,” it’s produced by your adrenal glands and can be thought of your built-in alarm system. One of its primary roles is to help fuel your body’s “fight-or-flight” instinct in a crisis situation. Whenever cortisol is produced, your body goes on high alert, muscles tighten, breathing increases, heart rate goes up and you’re ready to take on whatever might be threatening you.
Obviously, like the city fire department, it’s an extremely useful resource and we wouldn’t want to be without it. But, also like the fire department, the best days are the ones in which we don’t need to call on it.
Cortisol and the fire department are both designed to respond to emergencies. The nature of an emergency is that it doesn’t last too long. We respond to the crisis, solve the problem and then go back to living our normal lives.
But if your body’s “code red” status lasts too long, if worry and anxiety become chronic, some nasty things begin to happen. Too much cortisol compromises your immune system, making you more susceptible to disease. Relationships have been found between cortisol and diabetes, osteoporosis, and heart disease.
More recently it’s also been discovered that too much reliance on cortisol can also take an early toll on your ability to think.
A study published in 2018 in Neurology found that responding to everyday challenges with worry and anxiety, and the resultant release of cortisol, can have negative impacts on the brain by the time we reach early middle age. The study of more than 2,000 people, most in their 40s, learned that those with the highest levels of cortisol performed worse on tests of memory, organization, visual perception and attention.
The study also discovered that higher cortisol levels are connected with physical changes in the brain. In fact, the total volume of certain regions of the brain actually shrinks. This is often seen as a precursor to Alzheimer’s and other forms of dementia. This connection is reinforced by other research that has shown that weaker-than-average performance on these types of tests can indicate a higher risk of dementia in later life. The link between high stress and anxiety and dementia is becoming clearer.
The study indicated that these effects seem to be most evident in women. But it’s uncertain whether middle-aged women are under more stress than men or simply have higher cortisol levels as a result of the same levels of stress.
So what should you do about it?
The last thing I want you to get stressed about is stress. So at the risk of sounding cheeky, don’t worry about it!
Dr. Sudha Seshadri, the lead researcher on the study says, “An important message to myself and others is that when challenges come our way, getting frustrated is very counterproductive.” She also says that other research has shown cortisol levels can be reduced with adequate sleep, exercise, socializing and relaxing mental activities such as meditation. Other research shows that some fairly simple activity and lifestyle changes (such as those we show you here at i-fearless) have been shown to change these levels.
Bruce McEwen is a neuroscientist and cortisol expert at The Rockefeller University. He was not part of the study but says other research suggests it is never too late to adopt a healthier lifestyle. He says that the brain does have the capacity for repairing and steps like reducing stress, exercising regularly, eating a healthy diet, getting enough good-quality sleep and finding meaning in one’s life can aid in that repair.
Of course, that’s what i-fearless is all about – showing you strategies and tactics that can help you reduce and even eliminate worry and anxiety from your life. Because life is too precious and offers too much opportunity for joy to be spent worrying.