Disclaimer: The information presented is meant for instructional purposes only and is not intended to be used to provide a diagnosis or treatment. Only a medical professional can do that. If you or someone you know feels that they are a danger to others or themselves, please call 911 or go to the hospital immediately.
We live in stressful times, now more than ever. Every day, we deal with work, school, and family and friends. Now, we’ve added a pandemic to the mix. If we were stressed before then we’re super stressed now, and there’s little doubt that this stress has the possibility to manifest itself in incredibly detrimental and possibly debilitating ways. One of the ways this stress may express itself is in the form of anxiety.
Anxiety is very common, and everyone experiences it at one time or another. But what exactly is it? According to Merriam-Webster, anxiety can be defined as an “apprehensive uneasiness or nervousness usually over an impending or anticipated ill” or “an abnormal and overwhelming sense of apprehension and fear often marked by physical signs (such as tension, sweating, and increased pulse rate), by doubt concerning the reality and nature of the threat, and by self-doubt about one’s capacity to cope with it.”
Wow. That’s a lot of words. Let’s see if we can simplify this.
Anxiety is normal. It’s your body’s natural response to stress, and it can be considered healthy. That doesn’t make it any less unpleasant, though, and anxiety can turn into something very unhealthy. If your feelings of anxiety are extreme, interfere with your life, and last longer than six months, you might have an anxiety disorder. Other symptoms of an anxiety disorder include:
- Being irritable
- Feeling restless, wound-up, or on-edge
- Having difficulty concentrating; mind going blank
- Difficulty controlling feelings of worry
- Having muscle tension
- Having sleep problems (ex: difficulty falling or staying asleep, restless, or unsatisfying sleep)
Whether you’re coping with an anxiety disorder or you’re just trying to manage the pressures that daily life throws at you, anxiety stinks. There’s no other way to put it. But that doesn’t mean you have to suffer through it. Below are some tips to help you handle anxiety.
- Move your body. Going to the gym is nice, but we’re living in the world that COVID-19 has given us. Right now, all gyms are closed. That’s OK, though. All hope for relief via exercise is not lost. A walk around the block or the neighborhood is just as good as any workout class. Or you could try following along with a yoga workout on your computer or phone. It doesn’t have to be super vigorous; just getting some physical activity can help with anxiety.
- Deep breathing can help activate your body’s relaxation response, thus helping you escape the fight-or-flight response you’re experiencing. One of my personal favorite breathing exercises is called 7-11 Breathing. You inhale for 7 seconds and then exhale for 11 seconds. It’s been a personal go to for years.
- Get some ZZZs. Trust me, I know this one is easier said than done, but not getting enough sleep can exacerbate your anxiety. Do you have trouble winding down? Try doing a relaxing activity before you go to bed. Listen to some soothing music or take a warm bath. Also, try to put your phone down and turn off the TV before you go to sleep. The blue light in the screen is notorious for messing with our sleep cycles.
- Write it down. It’s old school, but it works. Just take a pen and paper and write down your worries or whatever is making you anxious. Try keeping a Jot Journal – a journal whose sole purpose is for you to quickly write down your worries so you can get them out of your head.
- Avoid caffeine (and other mind-altering substances). You might think you need that coffee in the morning to function, but more likely than not, it’s making you more anxious. Caffeine is a stimulant, which is what makes it so good at keeping you awake. However, the fact that it’s a stimulant also means that it can exacerbate any anxiety you’re feeling. And while drugs such as alcohol, marijuana, or opiates might take away your anxiety for a short while, the long-term effects of those drugs are incredibly harmful. It’s also worth pointing out: what’s one of the top symptoms of both opiate and alcohol withdrawal? You guessed it… anxiety.
- Challenge your anxious thoughts. It’s easy to give into unhelpful thought patterns, such as what ifs, all-or-nothing thinking, or catastrophizing. “What if I make a fool of myself?” “What if I get an F on this paper?” They’re easy to get lost in. Instead, though, try to challenge them. Ask yourself, “Is this worry realistic?” “Is this really likely to happen?” “Is this really true, or does it just seem that way?” Then reframe the thought so that it is more realistic and accurate. For example, let’s say you have to give a speech in front of your class, and you begin to worry about tripping as you walk up to the podium. You could challenge that thought and instead think,” Yeah, it’d be embarrassing if I tripped in front of everyone. But being embarrassed is just a feeling. It wouldn’t last forever. I’d get through it.”
- Take a break (and do something you enjoy). Sometimes you just need a change of pace or scenery to help reframe your mindset. Take a break and do something you enjoy, such as reading a book, listening to music, or playing a sport.
- Stay connected to others. Make sure you’ve got a solid support system that you can rely on if you need to. Talking to and being with others (even virtually) can be very beneficial, especially when you’re struggling with anxiety.
- Seek professional help. There’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or psychiatrist to help you manage your mental health. Let me repeat that for everyone in the back: there’s nothing wrong with seeing a therapist or psychiatrist to help you manage your mental health. If your car wasn’t working properly, you’d take it to a mechanic. Your brain is no different. If your mental health is suffering and you’re having trouble managing it, then getting professional help might be the best thing to do. And there’s no shame in it. If Michael Phelps can go see a therapist, then so can you.