It is a frightening time: worldwide pandemic, entire cities under lock-down, soaring unemployment, and the threat to one’s safety and health are pushing up our anxiety levels. If you are a naturally calm person, you may have noticed an increased unrest or ill-at-ease feeling within you. If you already struggle with high anxiety, the added uncertainty brought about by this current world crisis may be pushing you to the brink of dread and panic.
For many of us, the uncertainty surrounding COVID-19 is the hardest thing to handle. We, as a nation, are not sure how parts of our country will be impacted, how bad things will eventually become, or what the aftermath will look like. Loss of control in our lives makes it all too easy to catastrophize the current situation and let our fears spiral even further out of control.
Overwhelming stress and prolonged anxiety take a toll on our bodies, minds, and spirits. This doesn’t have to be, however. There are many things you can do to manage your anxiety and fears so that you can cope in these anxious times. Let’s take a look at some of the signs of high anxiety and then let’s tackle things you can do to cope.
The Signs of High Anxiety
Everyone will, at some point in their lives, deal with intermittent bouts of anxiety for short periods of time. We often worry about things that are present in our daily lives: finances, work, and family. This type of worry often helps us to make good decisions in these areas.
But when worry becomes excessive, uncontrollable, or irrational for extended periods of time, anxiety can skyrocket and lead to anxiety disorders like generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), panic disorder, social anxiety disorder, obsessive compulsive disorder, and post traumatic stress disorder.
Here are some of the signs of high-anxiety disorders:
- Excessive worrying that lasts for months
- Restlessness, feeling on edge, keyed up
- Physical tension – sore muscles, tension headaches, etc.
- Difficulty sleeping – inability to fall asleep, stay asleep, or restlessness
- Excessive list making and over-planning
- Social discomfort
If these signs are present in your life, you should consider seeking therapy to help you navigate your way back to a more peaceful mindset and lifestyle. For less severe anxiety, here are some coping strategies you can use to reduce anxiety and worry in your life.
Coping Strategies for Anxiety
The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has listed the following coping strategies to try when you are feeling anxious or stressed:
- Take a time-out. Practice yoga, listen to music, meditate, get a massage, or learn relaxation techniques. Stepping back from the problem helps clear your head. Also, start your day off with a basic grounding exercise, breathing in “I am” and breathing out “here”. Repeat a few times.
- Eat well-balanced meals. Do not skip any meals. Eat at a table and put away work and other stressors like mobile devices. Do keep healthful, energy-boosting snacks on hand.
- Limit alcohol and caffeine, which can aggravate anxiety and trigger panic attacks.
- Get enough sleep. When stressed, your body needs additional sleep and rest. Be sure to prepare your body and mind for sleep one-half hour before bed by unplugging from technology and engage in relaxing activities like reading, doing light stretches, or writing out a gratitude list.
- Exercise daily to help you feel good and maintain your health. (Be sure to check out the fitness tips below.)
- Take deep breaths. Inhale and exhale slowly. Deep breaths engage the vagus nerve, which activates the calming part of your nervous system.
- Count to 10 slowly. Repeat, and count to 20 if necessary. Stay in the moment and experience what you are actually doing in the present.
- Do your best. Instead of aiming for perfection, which isn’t possible, be proud of however close you get.
- Accept that you cannot control everything. Put your stress in perspective: Is it really as bad as you think?
- Welcome humor. A good laugh goes a long way.
- Maintain a positive attitude. Make an effort to replace negative thoughts with positive ones.
- Get involved. Volunteer or find another way to be active in your community, which creates a support network and gives you a break from everyday stress. Tending to other’s needs will force you to focus on them and outside of yourself. Being kind to others is the best thing you can do for yourself.
- Learn what triggers your anxiety. Is it work, family, school, or something else you can identify? Write in a journal when you’re feeling stressed or anxious, and look for a pattern.
- Talk to someone. Tell friends and family you’re feeling overwhelmed, and let them know how they can help you. Talk to a physician or therapist for professional help.
Fitness Tips to Manage Stress and Lower Anxiety
The ADAA suggests that to receive the maximum benefits from exercise, try to include at least 2½ hours of moderate-intensity physical activity (e.g. brisk walking) each week, 1¼ hours of a vigorous-intensity activity (such as jogging or swimming laps), or a combination of the two.
- 5 X 30: Jog, walk, bike, or dance three to five times a week for 30 minutes.
- Set small daily goals and aim for daily consistency rather than perfect workouts. It’s better to walk every day for 15-20 minutes than to wait until the weekend for a three-hour fitness marathon. Lots of scientific data suggest that frequency is the most important.
- Find forms of exercise that are fun or enjoyable. Extroverted people often like classes and group activities. People who are more introverted often prefer solo pursuits.
- Distract yourself with an iPod or other portable media player to download audiobooks, podcasts, or music. Many people find it’s more fun to exercise while listening to something they enjoy.
- Recruit an “exercise buddy.” It’s often easier to stick to your exercise routine when you have to stay committed to a friend, partner, or colleague.
- Be patient when you start a new exercise program. Most sedentary people require about four to eight weeks to feel coordinated and sufficiently in shape so that exercise feels easier.
When outside forces beyond your control amp up your anxiety, plan to follow the above coping strategies that best fit into your lifestyle. Some of these strategies and techniques take very little time out of your day and are easy to implement. Be kind to yourself by reducing your anxiety using these coping strategies.