Tips on Managing Fear and Anxiety

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As the world faces the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us are feeling fear, anxiety, and stress. To help you tackle these, I’ve taken highlights from Dr. Caroline Leaf’s article, “How to Manage Fear, Anxiety and Panic During a Pandemic (Or Any Acute Event), Specifically Related to the Current Coronavirus (COVID-19)“. Dr. Caroline Leaf is a cognitive neuroscientist and communication pathologist and you can learn more about her work here.

Bring Balance to Fear

One of the first things Dr. Leaf mentions is that we must balance fear with truth and not give in to fearful thinking. Fearful thinking can actually make us more vulnerable to getting ill because it “shifts our bodies into toxic stress, which can cause the blood vessels around the heart to constrict”. This causes less blood flow and causes less oxygen to get to the brain.

Unmanaged stress also leads to an increase in prolactin and ACTH levels, which affects your stress balancing axis and can compromise your immune system. Anxiety affects the amygdala region in the brain, which is where we process emotions. Having too much activity here as a result of anxiety can cause us to “overreact, over-generalize, and even catastrophize situations, which often leads to miscalculations and more fear.” We can definitely see the effects of this in stores nationwide!

Don’t let your fear and anxiety turn into the nocebo effect, which is the opposite of the placebo effect. This is where “fearing something may just make it come true”.

So, What Can I Do?

We’ve all heard the basics by now about washing your hands for at least 20 seconds, avoiding large crowds, and ensuring you have enough medication and food supply. In addition to those, you can do your best to eat mindfully and avoid junk food to help keep your body healthy. Have foods high in Vitamin C such as citrus fruits, red bell peppers, broccoli, kale, strawberries, kiwi, and guava. Did you stock up on pasta? Add some garlic to it, as it stimulates cells in your immune system called Natural Killer cells that are “responsible for your body’s initial immune response of killing off a virus or pathogen”.

Raw honey has high levels of antioxidants that help fight free radicals that can harm the immune system. It also has antibacterial properties that have been used to treat UTIs in pregnant women. You can also eat probiotic-rich foods including yogurt, miso, and bone broth.

Above all, we must practice good mind-management

Remember that for the majority of us, if we do catch the virus we will only have symptoms similar to the flu – and we’ve all had that before. Doctors are even predicting that once you catch the virus, you will likely be immune to it for a least a year (hopefully longer).

Additionally, we must remember that there will always be uncomfortable changes and uncertainties in life. Stress affects the mind, brain, and body. Instead of adding more stress to your daily life, try to recognize that some things are out of our control and focus on accepting, dealing with, and tolerating the issue at hand. Think of ways in which you can learn from this situation. Dr. Leaf states, “This decision will create a positive feedback loop between brain and mind, elevating your coping strategies to a whole new level”.

Stop. Think. Don’t Just React!

When you react to something, there is a 90-second chemical response that happens in your body. After that, any further emotional response is your choice to remain in that “emotional loop”. In other words, if you are still feeling panicked and anxious, re-evaluate your emotions and what thoughts you’re thinking. You may be, “re-stimulating the same circuitry, which means that you are having the same physiological response over and over again”. Remember that no matter what is happening around you, only YOU are in charge of how you react.

Managing Stress

In addition to taking control of your thoughts and emotions, you can also practice yoga, meditation, and breathing techniques. Most people are stuck at home, so why not take some time for yourself to relax your body and mind? One simple breathing technique you can try is to inhale for 3 seconds, hold for 3 seconds, then exhale for 3 seconds. You can also take a long walk, read a good book, do something you find fun and entertaining, and try to keep your daily routine as normal as possible.

This has been a highlight of Dr. Caroline Leaf’s article so for more helpful tips and information on managing fear and anxiety, please view her full article here.