Strategies for Reducing and Alleviating Anxiety
I always encourage clients to try all of these at least a couple of times. Sometimes trying it once may not feel comfortable because it’s something new, but if you try it again you may find it’s helpful. Ultimately, only use what works for you. Think of this as your tool box. Sometimes you only need a hammer, but other times you need a hammer and a wrench. Maybe you’ll never use the saw. The tools are there when you need them.
Distraction: Do anything that usually makes you feel good. Listen to music, go for a walk, watch TV or a movie, explore nature, play an instrument if you’re a musician, etc.
· Deep breathing: Our normal breaths during the day are short and shallow. They’re getting just enough oxygen that our body needs. Instead, take at least five long, deep breaths once an hour. Inhale in slowly for 5 seconds, hold it for 3 seconds, exhale slowly for 5 seconds. Repeat.
· Positive affirmations: I know this may sound corny, but they do work. Say out loud or in your mind “I feel good,” “I’m OK,” “I’m strong,” “I’ll get through this” and anything else that will help. Even when you don't feel good or are not doing OK, saying these things to yourself can change the pattern of thoughts in your mind to positive ones.
· Family/Friend(s) support: Spend time with loved ones and friends.
· Journaling: There’s something powerful about writing. When you’re ruminating, the same thoughts are going around and around in your head. Writing them down is a way to sometimes break the cycle. And if you don’t want to keep a journal, just grab some paper, write, and then shred it. The point is not the product, the point is the release.
· Meditation: I recommend taking a class for this or finding some resources on the web.
· Yoga: I also recommend taking a class or finding some resources on the web.
· Other exercise, especially interacting with others.
· Massage therapy: In addition to helping with any physical health issues such as chronic back pain, massage therapy can help with anxiety, stress and other mental health issues through relaxation.
· Therapy with a mental health professional: Among other things, a therapist can help you better manage and even alleviate excess anxiety by you: (a) developing skills in how to deal with demanding supervisors, including assertive communication that sets appropriate boundaries with work load, and by managing expectations of your supervisors, (b) building your self-confidence, (c) understanding the effect these outside negative forces have on you, and discovering how your own internal issues add to the difficulties, (d) supporting you in creating career and life goals, (e) reestablishing hope in your life, and (f) ultimately improving the quality of your life.
· Medication: If you’ve tried all of my recommendations and others, maybe it’s time to see a doctor (psychiatrist) to discuss other possible options. There are two types of medication for mental health issues: one you take every day to keep your day-to-day baseline anxiety lower, and one you take as needed during the difficult times.
· Incorporate some together: While you’re journaling, do deep breathing. While you’re meditating, do some positive affirmations. Whatever works for you is what’s important.
I hope you found this article helpful. Working on your mental health can be difficult work, but you can feel better and improve the quality of your life and find lasting happiness.
Sadly in this country there is still a stigma associated with mental illness. Even though these are medical conditions, they are not considered the same as physical health issues. Many times some say depression can be “a sign of weakness” and a person should just “get over it” or “work harder.” However, depression has nothing to do with being weak or lacking effort.
Symptoms of Depression
Depression has a significant effect on functioning and well-being. Symptoms can include experiencing significantly diminished mood, loss of interest in most activities, insomnia, fatigue, feelings of worthlessness, and/or difficulty with concentration, among others, over at least two weeks. These result in an impairment in one or more areas of functioning, such as in work and one’s personal life. In the most extreme cases of depression, a person can consider, attempt, or commit suicide.
You’re working in a high pressure and intense job requiring you to be on call all the time. If the higher-ups say they need you to come in on Saturday and work until 10:00 p.m., then that is what you have to do. But, what if you can barely get out of bed? You did not sleep most of the night and the sleep you had was interrupted because you woke several times. Your worrying starts to move from moderate into severe territory. “How can I possibly do the quality work that’s expected of me if I’m struggling with even basic functioning?” Even if you make it into work, you find it so difficult to concentrate that what normally takes you 15 minutes to do now takes you an hour. You are forced to stay at the office longer to get your work done and this perpetuates the cycle of decreasing your mood and increasing your anxiety. You are beating yourself up emotionally because you do not understand what is happening and are blaming yourself for everything. “Why can’t I just get back to normal?”
This scenario focuses on professional functioning. Depression can also significantly impact personal functioning. You are not able to handle your home responsibilities, like cleaning the yard, taking the kids to soccer practice, being there for your spouse or partner to provide emotional support after a tough day, and many others. Resentment can build up in your spouse or partner resulting in conflict, which can intensify your already serious negative feelings.
Treatment for Depression
There is no quick and easy cure for ending depression. Thankfully a combination of treatments has been found to reduce, and in many cases eliminate, symptoms so a person can return to their normal level of functioning. One treatment is seeing a psychiatrist, a medical doctor whose specialty is psychological matters and who can prescribe medication. Meeting with a therapist can also be beneficial. Even if people have a strong support system with a spouse or partner, other loved ones, and friends, they may feel they do not want to burden them or they may feel uncomfortable talking with them about these issues. A therapist can provide a safe space to talk and this can be a helpful release of negative emotions and a place to gain insight into the issues that have contributed to depression and develop coping skills. Together you and the therapist can develop a plan to move forward in a productive and positive way to heal. Other resources include support groups, faith-based organizations, wellness programs at work, books, articles, and videos, among others.
Combining supports can provide the most effective and ideal support to recover from depression. For example, seeing a psychiatrist to take medication while seeing a therapist, seeing a therapist and speaking with friends, or seeing a psychiatrist plus attending a support group.
The information in this article is to help you get insight into depression so you can get the help you need or intervene prior to symptoms becoming severe. You can also encourage others experiencing depression to do the same. The key to remember is you are not alone. You can feel better.
We all have challenges with stress, to varying degrees. Though many of us work long hours, they are still able to be effective at work and be present at home with their families. By “present” I mean not just physically there, but also mentally and emotionally engaged. But there are many who have challenges with managing stress and become overwhelmed, turn to alcohol, isolate, get angry easily, become depressed or severely anxious. Having balance in our lives can help.
What Do I Mean By Achieving Balance?
If we have balance in our lives, we are more likely to better manage our emotions. This is especially true during a crisis, such as now with COVID-19. Achieving balance in this climate is finding a middle ground that we are comfortable with that gives us the information we need while keeping our emotions managed.
It is understandable for all of us to be glued to a computer screen, smart phone, or television getting updates on every- thing from social distancing to school closures. The government rolling out changes slowly has the benefit of allowing us time to adjust to the new restrictions. However, it also has the disadvantage of causing uncertainty of “what’ll be next” and the anxiety that accompanies “fear of the unknown.” These can lead our mind to move in the direction of “worst case scenario.”
Sadly this can also lead to significant mental health pressures. Instead of going down the rabbit hole, it is possible to develop a healthy alternative structure in managing how to have a balanced view of the world around us.
A Specific Example of Achieving Balance
At the early stages of the COVID-19 crisis, many people I have spoken with were checking the news all day long, reading multiple articles from many news sources, watching long press conferences, and more. Their stress level increased every day and it took some time to dees- calate themselves before getting back to what they were doing before checking in. They knew there was something wrong and had to change their behavior. But, to be a responsible family member, friend, and professional, they still needed to be updated on changes in the situation. You can develop and put in place an alternative plan. This may not work for everyone, but illustrates the concept of achieving balance.
Check the news once in the morning and once in the evening. When checking, limit your intake to reading one article and a number of headlines of the main themes of the day. Unless necessary or if you feel it would provide you or the person you are speaking with support, limit how much you initiate conversations with others about COVID-19. With this structure, your stress level can be reduced as you are protecting your mind from the constant bombardment of tragic news. This can lead you to be more likely to be present at home and effective in your practice.
Managing Expectations: A Transferable Skill
Managing expectations is one of the most important life skills. This is espe- cially true during this time of COVID-19 when stress and anxiety are elevated. It is a transferable skill throughout all areas of our lives.
In general, when we are emotional and try to communicate, the content of what we are saying to the other person can sometimes be lost because of the emotional tone we are using. If we do not consider and anticipate what will happen, we will likely be surprised. This can increase stress and anxiety.
We can take the time to think things through when we are calm and develop the best way to present our concerns prior to the conversation. Then anticipate the response and prepare for what we will say. The more we manage our expectations, the better we can have these difficult discussions, convey our thoughts rationally, and have better outcomes. We need to do our best to be governed by our “rational mind,” instead of our “emotional mind.” Even when dealing with a difficult or toxic coworker which brings negative emotions to the surface of our mind and usually can possibly impair our judgement and cause us to be less effective, we can think rationally and be successful in the encounter.
These skills are transferable in that they can apply to other areas of our lives. One example is when we need to have a difficult discussion with our significant other or friend.
Do the best you can to practice self care and wellness. This includes achieving balance and managing your expectations. Take the time to evaluate what is causing stress and anxiety, think critically about possible solutions, implement the solutions, and if necessary modify them over time. It is possible to maintain good mental health and wellness even in the face of a crisis. You can do it.