Stress on steroids. That’s how life feels for many Americans today. Consider senseless shootings, a nasty political climate, catastrophic weather, increasing suicide rates. Factor in close-to-home stressors such as caring for a loved one; parenting a learning-disabled, autistic, depressed, or anxious child; managing your own chronic condition or addiction; looking for a job. Now layer in everyday annoyances — traffic, train delays, a nasty coworker, a long supermarket line after an even longer day. No wonder we feel overloaded, overwhelmed, out of control, and unsafe.
Stress in the modern world is a constant. When stress doesn’t let up and is paired with the feeling that we have little to no control over the circumstances that are creating it, that’s called chronic stress. Over and over again, the research points to one key fact: Prolonged or unremitting stress exacts a stunningly toxic toll on the body, brain, mind, and soul. Its ongoing assault wears us down, measurably aging — or “weathering” — our insides, for some of us much more than others. Chronic stress zaps brainpower by damaging neural pathways and skewing judgment. It compromises the immune system. It taxes the heart, kidneys, liver, and brain.
But does living in the world today mean that no matter what we do, we’re doomed to swim in a sea of stress and its ill effects, including anxiety, meltdowns, and panic attacks? Or could it be that everything we thought we knew about stress and how to manage or alleviate it is outdated or outright wrong? Maybe it’s time for everyone to get on the same page when it comes to stress.