What to do when anxiety is no longer manageable

July 23, 2020 | by Edward-Elmhurst Health
Categories: Healthy Driven Minds

At some point in our lives, we’ve all experienced anxiety.

Maybe it was worry about a job interview or a big test. Or perhaps it was preparing for the birth of a child, getting ready for a big event that kept you up at night, or worrying about a global pandemic.

“Everyone experiences anxiety,” says Laura Koehler, Psy.D., a licensed clinical psychologist and manager of anxiety services at Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

Typically, anxiety involves thoughts and worries about a future event. While it may not feel good at the time, anxiety is a needed experience. It warns us of danger and can be a motivator for us to react or move on to the next step.

The physical reactions we have (like sweaty palms or butterflies in your stomach) are our body’s reaction to anxiety and the “fight or flight” mode we go into when experiencing a stressful situation, says Koehler.

“Anxiety is just looking for danger,” she explains.

For many, once the body recognizes the danger is gone, things shift back to normal. It’s when it doesn’t and we live in a constant state of fear and worry, that anxiety can become a problem.

Some of the warning signs that anxiety may be a problem include:

  • Chronic sleep problems
  • Chronic appetite problems, such as loss of appetite or overeating
  • Avoiding work or other regular social activities
  • Chronic physical symptoms such as migraines, stomach aches, muscle tension or bowel problems

If anxiety is causing any of those symptoms, you may want to seek help from a professional therapist or counselor. Treatment may involve medications or therapy to help develop coping mechanisms to deal with anxiety triggers and to help identify life values and move toward them.

Some other steps that can help you deal with anxiety include:

  • Develop a routine for the day. “Give yourself some time before work starts,” says Koehler. “It’s hard to start your workday off when you just woke up or haven’t eaten breakfast yet.” Daily routines can help keep your body from misidentifying things as a “danger” and help you move through your day with less anxiety.
  • Keep a set sleep and wake time and adopt a healthy diet.
  • Pack a self-care kit for anxiety-inducing situations. The kit may include some “distraction” items such as word searches, crossword puzzles or fidget toys to help calm the nervous energy.
  • Find some soothing activities to help when anxiety flares up. A warm shower, lighting a favorite candle, spending time with a pet or cuddling up with a warm blanket can help ease anxiety.
  • Find ways to connect with others. Staying in touch with trusted friends or family members can help you better manage anxiety and keep depression at bay.

While anxiety can factor into many situations, Koehler says concerns about COVID-19 and the global pandemic is a common theme.

The virus has prompted fears about health, job loss, the health of loved ones or even school activities.

“It can be very anxiety-provoking for people worrying that they’re going to give it to their loved one,” says Koehler.

It’s not uncommon to experience a range of emotions and worry as it relates to COVID-19, she says. Just as with other instances of anxiety, understanding and accepting your worries about the virus can help turn your focus to navigating life during a pandemic.

“Being confused about COVID-19 and not worry about it the next day, and then worrying about it the next — that’s all OK,” she says. “It’s not as much about that as it is the commitment to live your life and move forward. How do I want to show up as an employee, as a mom, supervisor, friend or family member?”

Dr. Russ Harris, an Australian clinician, author and ACT trainer (acceptance and commitment therapy), coined an acronym, FACE COVID, which outlines the steps people can take to help deal with their anxiety over the pandemic:

F - Focus on what’s in your control
A - Acknowledge your thoughts and feelings
C - Come back into your body (find your own way of doing this)
E - Engage in what you are doing

C - Commit to actions or goals
O - Open up
V – Values (What do you want to stand for? What sort of person do you want to be?)
I - Identify resources that can help
D - Disinfect and distance physically

Koehler encourages people to identify their key goals and work to find ways to accomplish those goals in a safe manner during the pandemic. So, if exercising is important, don’t wait until your gym opens, find ways to exercise safely at home. If you can’t physically get together with friends, catch up in a Zoom call.

If those anxious feelings about the virus become consuming or hinder your daily routine, turning to a therapist or counselor can help, says Koehler.

Get support from Linden Oaks Behavioral Health.

For updates on our planning and response efforts as we work to stop the spread of COVID-19, please check EEHealth.org/coronavirus.

Get more information about coronavirus from Healthy Driven Chicago.

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