Without doubt, a global pandemic would occupy a high spot on any list of things that might increase a person’s anxiety. Whether you are staying home to stop the spread of the virus or are working on the front lines in an essential job, it is likely you are experiencing some level of anxiety even if you don’t generally think of yourself as an anxious person.
Consider These Strategies
For those with a diagnosed anxiety disorder, this period of social distancing, uncertainty, and significant health risks may feel overwhelmingly challenging. In addition to professional medical and/or psychiatric care, a number of lifestyle practices can help ease the burden of anxiety. Consider incorporating the following strategies into your routine, during the pandemic, and after things have settled.
Get Better Sleep
Anxiety disrupts sleep. Instead of resting, we let our minds run wild with hypotheticals and worries. But getting enough sleep is an essential part of the battle against depression and anxiety. How can you overcome the vicious cycle of anxiety causing lost sleep and lost sleep causing anxiety?
Here are some things to try:
- Set a regular bedtime and stick to it.
- Avoid screen time for at least half an hour before bed.
- Keep your bedroom cool, quiet, uncluttered, and dark.
- Set a relaxing pre-bed routine: a cup of warm milk or herbal tea, a relaxing bath, some time spent listening to relaxing music, etc.
- If sleep is still elusive, consider online resources like nighttime meditations, white noise or sleep music tracks, or gentle narratives designed to help you drift off.
- If you are in recovery for a substance use disorder, you may be leery about sleep aids. However, your doctor may know of some herbal options or a pharmaceutical that can help without undermining your sobriety.
Eat a Better Diet
Start by limiting your intake of caffeine. That jolt you get from coffee, tea, or soda might seem imperative (especially when you aren’t sleeping well), but the feeling of wakefulness you’re looking for might actually feel a lot more like anxiety. Reducing the amount of caffeine you ingest may help you feel calmer throughout the day.
Pay closer attention to your sugar intake. While sugar boosts your serotonin levels and may seem to improve your mood, the boost is temporary–and the crash that often follows can actually worsen symptoms of anxiety and depression. Setting aside the sugar bowl may be a good move for your mental health—and of course, it will be good for your physical health as well.
And as long as you are making positive changes to your diet, choose foods that are high in omega-3 fats and clean saturated fats while consuming moderate amounts of protein. Fresh herbs, dark-colored fruits and veggies, and spices like turmeric that fight inflammation are also excellent healthy choices. You may find that eating better makes you feel significantly better both physically and mentally.
Get More Exercise
Keep moving. Exercise is a powerful tool in the battle against anxiety because it releases endorphins in the brain, reduces stress, improves self-esteem, and increases energy levels. (It can also promote better sleep, bringing us back where we started.)
If possible, get outdoors for exercise. Sunlight delivers vitamin D—a key vitamin for the managing of mood—directly to the body. Connecting with nature can also have a calming effect that can offset your anxiety.
If you have not been exercising regularly, start slowly. Remember that small changes can lead to big benefits—and once you are in the habit of exercising, you may find that you enjoy the physical and mental benefits enough to stay motivated.
Call a friend. Use online meeting software to host a virtual gathering during which the only thing on the agenda is enjoying each other’s company. Connect with friends via social media (though take care not to get sucked into negative posts about politics and the pandemic; keep the focus on encouraging words and photos from friends and family). Heck, go old school and write some letters to send through the mail.
Don’t let your anxiety keep you from reaching out to others. It is easier to deal with the stress of any situation—including a global pandemic—if you maintain strong connections with others. You can help each other deal with—or even forget—the stress and anxiety for a while.
Spend Quality Time Alone
Writing in a journal or spending some time drawing can lessen feelings of anxiety. Getting your feelings down on paper—whether as words or images—can help you come to terms with them in healthy ways. There are no rules for your personal journal, so relax and see what you create. This self-expression may become an ongoing creative outlet that not only lessens your anxiety but gives you real feelings of pride and satisfaction—even if you never share your work with anyone else.
Don’t Be Anxious About Reaching Out to Us
At Peak View Behavioral Health, we understand the ways in which anxiety can undermine a person’s day-to-day life. In this challenging time, we want to remind you that we are available to help. Our commitment is to your ongoing mental health—now and in the future. If you need help, we hope you will reach out to us.