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Are You Stressed? Manage Your Anxiety with These Helpful Tips

Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is a mental health condition in which a person is often worried or anxious about many things and finds it hard to control this anxiety.

Even when aware that worries or fears are stronger than appropriate for the situation, a person with GAD still has difficulty controlling them.

The goal of treatment is to help you feel better and function well in daily life. In less severe cases, talk therapy or medication alone can be helpful. In more severe cases, a combination of these may work best.

Dr. Staddler is here to talk about how to manage and decrease aspects of anxiety in your life.
Are You Stressed? Manage Your Anxiety with These Helpful Tips
Featured Speaker:
Daniel Staddler, MD
Dr. Staddler is a family medicine physician at the Dean Stoughton Clinic.

Learn more about Dr. Staddler
Transcription:

Melanie Cole (Host):  We all suffer from stress and anxiety at some point, whether it’s day-to-day things with the kids and our jobs. There’s always stress in our lives. But how do you manage that? How you manage it has to do with your overall health as well. My guest today is Dr. Daniel Staddler. He’s a family medicine physician at the Dean Stoughton Clinic. Welcome to the show, Dr. Staddler. What types of anxiety and stress do you think affects us the most? 

Dr. Daniel Staddler (Guest):  Thanks, Melanie. Stress is something that I hear every day in clinic. I experience it myself. I hear it from patients, and it’s hard to answer your question. It comes from all angles. I think you mentioned some of them. There are people that their brains are programmed to be more anxious than others. Not anybody’s fault. Just the way that their genetics are. Then there’s many, many life circumstances that come our way that happen to us individually or the people that we care about or in the workplace or with our kids. So a lot of sources of stress. 

Melanie:  Psychological stress can really take a toll on our physiological bodies. What is stress doing to us, Dr. Staddler, that is so damaging that we really need to work on managing it? 

Dr. Staddler:  Great question. There are so many things that stress can affect. Probably the biggest complaint that I hear from people are fatigue and decreased quality of their life. They’d like to be enjoying life more, they just don’t feel that they have the energy or the positiveness to address their activities of daily living and things that they really enjoy. Medically, it distresses the brain; it distresses the heart and the blood system. Sometimes it actually keeps people from exercising or moving. Sometimes, it’s hard to determine whether it’s something that’s happening internally with the person or could be one of their chronic illnesses that is contributing or the side effect of a medication, believe it or not, that can cause people to feel a little bit more stressed. There’s a lot of different things, a lot of adverse effects that can occur to a person and their body. 

Melanie:  What do you recommend if someone comes to you and they have anxiety and stress, job, family, whatever it is? What is the first thing that you tell them to do, the first bit of most important advice that you tell them to manage that anxiety and stress? We can’t get rid of it altogether, but we can try and manage it. 

Dr. Staddler:  I think the first thing that I do before I tell someone to do it is I need to listen. And a lot of times, people will come to me with what you call somatic complaints or things that they feel within their bodies, some aches and pains and irregularities. After I listen and we kind of rule out some important things that might actually be going on to their body, sometimes and oftentimes, the patient can reflect on the fact that there is a whole lot of stress that can be going on. So I kind of listen and just kind of hopefully help the patient—if stress is contributing—help them determine that that’s probably the biggest thing, that life events are really affecting them emotionally and physically. Then we start problem solving, what we can do about that there -- and as I tell people, if I’m talking to John Smith, I say, “John, we’re going to try to come up with a recipe to help you with this that’s unique to you.” And there’s a lot of different paths. We live in a fast food society, and everybody, myself included, you just like to have a pill to kind of take care of everything. But I think with stress, anxiety, depression, it’s not as simple as that. Medications certainly help, don’t get me wrong, but there is a lot of different pathways that individuals can take with their stress. I talk to them about just some very basic things, trying to get a good night’s sleep, six to eight hours of sleep per night, preferably more than seven. Using recreational drugs. Be aware of the fact that you might be treating your symptoms and it’s actually making your long-term symptoms worse. Be careful about how much alcohol you use. Tobacco doesn’t help. Are you getting enough exercise? Are you eating healthy? Do you have people that are supportive in your family? A partner? If you have… I tell people if you have spiritual beliefs, get into it, talk to people that you trust that can be supportive and lend you a supportive ear. Then we talk about are your symptoms severe enough so that we need to talk about medications. There’s a number of different types of medications for a person to pursue.

Melanie:  What would prompt a medication need in this case? If they’ve tried exercise, they’ve gotten their good night sleep. They’ve taken deep breaths. They’ve done all the things that you’ve discussed. Then when does medication come in? Speak about medications a little bit. What do they do? 

Dr. Staddler:  Well, medications can sometimes add to what you just described. I should also mention you’re bringing up a good point about meditation, deep breathing. I’m becoming a big fan of yoga and of meditation as something that can really, really help a person. We have various tools that we can use, scoring systems that I go over with patients to gauge the severity of their symptoms. Sometimes people say, “You know, Dr. Staddler, I’ve done everything that you talked about, and it’s just not helping.” At that point, we shift gears and say okay, let’s talk about medications. There are medications to help a person get a good night’s sleep because that sometimes is the best thing that a person needs. We have to be careful about that and try to use things that are maybe a natural over-the-counter product or something that I can prescribe that’s safe and non-addictive. There’s a lot of medications that are good that help people sleep, but they can become addictive. We don’t want to treat one problem and cause another. There are other medications that are just helpful for when a person has anxiety symptoms. Those have been popular, more popular in the past. We’re actually very careful about how we use them because some of the side effects can be addictive. The ones that I try to steer people towards are antidepressant medications that are non-addictive, that are safe to take, and there’s something that you take every day to help the symptoms from rearing their head in the first place. Or, if it’s a chronic anxiety problem, to hopefully lessen the severity of the symptoms. I try to tell patients it’s not going to make the problems go away, but hopefully it’s going to take the edge off so that you can enjoy life more and get back to the things that you need to do to get through your day, take care of your family through your workday, et cetera. 

Melanie:  Dr. Staddler, when do we worry or notice that the difference between just our average worrying about these things and actual anxiety that would need to seek treatment? 

Dr. Staddler:  That’s a great question, and this is a great time of the year to talk about that as we’re entering the holiday season. Just a quick comment on that. I find it ironic that we see so much advertising and old movies that talk about what a joy the holidays can put you in. The majority of times, I see people coming into my office this time really stressed about the holidays. It’s not a relaxing time. There’s a lot of new worries that come your way, so this is a great time to be talking about this topic in general. It’s hard to say when a person -- I think it’s unique to the individual. There are some people just the way that they’re wired, the way that their genetics are, that they are chronically worried, and they can sometimes feel when they’ve moved from a normal level, or I should say a typical level of anxiety to something that’s more severe. I like to use the zero to ten scale a lot, just like we do with pain. If zero is no anxiety, what number would you pick, ten being the worst anxiety you’ve ever felt in your life? We can use a tool as simple as that. If people have never experienced severe anxiety before, they will oftentimes come to the clinic either talking about that, or as I mentioned before, but sometimes relate it to the side effect of the anxiety. They’ll come in and they’ll talk about I can’t sleep, or my heart is pounding, or I’m just so tired, I can’t sleep. I can’t relax, I’m so tired and yet I don’t feel like I can go to sleep. There’s a variety of other presentations that can occur that will let the patient know or their family know or they’ll let me know that this is something that’s not their baseline anxiety. 

Melanie:  In just the last minute, Dr. Staddler, give your best advice for managing anxiety around the holidays or any time of the year. 

Dr. Staddler:  Well, I have lots of advice. One of it is I think for those who have never experienced anxiety, it’s a hard thing to understand a loved or a coworker or a family member that is experiencing it. The example I always make is that if a person has a broken leg, you can see the cast on her leg and you know that they can’t walk very well and you’re going to make accommodations. When somebody is suffering from a mood disorder such as severe anxiety, it’s really hard to see them hurting so badly and trying to understand what they’re going through. My best advice is to first rule out other causes of anxiety and make sure that that’s the right diagnosis. Once it is, to educate yourself. If it’s the patient, educate themselves if they’re able to. Or, if it’s a family member also, you kind of read along with them to better understand what that means. Then it’s all those things that we talked about. It’s what I call, a therapeutic lifestyle. Let’s step back and make sure that you’re getting enough sleep, that you’re eating healthy, you’re not eating too much or too little, that you’re not using chemicals such as recreational drugs, alcohol. That might be contributing. Is your caffeine intake -- if you’re so tired that you’re using caffeine to help the energy level but it’s making the anxiety worse. Then it’s also getting to a qualified professional medical provider to talk to a person to help them decide, how significant is this and what are my treatment options? 

Melanie:  Thank you so much, Dr. Daniel Staddler. You’re listening to Stoughton Hospital Health Talk. For more information, you can go to stoughtonhospital.com. That’s stoughtonhospital.com. This is Melanie Cole. Thanks so much for listening.