As discovered by psychologists worldwide, the relationship we have with our emotions affects the relationship we have with everything and everybody else. Like every relationship, it begins with the words we use to address those parts of ourselves. After 9 stressful months of a pandemic in 2020, developing a healthy relationship with uncomfortable emotions has become a top health habit for all. Check some recommended ways to deal with anxiety here.
What happens in our body when we are afraid or anxious?
Neurologically, what is normally referred to as the “fight or flight” reaction involves a carefully orchestrated and instantaneous cascade of hormones that prepare the body for imminent risk to life. This sequence of hormonal changes then triggers a series of physiological changes that can be depleting and exhausting, so extreme fatigue can be caused by anxiety.
A pounding heart, sweating, headaches, an upset stomach, dizziness, shortness of breath, muscle tension or aches are a few of the things your body can experience as a result of anxiety. Subsiding and returning waves of these symptoms are common, so these physical reactions can be disorienting, leading us to think there is something very wrong with us. But the truth is these reactions are a perfectly natural and healthy response that has enabled us to react to life-threatening situations.
Unfortunately, if this activation state persists during an extended period of time –also known as chronic stress – it can become harmful to our physical and mental health. The good news is that learning to deal with these physical reactions is possible. There are an increasing number of ways to deal with anxiety, that range from exercises you can practice on your own, to seeking long-term therapy, to focused, short-term options. A specialist should always be consulted in order to determine the best treatment for each specific case.
The approach: mind the words we tell ourselves
A big part of learning to deal with our emotions is building trust in that part of ourselves (fear, anxiety, etc.) that we are building a relationship with. It’s as if we are saying “yes” to those uncomfortable feelings and sensations. We internally say “it is okay” for this physical reaction to be there for a little while.
Some emotion specialists, such as therapeutic coach Alex Howard, encourage their patients not to rush their progress. As he explains, “the more you try to push the process to advance, the more that part of you feels under threat and the more distress responses happen.” It is best to look at each reaction as a stage – not permanent, but merely passing by. This makes it easier to not despair, but simply watch the emotion arrive, be there for some time, and then pass.
By allowing the fear, the anxiety, and the physical sensations to simply be, while also viewing them as a temporary phase, our automatic rejection and distress responses become less intense. Thus, building a relationship with our uncomfortable emotions has a lot to do with the way we “speak” to them, or the way we communicate with those parts of ourselves. This is why we must choose our words carefully.
Stress and anxiety caused by COVID-19 can also be reduced
Everyone reacts to stressful situations differently. But it is undeniable that a global pandemic and the measures we have had to comply with in order to avoid catching COVID-19 are affecting everybody.
Experts and health authorities recommend a series of tips to ease the signs of stress and anxiety caused specifically by the pandemic. Here is a summarized list for you:
1. Staying informed, without being overloaded with information:
- Only check trustworthy sources, such as the World Health Organization.
- Reduce the number of times you check the news.
- Learn about what to do in case you get ill, then stop thinking about this possibility.
- Stop checking social media if you start feeling overwhelmed.
2.Focusing on recommendations under your control, rather than uncertainties (such as when the vaccine will be available or what other people do):
- Stay home as much as possible.
- Avoid crowds.
- Wash or sanitize your hands regularly.
- When in public, wear a mask and respect social distancing.
- Keep your immune system strong, by getting sufficient sleep and eating healthily.
3. Keep in contact with your loved ones, even at a distance:
- Stay in regular touch with friends and family via video calls, but select the people who have a positive emotional effect on you.
- Use social media to stay connected to what is happening in your community (but be mindful of not becoming overwhelmed by information).
- Do not let coronavirus be the center of all conversations.
4. Look after your body and your mental health:
- First of all: be kind to yourself.
- When anxiety starts to build, bring your attention to your breath and body.
- Meditate or do activities that will keep you focused on the here and now.
- Find ways to exercise, even indoors.
- Get out in nature, if possible.