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Managing Stress & Anxiety

Stress and anxiety can wreak havoc on your overall health. Michelle Gardner, Unit Director of Behavioral Health, discuses how to manage stress and anxiety.
Managing Stress & Anxiety
Featured Speaker:
Michelle Gardner
Michelle Gardner is the Unit Director, Behavioral Health.

Bill Klaproth (Host): You know the drill. The constant worrying, not sleeping well, irritability, muscle tension, fatigue. Yeah, stress, anxiety; a not so dynamic duo you don’t want in your life. With us to talk about managing stress and anxiety is Michelle Gardner, Behavioral Health Unit Director at Southern New Hampshire Health. Michelle, thanks for your time.

Michelle Gardner (Guest): Heh Bill. Thank you very much for having me.

Host: No problem. So, let’s get into this Michelle. Can you tell us what is the difference between stress and anxiety? Basically, there are different types, right, of stress and anxiety? So, what are those?

Michelle: Yes, they are. So, stress and anxiety is a normal part of life and affects everyone in some way, shape or form, in varying degrees, for different lengths of time. So, stress is any physical or psychological demand. It can be the result of something positive or exciting in your life such as planning a vacation or a trip, purchasing a home or vehicle, starting a new job. It can also be a result of something negative or challenging such as a loss of a job or a loss of a loved one, some kind of traumatic event or even just being stuck in traffic.

Anxiety though is that feeling of fear or worry. It may or may not be related to a stressful situation. Sometimes it’s that feeling of fear and worry becomes worse over time and as a result, someone could have anxiety disorder such as a generalized anxiety disorder which is excessive anxiety or worry that impacts someone’s life. A panic disorder and that the time when people feel like they are having those heart attacks, or it can be some other form of social anxiety.

Host: That’s really interesting when you said that there’s positive stress; I never thought of it that way. You know when you are stressed out about buying a new car or a house or things like that. Real interesting. So, how does stress and anxiety affect people?

Michelle: So, it can affect people in different ways. Sometimes that positive stress that people have or that anxiety actually pushes people to keep moving forward in things. Other times though, the stress can have a negative impact and that can cause headaches, difficulty sleeping, difficulty focusing and concentrating. Sometimes people can have a change in their appetite or their weight, their heart rate goes up, they can have the difficulty with the breathing, high blood pressure, stomachaches. Also to we had mentioned that sore muscles. They may feel angry and irritable, frustrated or depressed. And sometimes if that stress and anxiety is not managed properly, in the long term, it can actually cause heart disease, diabetes, and other chronic conditions.

Host: So, when you recognize those symptoms in yourself; what is the next step? Should someone contact their physician at that point?

Michelle: Well sometimes you don’t necessarily need to go to that level at that point in time. Sometimes it is just as easy as kind of taking a break and self-reflecting and determining is there a specific trigger that I can avoid next time is there is something else that I can do. But if you feel like you’re not able to manage that on your own; then absolutely seek professional help. Go to your primary care provider, see if then you need to be referred to a mental health specialist or maybe some kind of different support groups. Sometimes people actually require medications.

Host: So, Michelle, when you talk about that taking a step back and reflecting; there seems to be a self-care trend on social media as we see people saying how important it is to pay attention to sleep and diet and you see them doing yoga and getting massages. Is this really the right way to deal with actual stress and anxiety?

Michelle: Absolutely. Self-care is very important when it comes to managing stress and anxiety. All too often, we have a tendency to focus solely on the problem and what causes that stress and anxiety. And that means that we are actually looking outwards. Sometimes what we need to do though is to stop and actually look inward. We need to make sure that we take care of ourselves, so that we can function at our best when we need it the most.

And with regards to the self-care, those types can be as unique as the individual. I believe sometimes one of the hardest things for people to do is to first recognize that they need to stop and actually not feel guilty about it. They need to do that self-nurturing which is very essential to a healthy lifestyle and people need to be able to determine what works for them. So, absolutely, if it’s going to work classes or yoga, making sure that they potentially change their diet, that they are sleeping a little bit more. Absolutely.

Host: That’s really interesting. So, when you say stop and don’t feel guilty about it. Do people feel guilty about taking time for themselves? You know what I need to just take an hour to myself and go get a massage. You’re saying don’t feel guilty about that.

Michelle: Absolutely. I think what ends up happening is that more people have a tendency to be very forgiving and nurturing towards others and then we end up having a tendency to put ourselves on the back burner until the point comes when we are just feeling very overwhelmed, very stressed and very anxious about something.

Host: So, if you are feeling very overwhelmed like you just said; it’s okay to take a step back, reflect, spend some time to yourself, maybe take a day off or a weekend day and just kind of chill and as you said, look inward. That’s really good advice. So, are there other ways we can reduce stress and anxiety the right way and maybe some tips on how we can better manage this.

Michelle: Absolutely. So, the best thing to do is to have a plan and to practice your plan. So, the more that people practice their plan, their self-care plan, actually the easier it is when the time comes when they need to implement it. Sometimes managing stress and anxiety require someone just to change the situation even if it’s for a moment. So, that might be something as simple as taking a break during your eight hour work shift, going for a walk, counting, maybe counting to ten, organizing your thoughts or even if you are feeling overwhelmed just ask for help.

Other coping skills or relaxation techniques that people can use is that positive self-talk, I can do this, I can get through this. Trying something new. Maybe it’s listening to music, coloring, journaling, reading a good book, just kind of even sitting down to watch a movie or watch something on TV. Sometimes baking or cooking is therapeutic to people. Taking some big problems and actually breaking them into little bit more manageable ones. Sometimes it’s even putting things on a list, then crossing it off and looking to see how much you’ve achieved during your day. And recognizing that it’s okay to kind of carry something on to the next day.

So, some things to avoid might be alcohol, drugs, nicotine or too much caffeine.

Host: Those are really great tips. And thank you for passing those along. You were mentioning positive self-talk. Seems like most of us do a lot of negative self-talk and that’s really not healthy is it? So, if we catch ourselves in a pattern of negative self-talk, is there a way to break out of that?

Michelle: Surround yourself with positive people. Sometimes we have – we recommend, and we recommend it for ourselves as well is put something that’s really visible. Put something on your desk. Put something on your mirror so when you first get up in the morning you have like a positive thought that’s there. Like you can do this today, passing it along to one of your coworkers or a family member, anything on that idea just to kind of break yourself of that. Because negativity breeds negativity so if you surround yourself with positive self-talk it will get you through the other day.

Host: Well that makes sense and the more you do positive self-talk, like you said, negative self-talk breeds negativity. The more positive you are; the more positive self-talk, right, eventually you kind of reprogram yourself. Is that right?

Michelle: Absolutely. Absolutely. And reading some good books. There is a lot of information that’s out there on the internet. There is a lot of support groups that are around in the area. So, anything that you feel like you can do to rejuvenate yourself when you absolutely need it.

Host: Well, that is great advice Michelle. Thank you so much for your time today. I’ve enjoyed talking with you. For more information, please visit, that’s And if you want to hear more, make sure you subscribe to Simply Healthy in Apple Podcasts, Google Play or wherever you listen to your podcasts. This is Simply Healthy, a podcast by Southern New Hampshire Health. I’m Bill Klaproth. Thanks for listening.