How to Help Lower Your Anxiety During COVID-19
Anxiety has been really affecting people ever since the COVID-19 situation hit, even if anxiety wasn’t really something you were familiar with before. At The Living Proof Institute, anxiety is an all-too familiar sensation that many of our patients suffer with, so I am often helping people every day work through how to manage it. I was surprised when anxiety and panic attacks started to hit me for the first several weeks of COVID-19, something that hasn’t been my reality for several years, particularly since I healed my digestion. However, we are in unprecedented times, where our physical, emotional and spiritual stress levels are getting pushed to the limits in ways we could never predict.
The good news is, there are many things we can do to manage the anxiety. Several of these tips have helped me almost completely eliminate it over the recent weeks, to give you hope. You will notice that some of the tips involve biological processes, like sleep rhythms, your daily movement/exercise and your digestion, as these are very interconnected and all influence our emotions more than we realize.
Tip #1: Get some of that beautiful sunlight! Anytime before 10am try to get outside, even if it is on your porch, your balcony, etc. and turn your face towards that sun! It not only helps charge our “batteries” (our mitochondria, the little factories in each cell that make our energy) but it helps us make serotonin, our “happy” chemical. Try for 15 minutes if possible.
Tip #2: Pay attention to your hunger cues. Wonky blood sugar can wreak havoc and make our moods swing and can cause us to fall into a panic or anxiety spiral. Try to eat when you are hungry and have regularly-spaced meals (I usually eat every 3-4 hours at eat 2-3 meals on average per day). If you are snacking bits here and there all throughout the day and night, that can cause your blood sugar to go up and down like a rollercoaster, which = stress for your body. We already have enough stress pushing our bodies’ limits. If you want to snack, try to choose snacks that have a protein as part of it to slow down the hit of blood sugar to your system (e.g. nuts or seeds with your bowl of chips) or make the snack part of your meal when you do eat (deprivation is not a great way to go right now, particularly since so many things are not in our lives right now). Sometimes it can be as simple as keeping hydrated regularly to keep anxiety at bay, something that can be tricky right now because we are in a different environment/routine. I leave water bottles all over the place to remind me.
Tip #3: Try to get some sort of movement into your day each day, particularly outside in nature if possible. Research shows that nature can reduce our stress levels as well as a simple walk. It doesn’t need to be complex or long, even 5-10 minutes will do. Some people are going out earlier or much later in the day to avoid trying to navigate dodging people due to social distancing, which can create stress. I use the dodging as a reminder to slow down and appreciate my surroundings. If I have to wait several minutes to people to pass then I take that opportunity to look around and see the buds popping out or listen to the different songs of the birds. Simple stretches at home are great too! Our bodies need a physical outlet, they think we are supposed to be running for our lives but we are sitting for hours.
Tip #4: Remember that even though some of us are not in imminent danger, our bodies are on high alert regardless. Trying to accomplish things while your body thinks you should be running for your life can be very frustrating and honestly, a lesson in futility sometimes. When you are feeling overwhelmed (and know that so many of us have been in that boat, you are NOT alone!!), taking time out to just regroup (and yes, that could take a day!) and reset is more than reasonable. Letting go of expectations can be a huge help. Anxiety is driven by our brain stem, the same part of our brain that we share with frogs and fish. Expecting frogs and fish to reason why we can’t “just calm down” is not only not fair to ourselves but honestly cruel. You would not tell a baby who is crying to not cry because they weren’t justified. Cut yourself a ton of slack and show yourself kindness and compassion that you would show others.
Tip #5: To calm down the anxiety response, there are several ways to get your brain out of that “froggy-fishy” mode. For each of us it can be different and it can be different even for us in specific situations. Things that can turn the anxiety response off: music, art, movement/dance (it is no mistake that the Tik Tok dances have gone viral, pun intended), exercise, scents (essential oils), massages/gentle touches, laughter, fresh air/a change of scenery, and meditation are some examples.
Tip #6: When all the above tips don’t work, there are 4 extra options. The first is called “The 5 Senses” technique. There are different versions of this, I like this one because it is super simple. You choose 1 thing you can see, 1 thing you can taste, 1 thing you can smell, 1 thing you can feel, and 1 thing you can hear. There doesn’t have to be an answer (maybe you don’t taste anything at that time), that doesn’t matter. This helps get your body into the here and now and realize that you are safe. You can do breathing techniques: there are many out there; one that I like for anxiety is breathe in and out and then count 1; breathe in and out, then count 2; do this until you get to 10. You can start over as many times as you want. You can use mantras (say over and over something that you choose to help you feel better, for example, “I am safe, I am loved, I am strong”). The last option is to take a pillow and scream into it to let out the excess stress and energy. It feels AMAZING if you haven’t tried it. Sometimes my kids and I have a “scream-a-thon”, and all I can say is, I am grateful our neighbours can’t hear!
Tip #7: Digital detox: for example, do you really need a daily update knowing numbers, (numbers that I can tell you from doing research in university that are massaged and are influenced in all sorts of ways…) about how many COVID-19 cases? Particularly where you don’t live? Your body doesn’t need this extra push for anxiety. To reduce your anxiety further, you can also change what you see in your news feed and choose to see “less” of a particular topic or types of posts or unfollow someone. A lot of the info is repetitive but it is pushing your stress buttons and causing your body to feel heightened anxiety. Additionally, the blue light from our devices also causes stress for our bodies, so wearing blue blocker glasses after 8pm at night and turning off devices 1-2 hours before we go to bed can help reduce anxiety.
Tip #8: This last tip I discovered after my eldest was diagnosed with autism when so many things, big and small, caused him great anxiety. It was not possible to reason with him in the moment (remember, you are talking to “frogs and fish”!), however when he had calmed down, we sat down and did this exercise to make a “Reaction Line”: draw a line and put 1-10 along it relatively-evenly spaced. #1 is something that would be irritating to you but not a big deal. #10 would be the worst thing possible (obviously, write this when you are in a more stable mood to not trigger yourself or someone else if you are writing it for them). Fill in details for examples of what would upset you for each number in whatever order you want. When you experience anxiety, look at your sheet (you can take a photo and keep it in your phone to have it whenever you need it) and put the event on the “reaction line”. For example, you had to wait in line at Costco for 1 hour…where would you put that on the line? In the whole scheme of things in your whole life, where would that land? Something that COVID-19 has reminded me of greatly is how privileged a lot of us are and how much we take for granted (e.g. easy access to any groceries when we want them). Another way I calm myself down is to ask myself: will this matter tomorrow? Next week? Next month? Next year? In 5 years? In 10? Most of the answers don’t even make it to the next week! I discuss this idea in a more complete way in this blog: https://thelivingproofinstitute.com/can-expectations-be-the-root-of-all-stress/
I hope those ideas give you the relief and peace that you deserve! And as tricky as this may seem, but a hugely important lesson I learned when I thought the Crohn’s flare would never end in 2015, things ALWAYS change and NOTHING lasts forever. Simply watching spring emerge is a beautiful reminder of that. Message me if you need any support at firstname.lastname@example.org
Author: Jessica Tucker
Jessica truly understands and empathizes how her patients feel, after experiencing a lifetime of digestive, emotional and immunity issues such as I.B.S., Crohn’s Disease, severe depression, vertigo, arthritis, eczema and migraines. All of these situations are now distant memories, as Jessica is now in the BEST health she has ever been in her life and has more energy and vitality than she ever thought possible, thanks to her journey at Living Proof.
She loves to help people realize their own potential and to feel good using simple and easy techniques, whether it is in the kitchen, practising meditation or making lives less stressful and more fun and enjoyable in everyday life. She fully believes the path to full physical and mental health is through a combination of knowledge of nutrition, digestion, healthy sleep habits, movement, detoxifying the home and personal care products and mindfulness/self-love.
Jessica can be found playing at the park with her family, dancing Lindy Hop with her friends, drawing cartoons, going to hot yoga or practising nature and portrait photography in her spare time. One of her favourite passions is to research the most current information in nutrition, biology, mindfulness and functional medicine coaching in order to help her patients get the lives that they have always wanted.
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About the Author: Jessica Tucker
Jessica Tucker, Holistic Nutritionist and Health Coach, is proud and honoured to be part of the Living Proof Team in Mississauga, Ontario.
Our Mission at The Living Proof Institute is to address the root cause of your health issues and restore your health and vitality. Through partnering and education, you will receive the tools and direction to live an extraordinary life.
“As always, I feel heard and understood. The compassion Jessica shows her patients is extraordinary and is a major component in me feeling like I can get better. I appreciate her sharing her personal story as it really resonates with me when people share about their own experiences. Another great factor was that she celebrated my wins, big and small, and I felt like my body is capable of healing. Which I haven’t always believed in the past.” MS