Anxiety can look different for everyone. But, experiencing periods of anxiety is an unavoidable part of life. Whether from day-to-day stressors such as work and bills, or unpleasant life situations involving relationships or illness, life can be unexpected and stressful.

How we manage this tricky state of anxiety can mean the difference between being relaxed and at peace or spiraling into mental distress.

What Is Anxiety?

Anxiety is a feeling of fear or uneasiness and is often accompanied by physical sensations such as a rapid heart rate, sweating, and tension. (1) While not a pleasant feeling, it is a completely normal reaction in times of stress.

Anxiety serves a purpose. In fact, it spurs us to take action. Moreover, it serves as a signal to tell us something is wrong or needs attention. It can provide a burst of adrenaline in a moment of crisis or much-needed focus in a difficult situation.

Fight or Flight


When we are presented with a stressor, our body responds within seconds. In fact, it pumps out hormones that increase blood flow to our brain and muscles, sharpens our focus, increases our pain threshold, and diverts energy away from tasks such as digestion, so all resources go to managing the threat. (2) This is called the fight or flight response.

Whether you need to run from a situation or stay and fight, your body is prepared for the challenge.

The extraordinary ability to quickly ramp up the body and mind to handle challenging situations is an evolutionary advantage. However, the body and mind did not evolve to differentiate well between acute and chronic stressors. As a result, the fight or flight response kicks in regardless of whether you’re facing a bear or a work deadline.

We must be able to respond in a time of stress or crisis, but it is equally essential to relax once the stressor has passed. Unfortunately, in modern life, the stressors tend to pile up. Our complex, fast-paced life may be routinely sending our body the signal that it is under threat.

Hence, many of us move from one crisis to the next, never experiencing the relaxation necessary to maintain mental and physical health. It’s as though we spend all day, every day facing off with a bear, while in reality, there is no need to either fight or flee.

Physical Effects of Anxiety

Short-term anxiety may come and go without having any negative impact on our health. This is because the hormones released to prime the body in a time of stress are meant to peak and then fade once the threat passes. 

If those hormones are continually being pumped into the body by our reaction to day-to-day stressors, they begin to cause damage and eventually impact our long-term health. Long-term exposure to the fight or flight response wears down our bodies and leads to illness. Many of our body systems are negatively affected by long-term anxiety.

Immune System


When the fight or flight response is in effect over long periods, it substantially degrades your immune system. (3) Because the body is diverting all resources towards the heart and muscles to fight or flee, other essential body systems decline.

In the presence of chronic stress, the production of immune cells decreases, and fewer antibodies are produced to respond to microbes that may cause illness. (3) This means your body is in a weaker position to mount an immune response. As a result, you are more likely to become ill and be sick for longer.

Brain Function

People who experience ongoing anxiety and stress find it difficult to focus and are easily distracted. (4) The body’s fight or flight response prioritizes the flow of threat-related information and diverts attention away from information or tasks that are not useful to handle the challenge.

Chronic stress lacks a genuine threat to safety. Yet, the brain will be kept busy responding to stressors and consequently struggle to focus on other things.

Along with the hormones that divert attention to the perceived threat, stress and anxiety are accompanied by worry and rumination. Especially in chronic stress, the mind is distressed not just by the ongoing anxious or fearful thoughts but also by the upsetting physical reactions of the fight or flight response.

Chronic stress takes a toll on the brain and is linked to increased risk of cognitive decline, poor memory retention, and risk of dementia and Alzheimer’s. (5)

Heart Health


If you suddenly came face to face with a lion, your heart rate would immediately increase, and your blood pressure would rise. This would be good and useful so you could make a run for it.

Now imagine your body raising your heart rate and blood pressure in response to your day-to-day stress. What was once a helpful adaptation now causes wear and tear to your heart as it works harder than needed just to get you through the day.

Chronic anxiety may double the risk of heart disease later in life. (6) The link between heart disease and anxiety may also be due to poor health choices made by people who are feeling anxious.

It is hard to care for yourself when you feel uneasy and distressed every day. Poor eating, sleeping, and movement habits can result from chronic anxiety. (7) These behaviors can contribute to the development of heart disease over time.


All it takes is one night of poor sleep to feel the effects of sleeplessness on the body. Lack of adequate sleep is linked to poor mood, higher anxiety, obesity, heart attack, diabetes, and poor work performance. (8)

Anxiety itself can lead to insomnia, and the resulting sleep deficit can exacerbate anxiety. (9) It quickly turns into a frustrating cycle of stress and fatigue. This is on top of the way stress and anxiety already deplete your energy and leave you tired and worn out.

If your body spends all day revved up to run from a threat, of course, you will struggle with fatigue.

Managing Stress and Anxiety


Allowing stress to accumulate and grow unchecked will lead to a life of anxiety and depletion.  Living in constant fight or flight mode prevents us from feeling peace and relaxation. We can’t be mentally strong and resilient without strategies that allow us to de-stress. 

Everyone needs effective anxiety-relieving techniques to turn to in times of struggle. For many of us, it’s not enough to come home at the end of the day and zone out on the couch. Our mind and body required targeted effort to downgrade the perceived threat level and be truly relaxed.

Techniques to Alleviate Anxiety

In chronic stress and anxiety, the brain is stuck in a pattern of perceiving threats where there are none. Breaking this pattern requires new behaviors that train the brain to perceive things in a new way or focus on the positive.

Recent research has shown four areas that are essential to increase psychological resilience to stress; personal control, positive affect, social support, and optimism. (10) Using techniques that support us in each area can alleviate stress and ward off future anxiety.

Personal Control


The more control you feel in a situation, the less likely your brain will perceive threats. 

For example, if your boss criticizes you at work, your level of confidence in your ability to handle the situation will determine how stressed you feel. If you are comfortable in your skills at conflict resolution, you may perceive an opportunity instead of a threat. In the same way, if you feel in control of your ability to manage difficult emotions, you can prevent the criticism from causing distress.

To Build Your Sense of Personal Control:

  • Learn new things. The more you know, the better prepared you will feel for whatever life throws at you. In particular, it can be helpful to learn more in areas of your life where you feel less control. If specific situations or aspects of your life cause you dissatisfaction or stress, seek new perspectives and information to build your confidence. The Be Well app is full of helpful and engaging articles that will expand your knowledge on a variety of topics. Take time every day to learn or read something new.
  • Increase your emotional intelligence. The more you acknowledge and understand your emotions, the more control you will have over how they impact you. Reading books, getting feedback from astute friends, or seeking insight from a therapist can all raise your emotional intelligence.
  • Get organized. When you feel out of control, it can help to build control into your day. The goal is not to become a controlling person but to feel a sense of agency and be empowered to make good decisions. Having a daily schedule and routine naturally creates calm and flow in your day. While things never go quite the way you plan, having a structure in your life provides a place from which to manage your emotions and time.
  • Get better sleep. When you are tired, many tasks feel difficult and beyond your control. A good night’s sleep will equip you to manage your emotions and also your sense of agency in life. The Be Well app can help you get the sleep you need by providing you with peaceful techniques that help you fall asleep and sleep better.

Positive Affect

Positive affect means feeling positive emotions and engaging with joy, contentment, and enthusiasm. (10) The more positive emotions you experience, the happier and more resilient to stress you will be. Happy people even live longer. (11)

It’s tempting to look at people who always seem happy and think they were just lucky enough to be born that way. But, the reality is, we all face stress in life. Approaching life with a positive attitude requires practice, and it’s well worth the effort.

To build positive affect:

  • Do things that bring you joy every day. The more often you engage in pleasurable experiences, the more resistant you will be to the effects of stress and anxiety. Listening to uplifting music in the Be Well app is one way to bring more joy to your life. Music makes us feel happy and relaxed, so it’s a great stress reliever.
  • Focus on the good. As Bob Ross said, “Beauty is everywhere. You only have to look to see it.” When you focus your attention on good things, your mind will perceive life as less threatening.
  • Exercise. Moving your body releases positive endorphins that counteract the effects of stress and make you feel good. The Be Well app contains so many video options that will effectively get you moving and releasing tension. Yoga, tai chi, or qigong are especially good choices available in the app, as they are meditative movements that reduce anxiety in the body and mind.

Social Support


Having people around us who support and care for us makes us resilient in times of stress. We all need a tribe of like-minded people who get us. When we’re stressed or anxious, having someone to talk to can make all the difference.

To build social support:

  • Reach out to friends and family. If you want people to support you, start by supporting them. Don’t wait until you need a shoulder to lean on to prioritize important relationships.
  • Be a good listener. This is one of the best ways to deepen your social support, as listening is an investment in your relationships. And, when you need someone to listen to you, your friends will be there.
  • Volunteer. Giving your time to volunteer with others is a great way to find social support and bring you satisfaction.


Optimism refers to how positively you feel about your current and future situation. Your outlook on life can be a huge determining factor in how often you perceive life experiences as threatening or stressful.

Being optimistic is a skill that can be developed with practice.

  • Practice gratitude. When you focus on what you are thankful for, you train your brain to see what is good instead of fixating on anxious thoughts.
  • Meditate. Being still in meditation provides peace and a new perspective. Meditation downregulates the fight and flight response allowing the mind and body to feel relaxed. (12) It is easier to have a positive outlook when we feel peaceful and at ease. Choose one of the meditation techniques available in the Be Well app. Whether it’s a calming meditation, progressive relaxation, or gratitude meditation, there is an option in the app that can work for whatever situation is causing anxiety. Using the app regularly to practice meditation will make you more resilient against stress over time.
  • Be aware of self-talk. How we speak to ourselves will naturally influence how we see the world around us. When we choose positive inner dialogue, we lay the foundation for a positive perspective on life. It’s hard to feel anxious when we look forward to the future with joy and anticipation.

Beating Anxiety


Stress and anxiety are universal emotions, but they do not have to be destructive. While they have a useful purpose, our work is to keep them in their proper place and not allow the emotions to influence outside a time of genuine crisis.

Resilience to stress means we have the right tools at hand to turn off our fight and flight instinct when it gets out of sync with life. Stressful experiences are a reality of being human, but how we respond is up to us.

How the BeWell App Can Help

Managing stress is the cornerstone of wellness. The BeWell app is full of tools to help you down-regulate your stress response and find a place of calm. When you feel your stress level rising, open the app and acknowledge your emotion. Then choose the right tool for the moment:

  • Engage in one of the meditation practices.
  • Do a short movement video to get you out of your head and into your body. 
  • Listen to calming music.
  • Read an uplifting article.
  • Practice Tai Chi or Qigong.