Coping With Stress and Anxiety
Q:I am health-conscious and female, and watch my diet very carefully. I exercise sporadically, but have never had a weight problem. I am excited as I observe the literal signs of the times; however, I have anxiety about last-day events that sometimes keeps me awake at night. I often have sweaty palms and tightness in my throat. Have you any advice for me?
A:We are indeed living in exciting—“grand and awful”—times! The news media reflect an end-time urgency and imminence of Christ’s soon return. And yes, you are right, much of that which is so graphically portrayed is distressing and sometimes repulsive! It is difficult to fathom the cruel and inhumane acts perpetrated so widely and on such a large scale, and to think that we as human beings are capable of such deeds!
You do not mention your age, but if you are experiencing tightness in your throat at times, you should consult your physician. This could be a symptom of coronary heart disease and an equivalent of angina (sign of decreased blood supply to the heart muscle), which is usually experienced as chest discomfort or pain. Women tend to have what is called atypical (or not usual) angina. There are other causes, including stress, but cardiac disease must be excluded. At the same time it would be good to have a thyroid blood test done. A lump or tightness in the throat, also called globus pharyngeus, may be caused by a problem of coordination of the muscles involved in swallowing. As mentioned, this can be aggravated by stress.
It is good that you are careful with your diet. A balanced vegetarian diet promotes physical and mental well-being—wholeness. In fact, the dietary counsels we have received as a church, if followed, will positively affect our emotional wellness as much as they will keep us physically healthy.
I am concerned that you exercise only sporadically. Daily exercise is a great way to promote mental health and emotional wellness. It has been shown that people who exercise regularly (at least five days a week, and optimally seven days a week) have less depression and anxiety. Regular exercise even reduces suicide rates. Exercise may also improve cognitive (thinking/memory) functions and decrease the progression of dementia, and even its onset. Physical activity also decreases the incidence of diabetes and helps maintain ideal body weight.
If, after following all of the above, you are still struggling with anxiety over last-day events and the coming crisis, I would urge you to speak with your pastor, who may even refer you to a Christian counselor. Cognitive behavioral therapy can be very helpful in such settings. I have no doubt that you are already claiming God’s many promises to give us peace. Please continue to do so, but seek the needed help as well.
Remember in all circumstances that our God, who is faithful, has promised: “So do not fear, for I am with you; do not be dismayed, for I am your God” (Isa. 41:10).
Peter N. Landless, a board-certified nuclear cardiologist, is director of the General Conference Health Ministries Department.