There's no doubt that anxiety is high in these troubling and uncertain times. As if the pandemic isn't causing enough worry about the health and well-being of our friends and loved ones, we are also suffering significant uncertainty concerning job security, finances/expenses, emotional well-being, access to necessities, children's schooling and (insert whatever you're worried about).
For those that struggled with anxiety before the pandemic, symptoms can be heightened. For those without existing anxiety, these feeling can be new and worrisome. So let me give you some basics about anxiety and some strategies that might help you get by during these stressful times.
Anxiety can present itself as physical symptoms such as pain, shortness of breath, palpitations, numbness, tingling or flushing. But it can also present as emotional symptoms such as irritability, insomnia, inattention, lack of focus, indecisiveness, restlessness, agitation, sadness and fear.
There's a difference between feeling anxious and having an anxiety disorder. Situations can cause symptoms of anxiety, but when those symptoms are excessive, interfere with your ability to function in your daily life, and occur on more days than not - that's what constitutes an anxiety disorder. Anxiety can also be associated with other conditions like depression and can increase the chance of having other conditions like substance use disorders.
So, how do you deal? Keep in mind, I always utilize an integrative approach, meaning a healthy combination of medical treatments and non-medical therapies. I'm neither traditional or holistic. I believe both approaches have value and finding a balance of techniques can offer wonderfully well-rounded benefits. Always, always, did I say always (?) consult with your doctor before starting any treatment or therapy. Disclaimer complete.
There is a profound and convincing body of research that proves that medication AND counseling are the most effective ways to control anxiety disorders. Medications help address the chemical component of the disease. Only your doctor can decide if you are a candidate for medication and if so, together you can work to find which are right for you. Keep in mind that medications for anxiety and depression are often trial and error, so be patient if you are prescribed one.
Counseling helps identify and address underlying causes and can help you develop strategies for coping with your symptoms. Many people make the mistake of not pursuing counseling and end up, in my opinion, incompletely treated. Remember that anxiety is like any other disease - it has a biochemical basis and there isn't anything that you did to cause the condition. That's not to say you can't help yourself, but you need to know and understand that you did not and do not cause your anxiety. Seeking treatment for mental health is no different than seeking treatment for any other medical condition, and there should be NO SHAME in wanting to feel better.
Whether or not you require medication and counseling for your anxiety, here are a few tips and tricks to help in the overall control of your symptoms.
1. Irrational and unfounded worry can cause anxiety. Worries are just thoughts. They aren't always real. A lot of people will develop anxiety based on thoughts or worries that aren't likely to happen. So instead of focusing on what COULD happen, try to focus on what IS happening. That will give you tangible things to work on and help you feel more in optimistic. Work on the things you can control and put aside the things you can't. If you can't control it, then worrying only makes you feel worse. It doesn't change the situation. Use the power of rational thinking and try to let those feelings go. I'm not saying it's easy. It takes practice but it does help.
2. Deep breathing and meditation really do work. Creating a safe space in your mind that is free from panic and fear can soothe you in times of stress. Learn to meditate so that when you're feeling panicked, you have a place you can go to calm your body and mind.
3. Exercise. That's a sentence, a directive, a prescription. Endorphins are hormones that your body releases during times of stress and pain. Their main function is to minimize your perception of pain and cause a euphoric sensation similar to joy or elation. Exercise releases endorphins which naturally elevates your mood and has a calming effect. Please however, choose exercises that you love. If exercise feels like a chore it may be more of a burden than a joy. If you hate running, don't run. Dance or garden instead. If you have a tendency towards isolation, then exercise in a group or class instead of alone. Whatever you choose, just move and remember that you are choosing THE single best treatment and prevention for most medical conditions including diabetes, heart disease, musculoskeletal conditions, autoimmune disease and anxiety / depression. In fact, I can only think of handful of conditions where I would suggest that people should AVOID exercise. Go on, yes you, the one sitting on the couch. Get up and do it. Hopefully you'll thank me later.
4. Get outside and act like a kid. Sunshine, fresh air and the earth's energy are all natural mood boosters, as is PLAY. Find time each day to be with nature, run around, laugh, play games or cuddle with a pet. Release your inhibitions and splash in that puddle, draw with chalk, jump on that trampoline. Adulthood comes with extremely stressful responsibilities. Excessive stress that is not balanced with peace and relaxation leads to pathologic states of mind and body. If there's one thing that this pandemic has given us is a reminder that we need to slow down and create lives that are more balanced than how we're used to living. Life is not to be all work and no play or vice versa. Homeostasis, balance are all our bodies and minds ever want.
5. Try alternative medicine: acupuncture, essential oils, massage, reiki. There may be little research based evidence to support these techniques, but remember alternative medicine WAS medicine before we had "medicine." Generations of humans across all cultures have relied on what is now considered alternative. Taking medication may not be feasible or desirable for some, and so these non-medication approaches can offer relief either alone or in conjunction with traditional treatments.
6. See my previous posts about sleep, I'll link it in the comments. Lack of sleep will make all symptoms worse, including anxiety and depression. Many people think sleep is something we should just know how to do, but it is in fact a skill that we sometimes need to master. Getting good sleep can be learned. A well rested mind is better equipped to deal with stressors, so go learn how to sleep.
7. Practice self care. Do not forget who you are or the things you enjoy. Just because you're a parent with a career and multiple obligations doesn't mean you have to stop pursuing your passions, interests and hobbies. Have you stopped practicing piano or painting or working towards building a business, writing a book, achieving a personal goal? We tend to lose our own identity when other responsibilities take precedence. Utilize this time in isolation for self-reflection. Are you happy in your career? Are you spending enough time on you? Do you distribute responsibilities fairly in your house or are you bearing the majority of the work? Do you feel happy and healthy? Identifying areas where you can improve your self care can increase your happiness exponentially and thereby reduce anxiety.
8. Let it go. Life is too short for anger, hatred, resentment, grudges. And while relationships are essential aspects of our lives, remember that you have control over who you allow in your life. Recognize that you cannot control the actions of others and when you accept people for who they are you are less likely to be disappointed or experience resentment. Eliminate toxic relationships from your life and notice the peace that follows. Try to practice acceptance, forgiveness and gratitude. Observe the people you admire and focus your time and energy on becoming the best version of you instead of trying to change others. Be grateful for what you have and express your gratitude for those who make your life better.
Try to stay sane and joyful in these crazy times, friends. If you need a reminder that you are loved or a punch in the shoulder to get you motivated, please message me.
And on a final note...if you are experiencing a mental health crisis, or are considering thoughts of suicide, please contact your physician immediately, go to the emergency department or call the National Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. HELP IS AVAILABLE 24-7.