The Art of Managing Anxiety in Uncertain Times
These are uncertain and anxious times. I can’t help but think more of us are anxious and tense than in previous years: I know my friends and I are. So what to do about that anxiety, especially if it’s multiplied?
First, know that anxiety is uncomfortable, but it’s a normal response to stressful times. But it doesn’t have to be debilitating. Here are a few things you can do immediately to begin to handle anxious feelings:
Control What You Can
Some stressors are within our power to change. If we are putting ourselves in anxious situations, set limits as you can. Remember: “No.” is a complete sentence. Self-care is important in anxious times.
When you breathe deeply, your body gets a message to relax. Belly breathing is one of the most effective ways to immediately calm down, so here is a simple instruction:
Sit or lie down in a comfortable spot. Place one hand below your ribs and another on your chest. Take your time.
Take a deep breath in through your nose, allowing your belly to push your hand out, but not moving your chest. Belly breathing is deep and from below the chest.
Exhale fully through your mouth on a count of five. You can purse your lips if you like. Feel how the hand on your belly goes in as you push all the air out of your lungs. Your hands will indicate if you are truly belly breathing.
Repeat five times; 10, if you can.
In the Instant
If anxiety comes upon you suddenly, take a full, deep breath in on a count of three and a full exhale on a count of five. Repeat this 10 times. You can do this as many times as you need to.
I know, you love coffee, like I do. But at least for a while take all caffeine out of your diet. Soda, coffee, tea, chocolate. You can use caffeine-free versions of these products, and don’t be surprised if you don’t ever return to caffeine again. And never consume energy drinks.
Caffeine boosts your metabolism. Your heart rate and blood pressure go up and so do feelings of anxiety.
Foods with sugar and starch can raise and lower blood sugar, leading to stress. It’s smart to cut way back on those, too.
Lower Intake of Alcohol
Alcohol can be a depressant, and hangovers can increase anxiety.
Consume an antioxidant-rich diet. Blueberries, eggs, salmon and whole grain foods can help reduce anxiety.
Use Rational Thinking
Many people can control free-floating anxiety by asking themselves, “What’s the worst thing that could happen? How likely is it to happen?” Combined with deep breathing, this can be effective for people who respond well to logic.
Volunteer work has long been prescribed by therapists for anxiety and depression. The act of doing something for others helps distract us from spinning out on our own anxieties.
If you prefer treatments of the natural variety, chamomile tea is said to be calming. So is ginseng and valerian root. You can find these in teas and also in supplements.
But if you are on prescription medicines, be sure to check with your doctor before ingesting any natural remedies or herbal supplements, as some have unpleasant interactions with some drugs.
The overall, stress-reducing benefits of meditation are well known, including lowering blood pressure.
If you don’t have the patience to meditate on your own, use guided imagery daily to force yourself to sit still long enough to meditate. You can find many of these for free on YouTube or you can buy a commercial product.
Exercise is a great stress reliever. It’s even better if you can do some of it in the sun, getting valuable Vitamin D exposure.
For some people, deficiency in Vitamin D leads to anxiety symptoms, so get your full share daily. A supplement helps, but a long walk in the fall sunshine has a double impact: exercise plus Vitamin D.
See a Therapist
If you can’t manage anxiety with these methods, talk to someone. Sometimes it’s necessary to air your feelings to an impartial professional who has the ability to help.
See Your Doctor
If your anxiety is severe, you might need medications, but it’s smart to try other methods first. Anxiety meds are overprescribed and do not work on the root of the problem. They’re a short-term solution for most, but not all, people.
It may take a while to re-program your body to handle anxiety, especially if it’s been building up for a while. But these methods and especially deep breathing, have been successful for many.
What works for you to help manage anxiety in stressful times? What would you add to this list? Please join the conversation below.
Carol Cassara founded A Healing Spirit, where she offers supportive, encouraging products/services to those healing from illnesses and coping with grief. A lifelong writer, she spent 35 years as a corporate communications executive and many semesters teaching writing and business at universities.