We are living in uncertain times. If you struggle with anxiety, it makes sense to have heightened anxiety with the added turmoil in our world currently. If you are new to the vulnerability of anxiety, than this turmoil may be especially troubling for you. Anxiety can look different for each person, however there are some common symptoms. Some symptoms are: hypervigilance, difficulty sleeping, racing thoughts, irritability, change in appetite, feeling a general restlessness, and difficulty concentrating on anything other than what you are worried about. There can also be physical manifestations such as rapid heart rate, trembling, sweating, and feeling weak or exhausted. Symptoms can ebb and flow or increase rapidly leading to a panic attack.
You can experience normal anxiety which looks like uneasiness and concern in a stressful situation. Extreme anxiety, where emotions are too hard to handle and fear or worry takes over and affects your functioning in daily life activities, is when the help of a professional would be wise. We were created with a fight-or-flight instinct which is very helpful in times of immediate danger such as a car speeding directly towards us. When we are not in immediate danger but have a sense of dread and of impending doom, we can become hypervigilant. This means always being on alert looking for what could go wrong. Hypervigilance takes a toll on our mind and body because we are always in fight-or-flight mode which can make us irritable and difficult to be around.
Anxiety is common and you are not alone. Luckily, you are not helpless against it, even though you may feel like it at times. If your self-care strategies are not helping, then please consider contacting a therapist. Your physical, emotional and spiritual health depends on the decisions you make to protect yourself.
Often anxiety is created by negative thoughts of the future, the “what ifs” and the possibilities of what could go wrong. The key to getting to a place of calmness, peace, and even joy, is by actively reeling in those thoughts and concentrating on the present moment. Presently you are probably sheltered safely at home with the comforts of food, clean clothes and beautiful objects that make you smile such as photographs of happy times. If you live with others, this is a good opportunity to get to know each other on a deeper level, learn to communicate better, and enjoy each other’s company in new ways. Together you form a domestic church and you can explore what God might be showing you during this time of distancing from the outside world. If you live alone, now is a good time to get to know both yourself and God better, to learn new things or start new hobbies. Reading, journaling, allowing yourself to slow down and reflect are all good ways to regenerate and combat anxiety. Perhaps you live in a household with others that you don’t get along with and are in a difficult situation. This would be a perfect time to seek professional help because the chaos in the current world situation combined with problems in your home life can increase the intensity of the current issues and worsen your home situation.
There are many ways you can help yourself and take back control. You will need to build up a tool kit of helpful skills to achieve that calmer, happier place that you would like to be in. The first step is to have a schedule so that you have routines and a structure to your day. You don’t have to be rigid about it, but it’s a good framework. Having a plan in place gives a sense of control, purpose and things to look forward to. This also leaves less room for boredom. Everyone’s schedule has been disrupted in one way or another since the pandemic got closer to home. Intentionally creating a new schedule is empowering and gives you a sense of normalcy.
Grounding exercises are especially helpful for many and can give us back a sense of peace. There are many good resources to assist in this area, for instance using an app such as Hallow that you can download and use as a relaxation aid. Grounding exercises keep us centered on what is happening right now, which helps us to feel safe. A simple way to be in the present moment, for instance, is to use your five senses. Ask yourself to slow down and notice what are five things you see? What are four noises that you hear? What are three things that you smell? What are two things that you feel? Lastly, what is one thing that you taste? You could intentionally prepare to self soothe in this way by keeping hand lotion in your backpack, chocolate in your purse 😊, or photos in your wallet. Also please check out the video by our therapist Erin Moore Prater which includes a grounding exercise.
Reminding yourself of what has helped you in the past is also a good resource. Writing down a list of all the constructive ways that come to mind when you have handled difficulties successfully in the past would be helpful. When you are in the middle of feeling anxious and having difficulty thinking, you can refer to your list to decide what action step you would like to take to help yourself. Other potential ideas could include going for a walk, praying, reading a good book, taking a bath, cooking something that is a favorite, trying a new recipe, calling rather than texting an old friend, playing a board game, gardening, listening to music, or watching a movie. The list is endless of what might bring you some enjoyment, be a healthy distraction or a way to be a blessing to others.
Concentrating on the cognitive skills that can help our mindset can also be quite useful. One of the ways to do that might be to learn about cognitive distortions. This would help you to examine how to analyze your automatic thoughts and the ways that they may not be serving you well. Using self- reflection by putting our thoughts under a magnifying glass can be fruitful in general. With prior preparation, when anxiety strikes, we can remind ourselves of what is the truth and what is merely a lie that we have told ourselves.
There are ten main cognitive distortions or automatic unhealthy thoughts.
- All or Nothing Thinking, we see things in black and white absolutes but often the truth is somewhere in the middle.
- Overgeneralization, viewing a negative event as a never- ending pattern
- Mental Filter, dwelling on the negatives
- Discounting the Positives, insisting they don’t count
- Jumping to Conclusions, assuming negativity and predicting things will turn out badly
- Magnification or Minimization, blowing things out of proportion or shrinking their importance
- Emotional Reasoning, conclusions from emotions rather than facts
- Should Statements, this wording often results in emotional bullying of self or others
- Labeling, basically not extending grace, instead of “I made a mistake” you tell yourself “I’m a jerk.”
- Self-Blame or Other-Blame, taking too much responsibility or too little responsibility when something goes wrong.
There is a lot of material on these patterns of thinking if you’d like to learn more. Having these kinds of thoughts can be part of the human condition. It’s what we do with these thoughts that matters. If we dwell on them, we can talk ourselves right into anxiety. If we act on these thoughts, we can really make a mess for ourselves and others. Slowing down and examining what is the truth and setting these distortions aside instead of believing them will also help pave the way for healthier living.
The Serenity Prayer, if taken seriously, has some of the answers to how you can feel better about whatever is going on in your life in general and especially in these confusing times.
God, grant me the Serenity
To accept the things I cannot change…
Courage to change the things I can,
And Wisdom to know the difference.
Living one day at a time,
Enjoying one moment at a time,
Accepting hardship as the pathway to peace.
Taking, as He did, this sinful world as it is,
Not as I would have it.
Trusting that He will make all things right
if I surrender to His will.
That I may be reasonably happy in this life,
And supremely happy with Him forever in the next.
Working on increasing your healthy coping mechanisms, learning helpful ways to deescalate anxiety, and adding to your toolkit of anti-anxiety weapons is within your control. There is freedom in feeling more competent and in control of your immediate circumstances even if the world swirling around us is in turmoil.
Having a therapist assist you to process struggles and life circumstances can be a rewarding experience and valuable accompaniment along the way of your growth journey. Being able to tell your story to an attentive, non-judgmental professional can be very therapeutic and help you to sort things out. Sometimes anti-anxiety medication is part of the answer. Additionally, there is no shame in medication to help the brain, just as there is no shame in taking medicine to help our heart or liver. Often there’s a genetic predisposition towards depression or anxiety. In those cases, the best outcome may be a combination of medication and therapy. There are many kind and knowledgeable therapists here at Holy Family Counseling Center. Please don’t hesitate to give us a call and start your journey to feeling better. If you begin and end your day in prayer, I believe you’ll find that there’s less of a chance of your day completely unraveling in between. Be safe and be blessed.