Anxiety? Here are Some Reminders and Tips!

by in brain health, COVID-19, mens health, teen health, womens health April 4, 2020

We know a lot of people are experiencing an increased level of anxiety right now.

It’s completely normal to experience a heightened sense of anxiety during times like these. It’s a built-in response that our bodies initiate to protect us!

The stress response is designed to be a survival mechanism. Imagine you’re living in the dinosaur age, and you’re only shelter is a cave. It makes sense that your body would adapt to alert you if danger was near, and prepare you to survive the situation! So what exactly happens?

  • Your pupils dilate (so you can see the dinosaur coming from far away).
  • Your heart rate, blood pressure, and respiratory rate increase (to get more oxygen and nutrient-rich blood to your heart, brain, and skeletal muscles so you can run or fight if necessary).
  • You blood diverts to your skeletal muscles and away from your stomach and reproductive organs (who needs food or babies at a time like this!) 
  • Your cortisol (stress hormone) spikes to make you feel more alert and signals your body to break down it’s sugar stores to provide energy for your muscles.

If you think about it, it’s a pretty amazing design that is wonderfully equipped to keep you alive. The body is so cool! Now obviously we aren’t running from dinosaurs. But our body doesn’t know that, and it responds this way to every kind of physical or emotional stressor, to varying degrees.

So what can be done if your body is responding this way? Here are a few simple ideas. Remember, there are certain things that are out of our control. We need to empower ourselves to focus on what is in our control. 

  1. Take time away from news, social media, and emails. It’s okay to allow yourself some time everyday at home to forget what’s happening outside your doors.
  2. Keep your body moving. Staying sedentary actually increases inflammatory processes and can aggravate anxiety and pain. Make it a priority to take part in some kind of physical activity daily. You can learn basic strength training for the whole family in this video, where I review myths and benefits of strength training, as well as demonstrate some basic exercises with my personal trainer, Ryan Humphries (all virtual, all from home!). Or, follow along with an online video for Yoga or Thai Chi. Or just take a walk or stretch.
  3. Don’t forget to breath. Breathing may be one of our most powerful tools for managing any anxiety-ridden situation. Every time you inhale, you trigger the sympathetic nervous system (the fight-or-flight response) and every time you exhale, you trigger the parasympathetic nervous system (or the relaxed, rest-and-digest-and-reproduce response). Try it! Close your eyes and find your pulse either on your wrist or neck. As you inhale, you’ll notice your heart rate increases slightly, and then slows again with the exhale. Pretty cool, right! So, anytime you’re feeling stressed, close your eyes, take a slow, deep breath in, and then exhale even more slowly (making sure the exhale is longer than the inhale). Repeat. Repeat. Repeat.
  4. Home Remedies. Most people are familiar with chamomile tea. Chamomile is a wonderful and gentle herb that can help reset the parasympathetic nervous system (this is a good thing). Got Sleepy Time tea? Great! The main ingredient is chamomile! Dig some out of your cabinet and cozy up on the couch with a good book and your cup of calming, warming, soothing chamomile tea.
  5. Take a bath or a long shower. Many people find water to be cleansing and rejuvenating. Draw yourself a warm bath, add a LOT of epsom salt, and sink in.
  6. It’s okay to talk about it. We’re all struggling in our own ways and studies show that those who have a better sense of community fare better in times of crisis or illness.
  7. Prioritize your needs. Even though you’re staying at home and maintaining social distancing, don’t forget about the things you need to keep your body strong and healthy. Maintain a routine to keep your mind sharp (get up at the same time, brush your teeth, bathe regularly, get dressed, eat at your normally scheduled times). If you need space, ask for it; if you need social connection; reach out to someone; if you need medical support, get it. 
  8. And if you feel the stress response taking flight...just remind yourself that your body is doing what it thinks is best to help you out. Let it be your ally, not your enemy.