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  • Writer's pictureAlan Frischer, MD, MPH

Anxiety

I’ve been practicing medicine in this wonderful community for many years. Can you guess the number one concern among my patients?

 

Anxiety. The world has changed so dramatically, and so rapidly, that it sometimes makes my head spin. It isn’t only our health that worries and threatens us; it’s the economy, politics, the environment, our jobs, our savings. Add to that the leftover effects of the pandemic, which include for some a self-imposed isolation from family and friends. Yes, anxiety is running rampant.

 

Anxiety manifests in many ways. Some find themselves in a constant state of worry; overthinking plans and dwelling on worst-case outcomes. Some have difficulty handling uncertainty; becoming indecisive and fearful of making the wrong decision. Some find it difficult to relax; feeling restless, keyed up, on edge. Some have difficulty concentrating.

 

Clearly, anxiety is not merely a mental disorder. Physical manifestations include fatigue, trouble sleeping, difficulty concentrating, headaches, palpitations, abdominal pain, muscle tension and aches, nervousness, being easily startled, sweating, nausea, diarrhea, flare-ups of irritable bowel syndrome, and irritability.

 

None of what follows will surprise you, but consider incorporating some of these coping mechanisms to help manage life during these challenging times:

  • Schedule time every day for relaxation techniques such as meditation, yoga, tai chi, breathing exercises, massage, music, and walks or other forms of exercise.

  • Encourage yourself to pursue hobbies.

  • Make a conscious effort to maintain a positive attitude.

  • Instead of becoming angry, defensive, or passive, work on stating your feelings, opinions, or beliefs. In other words, be assertive, rather than aggressive.

  • Work on developing time management skills.

  • Keep an anxiety journal, ranking events on a scale of 1 to 10. Note those activities which make you feel anxious (watching TV news, perhaps?), and the thoughts going through your mind before and during. Note what makes you feel less anxious.

  • If you hyperventilate (experiencing dizziness, numbness/tingling, and/or lightheadedness), exhale into a paper bag and then inhale from the bag. This increases your carbon dioxide level, which can reduce the urge to breathe rapidly, and reduces the dizziness and tingling.

  • Seek out support from your community: your family, friends, neighbors, or religious organization. Spend time with those you love, even if it’s merely over the phone or online.

  • Limit alcohol, caffeine, tobacco, sugar, and recreational drugs.

  • Take care of your body with exercise, hydration, nutrition, and sleep. Your body will handle stress far more easily when it is fit and healthy.

 

Let’s remind ourselves to periodically evaluate our lifestyle, and incorporate some proven coping techniques. If they don’t seem to help, I urge you to seek treatment with your physician, therapist, or other health care professional.

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