What Steps Can We Take to Reduce Anxiety in These Unsettling Times?
It’s important to pay attention to what our bodies are telling us. Sometimes we have physical feelings of anxiety before we are aware of what is happening. A person may feel like their stomach is tied in knots, or they cannot seem to breathe deeply. Some people’s hands tremble, or they can’t hold still. Some feel like their muscles are extra tight causing aches and pains. It is important to simply, gently, become aware of these changes without panic. You might say to yourself, “I notice that my breath is shallow,” or “ I notice my hands are shaking.” This observation should be done without judgement, without compulsively repeating the symptom to yourself, simply notice and move on to helping yourself.
In the morning, we might be waking up with a sense of anxiety or disequilibrium, or simply not feel as grounded as we’re used to feeling. Then, it might quickly come to us: Oh, I’m not going to work. My kids aren’t going to school. Around the world, everything is in an uproar. What about finances?
At that moment, it’s important to remember, to repeat out loud that you’re OK, that you’re lying in your bed and that nothing dangerous is happening to you at that moment. It’s a good time to do a breathing exercise. Breathe in for a count of three, then breathe out for a count of six. Do this as slowly as you can comfortably. Taking just three or so breaths like this can really help change the response to stress . The idea is to double the number of exhales you’re taking. Any time you are aware of feeling anxious during the day, you can take a few breaths like this to calm your nervous system. Do this several times during the day. Have the people around you join in.
What else can we do throughout the day?
You can also give yourself calming messages that focus your attention on the present moment. “Right now, everything is fine. I’m doing what I can. I, like everyone else, have to cope with what is happening, and I can make it through this trying time.”
Paying attention to what we have control over is important. There are many things we cannot control about this situation and not knowing how long it will last can feel unnerving—but we can control some pieces of the day and it’s important that we focus on these things and not the things we can’t control. Again ask yourself out loud, “Can I control this?” If not, what DO I have control over (how I react).
If you’re worried about something, you might ask yourself if you can do anything about that concern. If you can’t, try to let those worries go as much as possible through breathing and calming thoughts. Our brains (unless you are a master at meditation) cannot simply NOT think about things but we can distract ourselves with other thoughts —a card game, a jigsaw puzzle, a favorite show on TV .
It is also important to limit the time we spend listening to news about the virus. Just like during 9/11 when we spent a lot of time telling people to limit their media consumption, the same holds true now. You can keep up with the news, check in from time to time but then turn it off. For most of us too much exposure to the news creates a feeling of overload and stress.
If you already have a mindfulness practice (or have learned the skills at some point), this is a great time to try and practice every day, or as many times as possible during the day for at least five minutes or so. There are great apps and online instruction in mindfulness as well as for meditation skills
You may have more free time right now. Do anything that helps you relax, such as catching up with your favorite TV shows, reading more or taking the opportunity for walks or snuggling with pet. It may also be a good time to try something new. Almost all of us have something that we’ve always wanted to do, such as learning to play the guitar or learning to paint. There are amazing YouTube videos for learning all kinds of things from our homes, and now we may have more time to pursue these hobbies.
How will individuals know if they need more emotional support?
We all experience stress and worry somewhat differently. There can be emotional, physical and cognitive symptoms that we need to be aware of. And if loved ones suggest that they are worried about us—please pay attention. Sometimes others see issues about us before we pick them up ourselves.
Stress can create some of the following symptoms:
•Cognitive signs: forgetting things more often; feeling confused; having trouble concentrating; difficulty making decisions
•Emotional signs: anxiousness; anger; guilt; sadness/depression
•Physical signs: stomachaches; very tight muscles; headaches
•Behavioral signs: irritability; trouble sleeping or sleeping more than normal; crying easily; worrying excessively; wanting to isolate
If these symptoms do not pass, or actually become worse, within a couple of days of trying the interventions mentioned above, you may want to seek some extra professional help,
Behavioral Health Providers at Nasson Health Care are available for “phone sessions.” You must already be a patient at Nasson to use this assistance. Sessions will be scheduled by calling Nasson Health Care: 490-6900. A counselor will call you on your cell or land line, whichever number you leave with the front desk.