While it’s normal to get nervous about an important event or life change, about 40 million Americans live with an anxiety disorder, which is more than the occasional worry or fear. For those with an anxiety disorder, it’s important to look into strategies that can help manage or reduce anxiety in the long term, like talk therapy or medication.
But everyone can benefit from other ways to reduce stress and anxiety with lifestyle changes such as eating a well-balanced diet, limiting alcohol and caffeine, and taking time for yourself.
If you have health anxiety, you could be having a lot of negative or scary thoughts at the moment – for example, ‘everyone I care about is going to get ill’. You might notice that you’re constantly searching online for more information about the illness and the latest statistics. Anxiety can also have physical effects, such as a racing heart or nausea.
Someone who suffers from health anxiety will obsess over their health: from their normal body functions to contracting illnesses and diseases. They may frequently visit their physician or spend large amounts of time reading about their symptoms and possible conditions.
Anxiety disorders comprise a full spectrum of conditions, of which one of the more incapacitating is a panic attack. Dr. Zachariah describes a panic attack as “an unusual physical sensation where you feel like you are going to pass out”. Your stomach becomes uncomfortable, your heart beats fast, you feel short of breath, and your body becomes hot and sweaty, or cold and clammy.
Another condition is generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), characterized by constant worry, fear, and concern. Sometimes, you will experience shortness of breath and your heart may beat very fast. The symptoms can last throughout the day. A person is diagnosed with GAD if the condition recurs for six months.
The root cause of anxiety disorder:
A phobia is defined as an extreme or irrational fear of something, such as the fear of heights (acrophobia), fear of insects (entomophobia), fear of open spaces (agoraphobia), and fear of people not of your kind (xenophobia).
Social phobia: People with this condition feel extremely uncomfortable in social situations, such as making a speech or attending a social gathering, and will go to great lengths to avoid such events. They feel that they are being scrutinized by others.
The key is to seek help. If left untreated, anxiety disorders can lead to further complications such as depression. A person should seek professional help when the feeling of anxiety starts to chronically affect their mood, social relationships, and work performance.
Post-traumatic stress disorder: this occurs as a result of overwhelming stress from a traumatic event such as a natural disaster, physical or sexual abuse, or seeing a loved one die in an accident.
Acknowledge how you’re feeling: There’s no right or wrong way to feel at the moment. The simple act of naming the emotions and feelings you’re experiencing is an effective first step to reducing their intensity.
Avoid health-related news: This might seem ‘easier said than done. But constantly searching news websites and social media, trying to soak up every bit of information you can about the coronavirus, is probably an unhelpful behavior, and is likely to fuel your anxiety rather than reassuring you. Limit the number of times you look at the news to perhaps once a day, and make sure you’re only checking news from trusted sites and sources.
Manage unhelpful thoughts: A common thought we’re currently seeing among people with health anxiety is ‘everyone I love will die from the coronavirus’. Thoughts like these can be really disturbing and distressing, but there’s a really good cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) technique that can help. It’s really easy to believe that our thoughts are real, but they’re not facts – they’re just a way of looking at things. Coming up with a counter-thought can help us to get some perspective back.
Maintain as normal a routine as you can: Make sure you go to sleep and wake up at a regular time – and do get out of your pyjamas. Have something to look forward to in the day; find a way to treat yourself. Contact friends and family. Social distancing doesn’t mean emotional distancing – we’re social creatures, so find creative ways to keep.
Stay away from sugar: It may be tempting to reach for something sweet when you’re stressed, but that chocolate bar can do more harm than good, as research shows that eating too much sugar can worsen anxious feelings. Instead of reaching into the candy bowl, drink a glass of water or eat protein, Chansky says, which will provide slow energy your body can use to recover.
Watch a funny video: This final tactic may be the easiest one yet: Cue up clips of your favorite comedian or funny TV show. Laughing is a good prescription for an anxious mind, Chansky says. Research shows that laughter has lots of benefits for our mental health and well-being; one study found that humor could help lower anxiety as much as (or even more than) exercise can.