By: Camille McDaniel, LPC, NCC, CPCS
We live in uncertain times. Everything from our jobs and the economy, our health, the climate, and our personal lives are in a constant state of change. The response, not surprisingly, is often a major spike in worry or anxiety levels.
We cannot escape anxiety altogether, nor should we try. Anxiety is like gasoline: splashed on the floor, it’s dangerous; used properly, it’s a powerful fuel. If you learn how to turn excessive worry into healthy concern, you have the opportunity to meet challenges boldly, effectively, and creatively.
So what happens to our bodies when we experience anxiety?
Brain – When our brain anticipates danger, it sends a message to the autonomic nervous system, this creates a “fight or flight” response. Our body is preparing to either stay and defend itself or run away. Therefore the body releases adrenaline in preparation for action. At this time you may experience headaches, memory trouble, thoughts of despair, anger, irritability, and/or sadness.
Muscles – Your muscles start to contract or tense up when you become anxious. This may cause pain in the chest, shoulders, neck, and/or back regions. Your heart is also a muscle. In times of increased anxiety, you may experience increased heartbeat.
Stomach/Intestinal areas – During times of high anxiety, the body sends blood to the muscles in order to supply them with the oxygen for “fight or flight” responses. A major area for blood travel is the stomach, around the digestive tract. Blood is sent there to absorb nutrients from the food we eat. As blood is carried away from the stomach, the digestion slows down and the muscles around the stomach can become knotted. This can cause stomach pains, indigestion, decrease or increase of appetite, heartburn, and diarrhea or constipation.
What are some ways that you can naturally manage anxiety? Here are several suggestions that you may find helpful:
Relaxation is associated with a reduced rate of breathing. Take deep long breathes that cause your stomach to rise. Release the breathe slowly and repeat.
TALK IT OUT
Express your thoughts and feelings with a trusted friend, family member or therapist.
A balanced diet rich in fruits, vegetables, legumes, fish, olive oil, nuts and whole grains lowers the stress hormones cortisol and adrenaline.
Limit or avoid caffeine. It can make you feel jittery and nervous.
Nicotine can worsen anxiety
With our culture of instant gratification, bigger is better, and advertisements that encourage you to be unhappy with what you currently have, many people are feeling inadequate if they can’t keep up. ”People are terribly afraid of being ordinary.” Counter these fears with methods that have been time-tested. Praying, meditating, journaling, and quiet time. Connecting to something larger than yourself will help you release the need to control every aspect of a situation.
Exercise generates endorphins (happy hormones) that reduce anxiety.
GET ENOUGH SLEEP
Just do it! 6 to 8 hours can help your body re-energize itself.
LIMIT NEWS AND TV TIME
For those who are more prone to anxiety, listening to the news for hours a day and getting news updates on your phone could give you more to worry about. Limit news phone apps and don’t turn the tv on right before bed.
CHANGE YOUR SCENE
Isolation is not good. Get out among people or in nature, so you’re not alone with your own mind.