Managing anxiety during stressful times
Times of stress, such as the COVID-19 outbreak, can cause fear and anxiety. Over time, this stress can negatively affect your mental and physical health. Geoffrey Williams, LPC/S, director of Prisma Health Behavioral Care outpatient programs, explained the impacts of stress and what you can do to manage it.
How does anxiety affect your body?
Williams said anxiety can affect the body in many ways. In the short run it can cause gastrointestinal upset (nausea, stomach upset, heart burn), headache and fatigue. It can also exacerbate other issues such as skin problems, such as psoriasis and eczema, or digestive diseases such as Crohn’s disease and colitis.
In extreme cases it can lead to panic attacks that will result in elevated blood pressure, rapid pulse, sweating and shortness of breath. “Often, people experiencing panic attacks think they are having a heart attack,” Williams said. “Long term anxiety results in chronically elevated blood pressure and can contribute to heart disease.”
What are some ways you can manage your stress?
Williams offered these tips to reduce your anxiety:
- Regular exercise “burns off nervous energy” and helps to produce endorphins that help alleviate symptoms of anxiety.
- Meditation and yoga help keep your focus on the present and encourage deep breathing, which slows down your heart rate and signals your body to relax.
- Self-care such as listening to calming music, taking baths and using various aroma therapy products can help you relax.
“It’s also advisable to disconnect from social media and the 24-hour news cycle for a few hours per day,” said Williams. “The constant flow of information tends to heighten anxiety for anyone.”
When should you reach out to a doctor?
Williams said anxiety during a major event such as the COVID-19 outbreak is normal and expected. However, someone should seek medical attention if their anxiety begins to interfere in their daily lives.
“Two good measures to track are sleep and appetite. Those are good biological indicators of emotional health. If either or both change significantly (increase or decrease) for more than a week or two, you should tell your doctor.”
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