Easing Anxiety & Managing Stress

Easing Anxiety & Managing Stress

Teresa Esterle, MD

Springtime is a time when people often feel more anxious, and this year things are understandably worse because of the fears and isolation created by COVID19. Even though the country might not officially be back to “normal,” there are many ways to help ease anxiety now and get your mental health back on track.

  • Eat a wide variety of healthy foods. First, minimize things that might aggravate anxiety, like caffeine-containing drinks, highly processed foods, and high sugar foods. Add in healthy fats such as olive oil, avocados, wild-caught fish, nuts, and seeds that support and calm the brain. Then add foods that support a healthy microbiome (yes, there is a gut-brain connection!) in the gastrointestinal tract such as organic fruits, veggies, and fermented foods. If you need help with your diet, consider meeting with Katherine Mattox, AIM’s Registered Dietitian.
  • Aim to exercise most days of the week. Studies show that people who exercise regularly have less anxiety and depression. This is a great time of year to go to the local parks and combine your workout with nature therapy. The Japanese call this “forest-bathing,” and the immersion in and connection with trees, birds, and sunshine is very healing.
  • Make sure your sleep is restorative. Sleep is the time that your body detoxifies and “takes out the trash.” Research is clear that people with good quality sleep have better mental health and a stronger immune system. Plan to power down your screens early to make it easier to stick to an early bedtime routine. Consider a soak in an Epsom salt bath before bedtime (add some lavender for extra relaxation!). Epsom salts contain magnesium, which can improve both sleep and anxiety.  

Consider adding meditation and/or mindfulness to your daily routine. 

  • There are many different ways to do this, from breathing exercises, guided meditation, or consider more active methods like yoga, tai chi, and qi gong. Another option is the Emotional Freedom Technique, which is a practice of tapping specific acupressure points to help calm the mind and decrease pain. There are a number of online videos that demonstrate this technique so you can see if it is a fit for you.
  • Consider bodywork, like medical acupuncture and/or energy healing, both of which can calm and balance your energy. Once massage therapists are working again, this is another great option to help improve sleep and lift mood. Craniosacral therapy can be particularly effective for anxiety.
  • If the anxiety is significantly affecting your daily life, and interfering with your work or relationships, look into counseling for more in-depth support. Therapists are trained to help you reframe your reality and give you a better perspective to help cope with the unique challenges that we are facing right now. Most psychologists and counselors have been able to continue working with patients through telemedicine. Recently some online resources have become available as well. Check with your insurance provider or talk with your doctor at AIM to find the best fit for you.
  • Talk with your AIM provider about supplements to support your mood. Normal neurotransmitter levels are essential for brain health, and certain vitamins and minerals are critical for maintaining these in the proper balance. Your doctor can help you determine what would be most helpful for you. In addition, they can discuss whether prescription options might be a more effective way to help you start feeling better.
  • Specific things to help in the time of COVID:
    • Keep a regular routine, and break the days into chunks. Instead of trying to figure out how you will spend the next week, focus on one day or even one hour at a time. Realize that you don’t need to have all the answers, and there is no “perfect” way to approach this. These are unchartered times for us all—- be gentle with yourself and give yourself credit for doing the best you can!
    • Limit your exposure to negative news and minimize COVID conversations. Focus instead on the “helpers” and the good things that are happening in the midst of this crisis.
  • Create a safe space in your home where you can go when you are feeling vulnerable. Fill this space with comforting items that soothe all of your senses and keep it a “no-phone zone.” Include a favorite essential oil, some candles, an extra soft or fluffy pillow, and a mix of your favorite music. Allow yourself an occasional indulgence in a favorite food.  
  • Understand that even though you cannot control what is happening in the world, there are still some things in your life that you can control, including your response to the situation. Choose to look at this crisis as an opportunity for personal growth, or a chance to learn something new or do something positive to help others.

We know this is a difficult time for many and may become more difficult as things open, and we see people close to us getting sick. If you need help managing your stress or optimizing your health and well-being, please schedule an appointment with your AIM provider through our patient portal or by calling 513-791-5521. 

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