Even in the best of times, managing chronic anxiety presents a very real challenge. During times of crises, be it a death in the family, dealing with injury or illness or navigating divorce, keeping anxiety at bay feels next to impossible. Anxiety typically presents as feelings of worry or unease often specifically related to an imminent event or unknown outcome. These uncomfortable feelings can range in intensity and easily become an impediment to everyday functioning. When dealing with anxiety —particularly during times of increased stress and uncertainty — there are several things to keep in mind that may help.
Even a practice as simple as three deep and conscious breaths can have a profoundly positive effect on our mental health and physical well-being. The trick is being aware of our breath patterns during stressful situations. When in crisis mode, it is far too easy to tense up and hold your breath. This is an automatic response, but one with huge implications for how the body reacts to stimuli. Make small notes reminding yourself to breathe and place where you will see them throughout the day: a sticky note in the car, a notecard on your nightstand, a small sign taped to your computer.
When facing a crisis, it is common to experience an increase in the intensity of emotions. An uptick in emotional responses — crying or sweating, for example — can dehydrate the body quickly. Sipping room-temperature clear beverages (water, herbal tea, etc.) throughout the day is crucial. When the body becomes even slightly dehydrated, it will cue the large intestine to absorb more water, which can lead to constipation. Dehydration adds to the stress already on the body, making the heart, kidneys and other organs work harder than necessary.
In times of crisis, finding the energy or desire to eat can be a challenge. But the body needs to be nourished to handle the additional demands that a stressful situation places upon it. If your appetite has vanished, that’s normal. To overcome the phenomenon of a decreased appetite (or stress-induced nausea), try simple, nourishing snacks like warm bone broth or a nutrient-dense smoothie. Regular, nutritious meals — even if they are on the smaller side — are important for hormonal balance. Set a timer to remind you when it’s mealtime and take a few moments to nourish your physical body.
During times of extreme stress, it is completely normal for sleep patterns to be disrupted. Try to stick to your usual schedule and know that in time your body will respond. Taking a magnesium supplement can help relax the body at night and promote restful sleep. Additionally, herbal teas containing chamomile, lemon balm, passionflower, lavender and valerian are also helpful for promoting calm. Binaural beats in the delta and theta ranges can also help bring on sleep. Laying down to rest your body, even if you can’t fall asleep, will help you recover from the day.
While strenuous exercise is likely not the best choice for someone experiencing increased stress, gentle movement like walking, yoga, tai chi and qi gong are all great ways to release nervous energy and support the body. When we are under extreme stress, it can be difficult to find the time and focus for dedicated exercise, but even short amounts of mindful movement can be incredibly supportive (and may help you sleep better). If you’re struggling to find the time to move, ask a friend to join you. Making a date to exercise together will make it easier to stick to it.
Ask for Help
Now is the time to lean on your support network. By identifying the people we can count on to support us through a crisis, we are securing a safety net for ourselves. No one is meant to face life’s challenges alone, and knowing who is available to help during tough times will make all the difference. Don’t be afraid to delegate certain tasks like school drop-off and pick-up and meal prep to friends and family who have stepped forward to support you. You may not feel like being social, but simply knowing there are people who care about you a phone call away will provide great comfort.
Sometimes anxiety can be managed with self-care. There are also times when we need more help than usual. This is particularly true during a crisis when life feels unmanageable and perhaps out of control. Set up time to talk to your primary care physician about your symptoms to find out if there is additional support available to you. You may need to seek care from a psychologist and you may also benefit from doctor-prescribed medications. This could be a long-term solution or a short-term fix to get you through the event you are currently experiencing.
Prayer and Meditation
Ultimately, when dealing with feelings of unease related to unknown outcomes, the best step forward is to surrender. This may feel completely unattainable initially. However, with practice and time, surrendering to the process will provide real relief. When it comes to spiritual practice, it’s important that it feels right for you. Speaking to a trusted church leader, meditation teacher, counselor or other spiritual guide can help us see the bigger picture and our place in it. In time, we can begin to open to the possibility that we are exactly where we are meant to be, despite the challenges we face.
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