Updated: Aug 17
I’ll be the first one to tell you…I had not doing very well the first few weeks of the pandemic.
The level of stress caused by COVID-19 is unprecedented and overwhelming, to say the least. It was hard to concentrate, I tossed and turned at night, my heart raced, I would overthink, and my moods fluctuated up and down so often I felt like I’m Sybil (on a good day)!
At night, I had found myself relying a little too much on alcohol to take the edge off and I passed the time by numbing out by watching TV or insidiously playing games on my phone.
It wasn’t good.
I found myself being consumed by a deep-seated sense of shame…I’m a mental health therapist for crying out loud! I know better…I counsel clients on this stuff everyday and yet I am finding it very difficult, if not impossible, to take my own medicine.
But, as I often say, and have to remind myself, no one is exempt from being human. The cognitive parts of the brain responsible for helping others are quite different from the emotional parts designed to help ourselves. This is why it can be so difficult to follow our own advice all the while knowing what to do.
Part of the reason why I became a mental health therapist is because I suffer from anxiety and anxiety-induced depression myself. My anxiety is not just situational, it is clinical, meaning it is hard-wired into my DNA to worry, stress, and experience physical and mental symptoms of anxiety more than the average bear.
I do get relief, however, and it comes in phases. I live my life in a constant see-saw of managing anxiety effectively and battling it incessantly. My triggers are perceived abandonment and rejection, not being good enough, and feeling as though the job is never done. Much of the time I manage pretty well but other times it’s a real bitch…and I mean a BITCH!
We are now mid-week into Week 5 of The Great Lockdown in accordance with the inhumane-feeling, isolating, panic-inducing, shelter-in-place order. For me, some things are getting better and some are staying the same but they are definitely not getting worse.
As Albert Camus says, “after awhile you could used to anything.”
As many of you know, I am a holistic, natural mental health practitioner focusing on the use of natural mental health remedies to treat mental illness.
While natural remedies are not a substitute for psychotropic medication for those who need it, they can often be safely used in conjunction. Further, many people enjoy a reduction in mental health symptoms without the use of psychotropic medications. (To determine which category you fall into, consult with your medical doctor first then a mental health professional).
In this blog, I will identify symptoms of anxiety so that you can better understand what you’re feeling and I will review some natural, mental health techniques that you can begin practicing right away that will bring you some much needed relief from anxiety quickly.
Additionally, I will also share my experience with some of these resources that have been integral in getting back on track and in control of my anxiety.
Symptoms of Anxiety:
Trouble falling or staying asleep
Avoiding social situations
For more help with identifying anxiety and understanding when anxiety is a disorder click here
Natural Ways to Treat Anxiety
it seems that words like meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and mindfulness are everywhere these days; “woo woo” practice is the zeitgeist of today…and for good reason – they work!
The Fastest Way to Calm Down
1. Deep breathing – taking 5-6 diaphragm-filling breaths can take your arousal state from overactive to active in a matter of seconds to minutes…it can literally be that fast!
One of my favorites that I use myself is “square breathing.” Envision a square and notice its four sides. You will begin to mentally trace each side of the square while focusing your attention on each of the following tasks for 4 seconds each: 1) breath in (top of the square), 2) hold your breath (side of the square), 3) breath out (bottom of the square), and 4) hold your breath (side of the square). Repeat this sequence a minimum of 6 times in order to fully experience the calming effects.
2. Nurture your relationships/connect with others – isolation is contraindicated to the human condition; we are social creatures and require social interaction in order to thrive. This is why solitary confinement is a far greater punishment than death. The mental strain that isolation puts on the mind is essentially the root cause of your anxiety right now but understand that this is not your fault!
While we are not able to be physically present with many others, and some not at all, we can still make virtual connections.
I’ve been a big fan of apps like Marco Polo and Houseparty that enable you to make short videos or live stream with multiple people at once. Houseparty provides some virtual games to play with your friends and/or family so it takes the awkwardness out of finding things to talk about or lulls in the conversation…plus it’s really fun!
I also have a Marco Polo group with my family that has helped us stay connected daily and we’re actually closer than we were before the pandemic!
3. Establish and keep to a routine – most of us are so accustomed to having our days filled for us with work, hobbies, family time, etc that we might’ve taken this for granted. Now the burden falls on us to figure out how to fill our time and watching TV becomes soul sucking!
I suggest writing out a schedule that will determine how you will spend your mornings and afternoons (evenings too if you feel you need more structure). The biggest component of the routine is that it must be varied and aspects of it must be fun! Here are some ideas to fill your schedule:
Read or listen to a book
Listen to a podcast
Start a DIY project – review sites like Pinterest, Etsy, and YouTube for ideas. There are more free videos and resources than ever provided many businesses have transitioned to being completely online. Take advantage!
Start a garden – there are many small garden ideas if you’re feeling intimidated
Make art/make music – a friend of mine found pour painting that requires no artistic ability – it’s literally pouring different paints onto a canvas, it’s that easy!
Spring cleaning – clean out those closets and pantries, wash baseboards and fans – not typically the most fun activities but can be incredibly rewarding
4. Diet and exercise – this is one of the best things you can do to calm an overtaxed nervous system! With all of that excess energy, it needs somewhere to go and it is better out than keeping it in.
Excess anxiety causes an increase in stress hormones, such as cortisol, that can wreak havoc on the systems of the body. Chronic elevated levels of cortisol make it harder to calm down quickly so managing this hormone with proper diet and exercise can help you quell the anxiety faster and more effectively.
It can also cause weight gain! When cortisol levels are up, it causes serotonin to go down so we start craving carb-filled foods to give us a boost in the lowered serotonin.
Personally I’ve gained 5 pounds since sheltering-in-place and that’s even with exercising daily! It’s because I had been drinking and eating more and my cortisol had been through the roof!
Now I’m eating and drinking less and I’m going easy on myself by reminding myself that this is temporary and when things return to normal, I will not have the same cravings, the cortisol will do down, and I will lose the weight.
5. Digital distancing – perpetual exposure to the doom and gloom of the news can cause anxiety levels to skyrocket through the roof! What’s worse is sometimes this can happen without us even noticing it and chronic exposure to the news can even lead to an anxiety disorder! According to one analyst, “a person watching or reading the news doesn’t usually have the ability to fix any of the problems they’re seeing, so the sense that things are out of control is increased.”
Further, social media can promote feelings of inadequacy as a result of comparing yourself to others leaving you feeling anxious and depressed.
But Ashley, you just told us to use social media to stay more connected, which is it?
Allow me to specify – it’s important to limit your digital exposure as we are subconsciously internalizing what we are taking in and this can cause feelings of anxiety without being able to recognize why.
Use this rule of thumb: while using social media and/or reading/watching the news, check in with yourself and ask yourself: how does my body feel? What emotions am I experiencing?
If this experience is negative, put the screen down and do something active such as taking a walk or listing to music then return to the screen when you feel calm.
Personally, I’m not on social media right now and I limit my exposure to the news to once a day.
We’re all feeling varying degrees of anxiety right now, you are not alone.
If you are feeling out of control, practice some of these suggestions and see how you feel.
My number one most effective strategy that I have been using is to remind myself that this temporary and that there will come a time in the relatively near future that life will return to normal. It is simply a matter of time before a vaccine is found and COVID-19 will one day be a thing of the past. Take it day-by-day and focus on how you can best take advantage of the slow down in ways that you won’t be able to once life returns to normal.
If you’re still struggling there is no shame in that.
Please don’t hesitate to reach out to me. I’m here for you and ready to help.