Jul 13

Tackling stress with an anxiety disorder

tackling stressLast Friday, I had the final for the summer statistics course I was taking throughout June. It was an intensive course; four months worth of material condensed into a month-long semester. Usually, school isn’t something that actively stresses me out, unless of course I’ve been procrastinating. And yet, the morning of my final exam, I had a panic attack and was forced to take a propranolol so I could get through my exam. (The exam went fine, but not as well as it could have.)

Stress hits us anxiety sufferers particularly hard. While stress and anxiety are distinct states, they do overlap in much of their biological underpinnings and definitely seem to work together. Stress brings on the release of adrenaline, just like anxiety, and thus leaves us with a lot of the same feelings: racing hearts, labored breathing, restlessness, decreased focus.

Acute stress is beneficial in many ways, and for most people it can be a helpful force. Unfortunately for those of us with sensitivities to increased arousal, acute stress can also make us panic. Stress seems to pile on quicker when you’re living with an anxiety disorder, and it seems to be lurking around every corner.

While learning proper stress management techniques is important for everyone, it is especially crucial for us anxious folks. We have brains that are constantly on the look out for potential stressors, so we need to do everything we can to make sure there are as few stressors as possible in our lives. Since we can’t eliminate all sources of stress of course, learning proper stress management is necessary.

So how do we deal with stress?

Tackling stress goes back to the same sorts of coping techniques we used to overcome our anxiety.

Deep breathing is always a good starting point. Remember that proper diaphragmatic breathing helps to stimulate the parasympathetic nervous system that works against your fight-or-flight response to calm you down.

Mindfulness can be another great coping technique. Try to keep yourself in the present rather than letting your mind wander to those “what if” scenarios that are major sources of stress. (“What if I don’t get this paper in on time?” “What if I’m late for that client meeting?” “What if I don’t pass this big exam?”)

If you’re a procrastinator like me, maybe you need to look into methods to reduce your procrastination. Procrastinating is a big source of stress for me. “Why didn’t I start studying for this exam earlier? Maybe I would have been able to finish all the practice problems if I’d just started earlier.” I’m not only stressed that I haven’t studied enough, but I’m also frustrated at myself for putting things off, which just ends up leaving me more unsettled.

Having a health lifestyle is probably the most important, yet most vague, way you can help reduce your stress. Rather than dive into healthy eating and exercise, I will leave you with some great resources that you can peruse if you’d like to know more. (I will delve into eating and exercise later on!)

Coping with Stress from the Heart and Stroke Foundation

Stress Management from the Canadian Mental Health Association

Stress Management from Health Canada

How do you deal with stress? 



photo by: Helga Weber


  1. Excellent! And, of course, I would add guided visualizations to the toolbox of coping skills. And a good exercise routine. Thank you!

  2. Paul Koppel says:

    Many millions of people are suffering with stress and anxiety at some point of time. Exercise, breathing and yoga are the best ways to beat the stress and anxiety in an effective manner.

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