Last year was an emotional rollercoaster. While our stress was at an all-time high, anxiety skyrocketed. A report by Mental Health America says 8 in 10 people who took the advocacy group’s online anxiety screening scored in the moderate to severe range of symptoms, a number much higher than before mask-wearing and social distancing became the norm. Part of an emotional response to a stressor in the environment, anxiety is a tool the body uses as an alert that something’s just not right in your environment. “Anxiety is normal, just like stress is normal,” says Michael Biscaro, chief of behavioral health at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. “But it’s the amount or the degree or the severity that tends to make it bad.” Here’s six signs of anxiety, along with coping strategies to counter their adverse effects.
Tension, Nervousness and Worry
These feelings may be accompanied by nausea, increased heart and respiration rates, tremors in the hands, sweaty palms and shaky legs, headaches, even confusion. What to do: Establish an exercise regimen. “Any type of movement can really be helpful,” he says.
People tend to develop rituals to alleviate their anxieties. A person who worries about their safety, for example, may repeatedly check door and window locks before they leave the house. What to do: First, recognize you have a problem. Then you can begin working on developing more reasonable behaviors.
Withdrawal From Family and Friends:
Invitations to meet up with loved ones become obligations. What to do: “It helps just to get moving and to get out of the house, even though the thought is, The sky is going to fall on me as soon as I do that!” Biscaro says. “Once you realize it doesn’t fall, then you can get on with your day.”
Fear of Social Settings:
Anxiety can precipitate or exacerbate feelings of inadequacy. What to do: Biscaro suggests enlisting the help of a trusted friend or relative to assist in facing that fear by discussing it, reassuring that a social disaster most likely won’t occur, and checking to make sure appointments and engagements are kept.
Irritability and Impatience:
Gone is the ability to grin and bear relatively minor aggravations such as a driver cutting off a lane of traffic. “People become angry,” Biscaro says. “They yell at folks.” What to do: “Put the earbuds in, play some enjoyable tunes,” Biscaro advises. “Close your eyes. Count to 10 in your mind. Take some slow, deep, controlled breaths.”
“You wake up because you forgot to do X, Y and Z or you’re thinking about what you have to do the next day, who you’ve got to take care of, whatever the situation might be,” he says. What to do: Get out of bed for 15 minutes and do something snore-inducing — begin reading the directions for assembling a piece of furniture, for example.