On January 1st, 2020, we had no idea that our lives were about to change in a pretty dramatic and profound way over the next 6 months. It’s not only the changes that have happened for us individually and in our microcosm, but the entire world has been turned on its head.
Our new “not normal”
Just when living in the time of a pandemic started to feel “normal,” here came Memorial Day and the death of George Floyd. Enter the spiral of the ensuing protests, riots, anger, and increased conversations about justice, injustice and race in our society.
It’s hard to imagine anyone's life has not been affected in some way by the fear and isolation brought on by COVID-19 or the racial tensions that are front and center for many of us. It’s a lot to process.
Stress is a natural part of our body’s response to threats.
A certain level of stress helps us respond to threats in a physical and mental way. (1) The body produces stress hormones (adrenaline and cortisol) to help us react quickly in stressful situations.
Think about what happens to your body when you’re in a fender bender, you’re running late for work, or you see a saber tooth tiger approaching. Your heart rate goes up, your ‘fight or flight’ response kicks in and your breathing becomes quick or labored — this is the stress response, and anxiety is our body’s response to the stress. (2)
You may experience anxiety as fear, apprehension, and nervousness. A small amount of anxiety is appropriate when we’re preparing for big events in our lives like taking an exam, getting married, buying a house, going on vacation, etc. But, if there’s no threat of danger and no large life event happening and you’re still having increased heart rate, rapid breathing and anxious thoughts… take note. When these visceral responses become part of your everyday life (for more than 6 months), you could be experiencing an anxiety disorder—which is very real and also completely treatable!
Anxiety disorders are characterized by excessive fear (e.g. emotional response to a perceived or real threat) and/or anxiety (e.g. worrying about a future threat) and can have negative behavioral and emotional consequences. (1)
Data indicates that roughly 40 million people in the US (18%) will experience an anxiety disorder in any given year. (3) My guess is that number will significantly increase based on what we’ve collectively experienced in the last three or four months.
While there are many kinds of anxiety disorders, this article focuses on General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) or Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).
GAD is the feeling of constant dread, distress, and worry over daily life, money, family, friends, and work, when there is no discernible reason or cause for these thoughts. It can also occur when there is an event that triggers the anxious thoughts and the brain’s response is disproportionate to the actual event. (4)
I’m including PTSD in the article because this year’s events have been fairly traumatic. We are living with the fear of illness or even death from the coronavirus. We don’t feel safe due to the social situation in our country. Whether you’re a Black American, a police officer, a business owner, or a regular citizen— there is no doubt these events will have a long-term psychological impact on many of us. It’s important to recognize the signs of PTSD so that you can seek treatment sooner rather than later.
PTSD is typically diagnosed when someone has been experiencing psychological symptoms six months after the trauma happened. Trauma could be things like witnessing combat, sexual assault, actual or threatened death, and motor vehicle accidents. (5)
Long-term anxiety and panic attacks can prompt our brains to produce stress hormones, contributing to weight gain and immune suppression.
Long-term anxiety and panic attacks can make our brains produce stress hormones (remember we talked above about cortisol and adrenaline) on a more consistent basis, and this can cause nausea, dizziness, and depression. Prolonged production of cortisol can also contribute to weight gain and can suppress your immune system. (6)
Remember the highly contagious corona virus that’s still attacking the world? Our immune system is more important than ever right now! If cortisol levels are too high and have been taxed for too long, our immune system can become weakened, leaving us more vulnerable to infections, even if we’ve been vaccinated. (6) If your immune system is still weakened when/if you get a vaccine, that vaccine is less likely to be effective in preventing the infection. (7)
Anxiety has been called ‘an emotional thief’ for good reason — it robs our mind and our body of confidence, assurance, peace of mind, sleep, happiness … and our overall health!
When we live in fear, we’re living in a place where we’re unwillingly terrorized by our thoughts. It would be logical to assume that we should run from what is terrorizing us, but the opposite is true when it comes to anxiety.
I was experiencing anxiety and panic attacks about a year ago, until I faced my fears and confronted it.
I had a panic attack over flipping some pancakes and was experiencing other disproportionate responses to situations in my life. My anxiety disorder was not obvious to me (even though there is some family history).
In a vulnerable moment, I opened up and shared my fears with a friend—fears I was having about our relationship. I had been feeling left out and even disliked by her, one of my best friends. Deep down I knew it was not true, but it had started to affect not just our relationship, but all areas of my life.
To simply name what I’d been going through for months was such a relief
That one single action of facing my fear opened up a dialog that helped me address what was really going on with a trusted friend. She eased my fears about our friendship, but also observed that it was possible that I could have an anxiety disorder, based on her personal experience with anxiety. As soon as she said it, tears of relief spilled from my eyes. To simply name what I’d been going through for months was such a relief.
I share this with you to say that depression, anxiety, and even consistent irritability are things that we are quick to ‘brush under the rug’ as having a bad day, while not realizing that the one bad day has turned into weeks or months. When you know the symptoms and can identify them, you can address them and be on your way to feeling like yourself again!
When we ignore the symptoms, they can escalate and have long term effects on our emotional and physical well-being.
So what symptoms should you look for? (5, 6)
This is not an exhaustive list but includes the major things to look out for. For a complete look at anxiety, depression, as well as their symptoms, treatments, and resources, visit Anxiety.org or aada.org.
If you’ve experienced any of these symptoms, you’re not alone.
In April of this year, texts to the federal government's mental health hotline increased by more than 1,000 percent compared to the same month last year. (8)
What we’ve experienced in these past months is like nothing we’ve experienced in our lifetimes. Having and experiencing prolonged stress, anxiety and depression is to be expected. (Text SIGNS to 741741 for anonymous, free crisis counseling from the CDC).
63% of Americans who have anxiety are not receiving treatment (3)
If you're one of them and you want to do something about it, you have many options.
Benzodiazepines like Xanax, Valium and Ativan, or Antidepressants like Lexapro, Prozac and Zoloft are commonly prescribed for anxiety.
There are also ways to treat anxiety without a prescription. If you choose to seek out a medical professional, consider one who specializes in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT). This is a type of talk-therapy that will assist you in becoming more aware of inaccurate thinking, and teaches you to turn it around in order to respond to challenging situations more effectively.
A certified health coach can also be a good resource as you’re learning to change your behaviors/mindset. Coaches are trained in a variety of techniques related to behavior change and lifestyle health, underpinned by the foundational science of psychology, counseling, lifestyle medicine, and more. (9)
Working with a health coach is also a form of talk-therapy. It creates a safe, judgement-free place for the client to explore their life, their anxieties, and wishes for the future, and then co-create ways to address the issues.
Whatever you’re experiencing—GAD, PTSD, Panic attacks... or are just feeling momentary anxiety, the following self-guided techniques can be helpful:
There's helpful collection of comments and advice from therapists on how to deal with anxiety, as well as personal stories from individuals who were able to overcome their anxiety. Check it out—see if anyone else's story or advice resonates with you.
Your emotional health can actually affect your physical health.
Your emotional health is just as important as your physical health, and it actually affects your physical health if you leave it untreated.
There are a lot of options to treat anxiety, and if you find yourself overwhelmed by these options and would like guidance, a health coach can be a good place to start to help you manage the path forward. You can find one in our directory that fits your personality! All of these health coaches are NBC-HWC certified and ready to help you on your journey.
Last but not least, visit your doctor and make sure he/she knows what you’re experiencing!
I finally made a visit to my primary care doctor and it turned out my hormones were out of whack (probably due to constant stress)! It took some time, but I got them balanced and I’m feeling much better. I haven’t had any sort of ‘attack’ or feeling of persistent anxiety in over a year.
To learn more about Jeralyn or book a coaching session with her, visit The Good Health Coach.
First and foremost, if your anxiety or depression has you feeling hopeless and in distress or if you are having suicidal thoughts, please get help right away! https://suicidepreventionlifeline.org/ or call 800-273-8255
If you’re having panic attacks or feeling out of control or having symptoms of a heart attack (chest pain, weakness, light-headedness, nausea (for women), cold sweat, pain in arms/shoulder, shortness of breath, pain in jaw, neck and back), then seek medical help right away (call 911).
Meditation apps for iPhone/Android:
When Panic Attacks by David Burns (M.D.)
The Anti-Anxiety Food Solution by Trudy Scott, CN
While working to manage your anxiety, avoid alcohol, caffeine and read this to learn more about what foods to eat more of and which foods to avoid.
(1) Janavonich Ph.D., Jana, Retrieved from https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety
(2) Retrieved from: https://adaa.org/understanding-anxiety/related-illnesses/stress
(3) Retrieved from: https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
(4) Skodol, Andrew M.D., “What is Generalized Anxiety Disorder?” Retrieved from: https://www.anxiety.org/generalized-anxiety-disorder-gad
(5) Yusko, David Psy.D. “Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder: Symptoms, Causes, Treatment, and Coping” Retrieved from https://www.anxiety.org/post-traumatic-stress-disorder-ptsd
(6) Cherney, Kristeen (2020, March 28) “Effects of Anxiety on your Body” Retrieved from https://www.healthline.com/health/anxiety/effects-on-body#8
(7) Zimmermann, P., & Curtis, N. (2019). Factors That Influence the Immune Response to Vaccination. Clinical microbiology reviews, 32(2), e00084-18. https://doi.org/10.1128/CMR.00084-18
(8) Cunningham, Paige Winfield “The Health 202... “ (2020, May 4) The Washington Post https://www.washingtonpost.com/news/powerpost/paloma/the-health-202/2020/05/04/the-health-202-texts-to-federal-government-mental-health-hotline-up-roughly-1-000-percent/5eaae16c602ff15fb0021568/?itid=ap_paigewinfield%20cunningham&itid=lk_inline_manual_12
(9) Viscovich, Daniel MA, NBC-HWC, “How Can A Men’s Health Coach Support You?” Retrieved from: https://www.virtualhealthcoaches.com/blog
(10) Carter, Sierra Ph.D. “ Prevention and Coping With Anxiety” https://www.anxiety.org/what-is-anxiety#prevention-and-coping-with-anxiety
(11) Pratt, Kim LCSW (2014, May 11) “ Psychology Tools: Schedule “Worry Time” Retrieved from https://healthypsych.com/psychology-tools-schedule-worry-time/