Have you ever felt your heartbeat racing after a dangerous or scary encounter? Maybe you’ve noticed your chest starts to feel tight when you know you’re about to have a difficult conversation. Everyone experiences anxiety in their lives, but different factors can influence how often you feel anxious, how serious your symptoms are, and what can trigger your anxiety.
If you’re looking for quick ways to manage your symptoms in the moment, as well as long-term strategies to minimize the amount of anxiety you feel, check out these tips and expert advice from Jefferson Center clinician, Kathy Baur.
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is your mind and body’s natural reaction to stressful situations. According to Baur, “stress is anything that presents a threat to your wellbeing.” This threat could be physical, emotional, or psychological, causing you to have different responses. Anxiety can appear as a physiological response, like heavy breathing or sweating; an emotional response, like anger or worry; and a behavioral response, such as changes in eating and sleeping habits. In most cases, the event that causes your anxiety is only temporary and your symptoms subside.
Because anxiety can be caused by a number of factors and often more than one factor at a time, nailing down the root cause of your anxious thoughts can be difficult sometimes, especially during events like a pandemic. The coronavirus has presented a variety of threats to or wellbeing, from our health to our jobs to our routines and normal way of life. Baur states that “when you’re in a pandemic, the threat never goes away.”
Learning to cope with difficult, stressful situations – whether they are short-lived or don’t have an obvious endpoint – is a great tool in being able to maintain your mental health. Here are some simple ways to approach anxiety when it shows up in your life.
1. Identify Your Warning Signs
Although everyone experiences anxiety, the way people experience it can differ greatly based on their personality, genetics, and past experiences. This can be trembling hands, chest tightness, a rapid heart rate, sweaty palms, feeling restless, and having racing thoughts. Additionally, the things that trigger anxiety can be different for different people. Everything from demanding jobs to financial problems and smoking to alcohol intake can influence your anxiety. Knowing your unique triggers and warning signs can help you recognize when you need to take a step back and address the situation.
2. Take Some Deep Breaths
Grounding exercises are a common technique used to reconnect the mind to the body and calm anxious thoughts. Baur recommends conducting some deep breathing exercises when you notice your anxiety is increasing. To practice this, breathe in through your nose, count to five, then breathe out through your nose and count to five. Repeat this process for a full five minutes until you feel your body begin to relax.
3. Practice Mindfulness
When you’re overwhelmed by stress, it’s common to feel like you’re losing control. Awareness and mindfulness are great tools to help you regain some of that control and manage your emotions. Activities like yoga and meditation have been proven to provide natural anxiety relief by focusing on self-soothing. If you’re not in a space where you can meditate or move your body, Baur recommends checking in and reconnecting by counting down your five senses. You might have to repeat this process a few times before you feel relaxed.
4. Prioritize Exercise
Exercise is another scientifically-proven approach to managing mental health problems like depression, panic attacks, and anxiety. Experts recommend aiming for at least thirty minutes of aerobic exercise, five times per week to improve your mood and burn off stress hormones in your body like cortisol. This could include running, biking, hiking, walking, cycling, dancing, or anything else you like to do that gets you moving and your heart rate up.
5. Get Quality Sleep
Sleep is at the root of our health and wellness because it’s our body’s time to unwind and recharge each day. Without quality sleep or enough sleep, your performance at work or school can suffer, your risk of injury increases, your mood drops, and you can become more at risk for health problems like obesity, diabetes, and heart disease. Adding exercise into your day, building in time for a mental wind-down, and a brief mindfulness exercise can help you get to sleep faster and get better rest each night.
6. Find a Healthy Distraction
When your anxiety is mounting, it can feel difficult to think of anything else. However, finding a healthy distraction can give your brain something else to engage with so you get some time away from your stressful thoughts. Baur recommends activities like journaling, listening to music, playing with a pet, pursuing a creative hobby, talking with friends, and praying to take your mind off things.
7. Look on the Bright Side
The power of humor and gratitude cannot be underestimated when it comes to managing your symptoms of anxiety. Negativity can easily root itself in your mind and distort how bad a situation appears to be. On the opposite side, humor helps you take back your sense of power and laughter reduces the levels of stress hormones while increasing the level of endorphins in your body. Shifting your focus to the things that are going right in your life and looking for ways to be grateful can be a big step to addressing your anxiety.
Focus on What You Can Change
As Baur says, “the reality is that we really don’t have a lot of control right now with the pandemic.” This can be hard to hear, especially in a situation that doesn’t have a definite end-date, but focusing on the things you can change can help you feel more in control than when you think about all of the things you can’t change. Instead of fearing for a loved one’s health, be sure to spend time with them (if you can) and express how grateful you are to have them in your life. Even when your fears and worries are founded, you are still able to choose how you will approach the situation.
When Your Anxiety Becomes Harmful
Everyone experiences anxiety at some point in their lives, but it’s important to monitor your symptoms and identify when it’s starting to take over. If you notice that your anxiety is starting to significantly affect your relationships, work life, or your health, talk with your doctor or mental health professional.
Anxiety is a normal reaction to stress, but you have the ability to calm your thoughts and reconnect your body and mind. By practicing compassion for yourself and for others, you can learn to acknowledge your fears without getting stuck in them.
To learn more tools and techniques for addressing your anxiety in the moment, watch Kathy Baur’s full webinar, “Healthy Ways to Deal with Stress During COVID-19,” check out our other blog posts, and visit our website to view the services we offer. Want to take these tips with you wherever you go? Download the visual guide!
If you are in a crisis, please call us at 303-425-0300 or by calling the crisis line at 844-493-8255. The 24/7 crisis walk-in center and withdrawal management program is open at 4643 Wadsworth Blvd, Wheat Ridge, CO 80033.