Anxiety: A New Normal
By Renetta Weaver | Sep 27, 2022
A new recommendation by The US Preventive Services Task Force suggests that all adults 65 years of age and younger should be assessed for anxiety. This recommendation is significant because many people have experienced increased anxiety in the past couple of years. First it was the world shutting down due the pandemic and now it is the world it is opening back up due to the pandemic. And while some people are shouting “we outside” some others are screaming “I’m outside of my norm.” With one declarative statement our world can shift so fast. One day we are mandated to mask up and one day we are instructed that it’s optional to wear our mask. In between we are confused because we are angry at people who wear their mask and angry at those who do wear their mask simultaneously being judged for wearing or not wearing our mask.
Not to mention that so many communities are already at risk for anxiety due to their race, gender, socioeconomic status, mental health status, pregnancy and education. Whatever our differences are, the one commonality we share is in our false sense of control. And that feeling of being out of control is what leads to anxiety. When we feel out of control, we worry about bad things happening to us that will ultimately cause injury to our well-being. And our well-being is not just emotional or physical but financial, social and spiritual as well. Neuroscience teaches us that when we feel anxiety it is our body’s nervous system telling us that something in our outer environment feels like a threat and we need to activate our threat response system. Our brain protects us by going into survival mode and instructing us to either run, fight, or hide. If those options don’t work, we freeze up by playing along until the treat is gone. What happens when the threat feels overwhelming, insurmountable and/or never ending? Our brain and body learn not to ever relax or let our guard down. Our brain and body become hijacked by environmental triggers, and we see threats in everything. Now that we better understand what anxiety feels like let’s explore some ways of managing anxiety.
What are some coping skills
The BPM method doesn’t just stand for beets per minute but using these practices can regulate your heartbeat.
Breathe- According to neuroscience there is a tiny almond shaped structure in our brain called the amygdala. The amygdala constantly scans our inner and outer environment for threat. If it detects a threat, the normal functioning of our body shuts down and all our energy is used to fight off the threat. Intentional breathing practices have been scientifically proven to relax the nervous system and regulate emotions. So, no matter what’s going on outside of us it doesn’t have to happen inside of us. Because when we relax, our brain uses its energy to respond to the threat as opposed to impulsively reacting to the threat.
Progressive muscle relaxation- (PGR) is a great way of paying attention and releasing the tension that is happening inside of your body. You don’t have to wait for the doctor to write an order for a full body scan. You can participate in your healing by regularly scanning your body from head to toe.
Mindfulness meditation-Talking to yourself is something you all already unconsciously doing. Using mindfulness meditation is a way to but in on your internal dialogue and change the conversation by focusing on words that support what you desire.
What can therapy do for me
Process thoughts and feelings-We are as sick as our secrets so if we want to heal we have to reveal our stuff. Now I am not suggesting that you have to talk about any unspeakable details but you can certainly talk about your thoughts and feelings. Just saying things aloud can lift that heavy weight off your shoulders.
Change perceptions-When you talk to a therapist they can provide a safe place for you to challenge your thoughts and explore the possibility of other thoughts. It’s amazing how much you will discover about the way your brain is programmed. Therapy will help you identify the areas that you might want a mental update.
Practice coping skills-Your therapist is not the expert of you however they have expertise in helping people just like you. Therapist are armed with a toolbox of tools that can assist you with getting back on track.
What are some signs/symptoms
Changes in mood-irritability, angry, aggressive, depressed, more limited
Changes in sleeping-sleeping more than usual, unable to fall asleep, waking up and can’t fall back to sleep, bad dreams
Changes in appetite-eating when not hungry, not having an appetite, this can extend to excessive engagement in activities that disrupt regular daily functioning such as drinking, drug use, shopping, gambling, pornography and other sexual acts
I want to end by sharing the application of some practical tools that you can use to detect and manage anxiety.
Screening tool-the Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD7) and the Geriatric Anxiety Scale (GAS)-this is an evidenced based tool that is supported by the healthcare community. Please keep in mind that this assessment tool is not a stand alone for generating a diagnosis. A full psychosocial interview with a licensed provider must also be administered.
Breathing technique-I like 4 square breathing. You simply breathe in for a slow count of 4; hold that breath for a slow count of 4 and breathe out for a slow count of 4. I add a twist by asking my clients to breathe in a thought of something that brings a smile to their face and joy to their heart. I ask them to hold that feeling in their belly and release the word stress.
PGR technique-start by curling your toes toward your feet, hold and release. Next allow your mind to send a signal to your feet to squeeze and then release. Do the same for your calves, legs, knees, thighs, hamstrings, buttocks, stomach, make a fist and release, arms, squeeze back, lift shoulders and bring back down, move ears towards shoulders, tighten face and release, smile big and release
Mindfulness meditation technique-choose a word or a phrase that makes you feel happy, hopeful, or positive when you see it. Say this phrase “I am________”; I have______” or I will______”