Today I woke up feeling particularly irritable and worried about my future, and the future of this country. I realized that something was off. I took a DAS test (Depression, Anxiety & Stress Test) , and true enough I scored ‘severe’ on anxiety. If you share similar experiences with me, keep reading and you’ll learn how to deal with anxiety.
The ongoing pandemic has a great effect on people’s physical and mental health. Most of us are aware of the impact the virus has on our physical health. However, many are unaware that prolonged exposure to stressful events such as the current pandemic has great influence on our mental health too. Our sense of anxiety, stress, and even irritability are heightened. (1)
Prolonged exposure to stress can cause serious health problems such as cardiovascular disease, hormonal changes, which could lead to menstrual problems, skin and hair problems (eczema, hair loss)(2), and so on.
Sometimes, anxiety occurs concurrently or sequentially with depression.
Symptoms of anxiety:
- Worrying about the future
- Racing thoughts
- Tensed muscle
- Difficulty concentrating
*Severity and symptoms may vary from one individual to another.
Anxiety kicks in when there is a perceived threat (the keyword here is “perceived”, as not all perceived threats are real threats). When that occurs our body goes into a fight or flight mode. An easy example would be seeing a ferocious tiger with razor-sharp claws and powerful muscles right in front of you. Your breath immediately quickens and your muscles begin to tense up as all your blood flows to the extremities to enable you to run as fast and as far away as you can from the ferocious tiger.
In our day to day lives, there may be different kinds of perceived threat, such as public speaking, political upheaval, or a pandemic such as the one we are living through now. Our nervous system reacts to perceived threats in a similar way as seeing a ferocious tiger in order to preserve our safety. Thus, it goes into a fight or flight mode.
Our nervous system is like a guard dog—it will attack anyone who is a perceived threat to the owner unless told otherwise by the owner.
What can we do to train our nervous system to only act when necessary?
1. Pay attention to the feelings as they WILL change. (5)
Feelings are fluid, so this feeling of anxiousness will eventually shift. Ask yourself what you will notice once you feel better again, and what are the little signs that indicate change of feelings has started.
Eg. You are feeling anxious about the future so your breathing starts to quicken. When those feelings change, you expect to feel calm and gathered again. You will notice that your breathing starts to slow down to a normal pace, and your mouth is no longer dry.
2. “Chew” it over and act normal.
These are a few typical responses when we are calm.
- Talking at a calm pace
- Deep breaths
By adopting one of these behaviors, you are telling your nervous system that “It is ok, everything is ok, it was a false alarm.”
Eg. You could chew gum, which promotes salivation. Or employ deep breathing exercises.
3. Identify anxiety-provoking thoughts. These anxiety-provoking thoughts are usually on the extreme end of things, such as catastrophizing a situation, blowing something out of proportion, and so on. When you do that, you see things much worse than it actually is in reality.
Eg. The world is coming to an end (catastrophizing).
4. Analyze and challenge anxiety-provoking thoughts. By doing this, you are weighing the situation and seeing it as it is, rather than the catastrophe that your mind had previously perceived it to be.
Eg. There is a pandemic going on. But many people are still alive and healthy as long as you are being careful and vigilant. Medical professionals are doing their best to nurse people back to health. Many people do recover from this illness.
5. Replacing anxiety-provoking thoughts with realistic thoughts. Every time the anxiety-provoking thoughts pop up, replace them with evidence that reflects the reality with it.
Eg. It is not the end of the world. Many people are still healthy and I am being careful and vigilant.
These steps may be easier said than done. As we have been living with our way of thinking for a long time, it takes a lot of mental practice to break it. The more you practice, the easier it gets. If you need help from a therapist, feel free to contact me.
The above is a mental exercise to combat anxiety-provoking thoughts. There are other ways to cope with anxiety.
Disclaimer: You are encouraged to use the content from this site to improve your mental health. However, this is not a substitute for professional help (be it medical and/or mental health care, treatment and/or diagnosis).