From the nightly news to morning radio to chats with coworkers, it seems everyone is talking about the Coronavirus. While it’s helpful to stay informed during times of crisis, the combination of a nonstop news cycle and the spread of misinformation can make it easy for anyone to go from informed to anxious.
For roughly 40 million US adults suffering from an anxiety disorder, times like these can be especially difficult to manage. Luckily, there are simple things you can do to help manage your anxiety during times of crisis or emergency.
How to Manage Anxiety During a Crisis
- Normalize Anxiety
It’s a common reaction to want to fight anxiety as soon as you start to feel symptoms. But it can be helpful for many people to pause before reacting. If you notice yourself feeling on-edge, take a moment to notice what you’re feeling. Some people find it helpful to simply tell someone that they’re feeling anxious. Ultimately, being able to acknowledge an anxiety symptom is the first step in knowing how to respond to it.
- Combat Cognitive Distortions
It’s easy for our thoughts to jump to conclusions during stressful times. Part of being able to manage anxiety is acknowledging when you’re having a distorted thought. If the news coverage has you thinking to yourself, “I’m going to get sick and die,” stop and remember the facts. Reframe your thought to be, “I’m taking all the necessary steps to stay healthy according to the experts. I’m doing everything I should be doing right now.”
- Get Enough Sleep
Adequate sleep is important for overall brain health and can help reduce anxiety symptoms. When we sleep, our glymphatic system works to clean our brains of neural waste. This system also provides a brain-wide distribution of compounds, including glucose, lipids, amino acids, growth factors, and neuromodulators. It’s believed that inadequate sleep prevents this crucial process from taking place, possibly contributing to mental health issues.Try improving your sleep by reducing your blue light exposure before bed, keeping your room between 60 to 67 degrees, and writing down any anxious thoughts or to-do lists before getting into bed.
- Eat Well
More and more research is supporting the idea that our gut and brain are closely connected, both physically and chemically. So much so, that our stomachs are referred to as our “second brain” by some scientists. Unsurprisingly, studies have also linked certain foods to contributing to feelings of anxiety, and other foods to helping reduce those feelings.Some experts suggest that a plant-based diet, rich in omega-3s and seafood, could be the best diet for reducing anxiety. If you’re looking for more specifics, try looking into the Mediterranean diet and its heart- and brain-healthy elements.
If you have anxiety, the thought of exercising during a stressful time may seem overwhelming. But the reality is that your body wants to get moving. Exercising releases endorphins and serotonin, which are natural, mood-boosting chemicals.You’ll also end up breathing deeper, causing more oxygen to get into your bloodstream and travel to your brain. Since our brains require so much oxygen to function, this boost of oxygen can help bring your brain back to a calmer state. Just be sure to listen to your body. Start off with something mild, like going for a 20-minute walk, and adjust accordingly.
When we take a deep breath in, our heart rate quickens slightly. As we exhale, our heart rate slows. Repeated deep breaths naturally bring our heart rate more in sync with our breath, calming our sympathetic nervous system – the bodily system that causes us to feel a fight or flight reaction. This process can also cause our brains to release endorphins, which are chemicals that have a natural calming effect.It’s no coincidence that conscious breathing is the groundwork in so many types of meditation. This calming effect can be so significant that there’s research linking meditation to a reduction in stress, anxiety, and depression symptoms; as well as improved sleep and focus. So during times of heightened stress, it’s not a bad idea to try meditation.
If you already do these tips regularly, it’s important to keep doing them during times of uncertainty. Maintaining healthy habits can provide a sense of comfort in itself.
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