Nobody knows what is going on!
This is one of the largest pandemics our generation has ever experienced and the inability to pin out how things will turn out can have us all in a state of panic. For a lot of us, this was going to be ‘our year’. We had so many plans that have not materialized and we are still uncertain of how soon we will go “back to normal.”
It’s no wonder that many of us have noted increased levels of stress and worry, sometimes triggering an anxiety attack. Anxiety is the body’s reaction of excessive fear to a stimulus. That stimulus can be any sign of danger (real or imagined), like possibility of being fired from work, contracting a serious virus or losing a beloved family member.
This may be categorized into a disorder when the behavioural disturbance affects your functioning in your daily activities. The signs or symptoms can range from very subtle to debilitating, hence it may be difficult to pinpoint what is really going on. There goes that uncertainty again.
Panic attacks are usually abrupt, spontaneous and transient with an impending feeling of doom that may last up to 10 minutes, accompanied by a few of the following symptoms:
- Chest pain or tightness
- Heart racing (palpitations)
- Dizziness or lightheadedness
- Feeling of losing control (depersonalization)
Generalized Anxiety Disorder is diagnosed when symptoms of worry happen most days of the week for various reasons and are associated with:
- Change in sleep patterns
- Inability to concentrate
- Muscle tension
Though these symptoms may feel uncontrollable, here are six ways that you may be able to cope.
Seek professional advice
I debated on whether I wanted to have this as the first or last bullet point, but here we are. Seeking advice should always be the first step when you think something is wrong with your body’s responses. Counselors and psychologists are available in private and public settings, and even now with social distancing some are taking their practice online to make it even more accessible (@jamhan_ja and @centredja are great resources to find a counselor/psychologist near you). The beauty about these consultations is that you will get advice tailored to your specific needs.
An office visit to a general doctor may also be necessary to rule out any underlying conditions that may present as anxiety eg. hyperthyroidism, heart disease and diabetes to name a few.
One of the main symptoms of anxiety is the feeling of losing control. The quickest and easiest way to bring your awareness to your body is by concentrating on your breathing. Beyond taking deep breaths, the best way will be to consciously slow your outward breath; breathe in normally, but breathe out slowly with pursed lips like you’re blowing a balloon or whistling. Repeat the cycle for a few minutes for the most benefit. This type of breath work stimulates the vagal system in the body which slows the heart rate and lowers the blood pressure, giving you a new state of calm.
Consider Diet & Medication
For my avid coffee drinkers out there, sorry to say all that caffeine may be making your anxiety worse. Caffeine found in coffee, sodas, and some teas (highest in black tea) have a considerable effect on increasing your heart rate and inducing possible tremors. Decaffeinated beverages would be your best bet in this case.
Medicines containing ephedrine or pseudoephedrine may be found in cough syrups, weight loss drugs and tablets labelled ‘extra strength’. These may give similar side effects to caffeine, giving the illusion of worsened anxiety. Consider consulting your doctor before stopping any of these medications abruptly.
Movement may not necessarily get you out of a panic attack, but it surely has wonderful benefits on the brain that reduces the duration and severity of symptoms of chronic anxiety. Whether it is walking, dancing or swimming, any aerobic exercise that allows you to break a sweat will reduce muscle tension, take your mind off the stimulus and activate ‘feel-good’ chemicals in your brain. One session may be enough to calm you, but having an enjoyable exercise routine will build resilience to overcome stress.
We sometimes underestimate the power of having a supportive community. Whether that’s a one true friend, a large friend group or a comforting relative, having people that will allow you to communicate openly about your feelings and listen is something not to be taken for granted.
Anxiety has a tendency to create a feeling of isolation. However, daily conversations with trusted individuals allow us to open up to connection, process repressed emotions and give us a fresh perspective on our problems.
EFT tapping is a modality that uses the principles of acupuncture. Various studies have noted its effectiveness as an adjunctive therapy for anxiety. It is thought to release trapped energy by tapping on certain meridian points on the body.
The use of cannabidiol (CBD) oil has gotten popular in the last few years as a therapy for childhood epilepsy, insomnia and sometimes anxiety. There aren’t enough large-scale studies to recommend its use definitively, but it is thought to release chemicals that improve the mood through action on the endocannabinoid system in the brain.
We may not know what is really going on during this pandemic, but let’s take this time of social distancing to find the root of our problems and use healthy coping skills that make us feel like our best selves.