Remember feeling queasy on your first day at college or the very first job interview? Yes, the feeling that you came across was anxiety. It is our body’s natural reaction to stress. Anxiety is a feeling of fear or apprehension when we are uncertain about the turn of events in the future. Focussing on the current catastrophic scenario, nations across the globe are observing a lockdown period in order to fight a deadly virus. However, this has led to a rise in the number of cases of anxiety, stress, and depression.
Stress And Anxiety Are The New Normal Amidst Lockdown
Humans are social beings after all, and the lockdown to fight the COVID-19 pandemic drastically changed our lives. Ever since the lockdown was implemented, we have been constantly worried about life, finances, health, running a family, and whatnot. As weeks stretched into months and uncertainty increased, this persistent fear and worry took a toll on our mental health.
In order to curtail the spread of COVID-19, our lives are confined to four walls now. This profound sense of physical isolation from the rest of the world is wreaking havoc to our mental health. Prolonged anxiety weakens our immunity system, and now more than ever, we need our immunity system to function at its best. Hence, we have to fight this anxiety and stress off along with the virus.
What Causes Anxiety?
Researchers could not single-out one cause when asked, ‘what causes anxiety’. Eventually, studies highlighted that anxiety disorders are caused by a combination of factors, which may include:
- Medical factors – The symptoms of different diseases, the effects of a medication, or the stress of an intensive surgery or prolonged recovery result in anxiety.
- Hormonal changes caused by Polycystic Ovary Syndrome (PCOS) among women – The hormonal changes that women go through during their menstrual cycle may cause anxiety and stress.
- Genetics – Studies show that people who have family members with an anxiety disorder are more likely to experience one themselves.
- Traumatic life events – Experiencing abuse, attack, or sexual assault can lead to serious health problems, including anxiety, post-traumatic stress disorder, and depression.
- Environmental stressors – Not being able to cope up with the work-life balance, relationship problems, or family issues may lead to anxiety disorders.
- Brain chemistry – A number of researches have shown that anxiety disorders as misalignments of hormones and electrical signals in the brain.
How Isolation And Social Distancing Is Manufacturing Anxiety
As time progressed, and humans left the caves for the sturdy and prosperous infrastructure, our society changed with a growing dependency on networks of people. COVID-19 is primarily a physical ailment, but to stop the spread, we are choosing to isolate ourselves. With schools, universities, offices and other businesses closing, the usual in-person interactions have stopped. This is what is causing anxiety these days majorly.
“Isolation, physical distancing, the closure of schools and workplaces are challenges that affect us, and it is natural to feel stress, anxiety, fear and loneliness at this time”– the director of the European branch of the WHO, Hans Kluge.
With social restrictions put into place, mental health experts are suggesting several ways and activities by which we can hold on to our positive and optimistic spirits in such trying times.
5 Different Types Of Anxiety Disorders
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders has classified the types of anxiety disorders into the following:
1. Generalised Anxiety Disorder
Also called GAD, it is a very common and chronic form of anxiety disorder, which involves excessive, long-lasting anxiety and worries about nonspecific life events, objects, and situations.
2. Panic Disorder
This particular anxiety disorder involves sudden attacks of intense terror characterised by panic disorder. The physical symptoms of a panic attack are shaking, confusion, dizziness, nausea, and breathing difficulties. Panic attacks tend to occur and escalate rapidly, peaking after 10 minutes, but they can also last for hours.
3. Specific Phobia
This is an irrational fear about a particular object or situation, and the person might wish to avoid such objects or situations at any cost in order to not feel anxious. Phobias are related to a specific cause. A person with a phobia might acknowledge that his/her fear is illogical and extreme but won’t be able to control his/her anxiety whenever triggered.
4. Social Anxiety Disorder / Social Phobia
This type of phobia especially manifests in social situations, where the patient feels too anxious to face public embarrassment. Social anxiety disorder includes a range of feelings, such as stage fright, a fear of intimacy, and anxiety around humiliation and rejection. It also includes performance anxiety, like performing on stage or delivering a presentation. Speech anxiety highlights the nervousness and fear that a speaker goes through before or during a presentation.
5. Separation Anxiety Disorder
A person feels anxiety when separated from a person or place, which previously provided them with a sense of security. Separation anxiety may also result in panic attacks. This can be seen with children who showcase separation anxiety when away from parents.
Major Anxiety Symptoms You Should Keep An Eye On
People having anxiety disorders experience a combination of physical symptoms that affects their everyday life. The generic physiological and psychological anxiety symptoms may include:
- Shortness of breath
- Rapid heart rate
- Not being able to stay calm and still
- Cold, sweaty, and numb hands and feet
- Dry mouth
- Tense muscles
- Upset stomach
- Hot flashes
- Panic, fear, and uneasiness
- Sleep problems
How To Deal With Anxiety?
Anxiety treatment primarily includes therapy and medication. As the lockdown extends due to the pandemic, anxiety and other mental health issues continue to rise. How to deal with this anxiety has become a common question these days. Generally, people do not consult a medical practitioner for anxiety treatment unless things go out of hand. By applying the following remedial measures, you can successfully cope with anxiety.
1. Stick To Your Regular Routine
The pandemic has messed up with your plans and daily routine, but you can still perform your daily tasks at home. Sticking to your normal sleep and wake times, your exercise routine, and other practices will maintain feelings of familiarity. It will also help you adjust when the world returns to normalcy.
2. Maintain A Journal
Keeping a journal is a great way to track your moods, stress, and anxiety. Many people find that identifying and writing down their problems makes it easier for them to deal with.
3. Stay Connected
Whenever we face hard times in life, we immediately seek the support of our loved ones. Similarly, now that we are dealing with a crisis, it’s absolutely normal to reach out to our family, friends, and loved ones. Calling or texting them on a daily basis, spending quality time with them, indulging in laughter and positive thoughts are much needed.
4. Take Frequent Breaks From The News
While it’s important to know what is happening around the world, it’s also important to not get over-burdened by the news. Being exposed to the news 24/7 can have a negative impact on your mind and health. Set up a specific time when you will check for updates and learn to filter out rumours by sticking to reliable news outlets.
5. Make Meditation A Daily Practice
Studies have shown that meditation does help manage anxiety. Mindfulness meditation helps the brain to stay in the moment, which decreases stress levels. People who meditate are much happier, calmer, and better able to cope with stress.
Preventive Measures To Keep Anxiety At Bay
Unchecked anxiety may greatly impact the quality of your life. Therefore, look out for the anxiety symptoms. Try out the following measures to ease your anxiety.
1. Acknowledge Your Anxiety Issues
Avoiding a serious problem that impacts your daily life will only make it worse. Similarly, avoiding your anxiety will only intensify it. You might have inherited it from your parents, or it’s your lifestyle that is causing significant stress in your life. But what is important here is to accept the problem and work towards finding a solution.
“Make time your ally, learn to relax, recharge and plan it wisely…focus on both people and solitude.”Radhika Nadkarny, a Pune-based behavioural learning and development professional
2. Exercise Daily And Keep Doing It
Exercising regularly will not just benefit your physical health, but will also take good care of your emotional well-being. For people who are suffering from long-term anxiety issues, meditation has worked wonders. Researchers have found that people who exercise regularly are 25% less likely to develop an anxiety disorder within five years. Exercise or yoga will help you in finding the much-needed relief, which will last for a long period. Such vigorous and calming physical activities will improve your sleep patterns along with overall health.
3. You Are Better Off Without Cigarettes, Alcohol, And Caffeine
Alcohol may soothe your nerves initially, but its long-lasting harmful impact cannot be ignored. Think about it, once you are done with the high, the anxiety creeps right back in. Alcohol or smoking will never treat the root of the problem, and it will only leave you with dependence. Several researchers have shown that the earlier one starts smoking in life, the higher the risk of developing an anxiety disorder later. If you get frequent bouts of anxiety then it’s advisable that you check your caffeine intake. Caffeine will not calm your nerves but will aggravate your anxiety symptoms.
4. Drink Gallons Of Water And Follow A Healthy Diet
A high-sugar diet may also impact your temperament. So, it’s crucial to check our eating habits. Following a balanced diet will keep your mind and body fresh. Stay hydrated, eliminate processed foods, and eat a healthy diet rich in carbohydrates, proteins, fruits, and vegetables.
5. Practice Deep Breathing
Anxiety leads to increased heart rate, palpitation, and dizziness. In extreme cases, it even causes a panic attack. Deep breathing exercises involve the deliberate process of taking slow, even, and deep breaths. It has provided significant relief to patients suffering from anxiety disorders.
6. Indulge In Meaningful Interactions With Your Family And Loved Ones
For those of you staying with family, friends or a partner during this lockdown phase, life has given you a beautiful chance to rejuvenate such interpersonal bonds. Take advantage of the extra time. Indulge in fun-filled activities with them. Watch movies, play games, listen to music, dance, and do all those cheerful and optimistic activities that you can do while being indoors.
“People always lament about having no ‘me time’. Now, that you have plenty of time, use it creatively. Live in the moment and channelise your energy in an innovative way. Explore new ideas, hobbies and stay afloat.”Nimesh G Desai, Psychiatrist and Director at the Institute of Human Behaviour and Allied Sciences (IHBAS), Delhi
7. Make The Best Use Of Social Media And Virtual Platforms To Stay Connected
Now is the best time to virtually reconnect with your long-lost friends, relatives, and the world. Social distancing is physical, but the virtual reality is still allowing you to connect with people. Therefore, make the best use of social media platforms, reach out to your loved ones and know how to deal with anxiety through virtual platforms.
8. Feed And Nurture Those Creative Bugs In You
This is the ideal time for you to nurture your creative skills and pursue the craft that you wished to learn for a long time. It could be anything like music or dance lessons, learning to play a new instrument, pottery or art classes, photography or some new management skills. You can also learn a new language, which would be an added boost to your CV. It will even help you combat performance anxiety.
“Dancing improves mood, lowers stress and anxiety. It helps in social bonding and helping people connect with others.”Dr Smita Agrawal, Psychiatrist
9. Catch Up With The Long-pending Reading List
Utilise the time that COVID-19 has bestowed you with and finish reading those books that were on your reading list. Moreover, books on positivity and mindfulness are especially recommended during these trying times.
10. Do An Online Course And Upgrade Your Skills
Several reputed universities are offering free online courses. They are providing an array of courses which can be pursued by people from almost all academic and professional backgrounds. It would upgrade your CV, might secure you with a well-paying job, also opening your scope for higher studies.It is a novel experience that you, I, and the rest of the world are facing momentarily. And knowing how to deal with anxiety effectively will solve half the problem for us. We need to understand that this lockdown is not a punishment but a preventive measure that is being practised by all of us for the common good. It’s not about losing hope and giving up. It’s a battle, and we shall fight it by keeping our mental sanity in place.