When You're Anxious, Your Whole Body Can Feel It.
Coronavirus may have you up at night, feeling restless, or perhaps you’re eating too much or too little. When you’re anxious, your whole body can feel it.
This is an exceptionally, and understandably, stressful time for everyone in the world. A few simple lifestyle changes can help keep anxiety at bay—and keep your physical health in the forefront.
1. Take regular, mindful breaths.
When we are anxious, we tend to take shallow breaths, which keeps us in fight-or-flight mode. Engage in slow, deep breaths and extend your exhale to slow your brain and body down.
2. Eat for your health.
It’s hard to do when you’re living on pantry items, but aim to eat recommended servings of fresh fruits, vegetables and lean meats, as well as reduce intake of alcohol and sugar. Clean eating keeps your body and mindset healthy.
3. Practice good sleep hygiene.
Many of us have no real schedule right now, which can impact our sleep. Sticking to a regular sleep schedule, including wake-up and bed times, helps regulate our sleep and mood. Avoid TV and devices before bed, and try to keep your bedroom as a sleep-only space.
4. Get physical.
Just a bit of exercise can stabilize your mood and help you sleep at night. Turn on YouTube and learn a new stretch or ab routine, take a walk around the neighborhood, or use this time to start the at-home exercise program you’ve been eyeing.
5. Engage the five senses (or at least one at a time).
Taste, touch, sight, sound and smell. Notice when you are using one of the senses and tune-in to your experience in that moment. You can also switch between senses. For instance, when eating, notice and savor the taste melodies; engage your sense of smell to breathe in the aroma of the food, and even your sight to notice the colors and shapes of the food.
6. If we are on "auto-pilot" we may accidentally be manufacturing stress with problematic or negative thoughts.
Be purposeful in shifting the mind to helpful self-talk statements and gratitude. For instance, take time to say to yourself comforting and reassuring statements such as "[deep breath] I can do this; I've been through worse." Or, "this is difficult, but it'll pass and things will be ok" (or whatever statement will bring you comfort).
7. Tap into your spirituality or religion.
Use these to help you bring meaning and add purpose to your life right now. The associated rituals and routines can be calming to the spirit: walk in nature, light a candle, sing or hum a hymn, engage in devotions or meditations, etc.
Now, more than ever, it’s important to take care of yourself. Your mind and body will thank you.
Traci Richards, Ph. D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Virginia. She is responsible for the Behavioral Health programs at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and also serves as an adjunct professor for Old Dominion University’s graduate counseling program. Dr. Richards has worked in various mental health settings, including private practice, and has extensive experience working with a broad range of mental health issues across the lifespan.