Anxiety Lives Here

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Mental Health Talk – Part 3 of 3

People don’t choose to be anxious. It shows up like an uninvited house guest. Having high levels of anxiety is not a pleasant experience for most people, but anxiety serves a function – it warns us of possible dangers and encourages us to stay safe. Still, when anxiety reaches an unhealthy level, it can make us dysfunctional. In this unprecedented time, most of us are experiencing anxiety about situations that are real and at the same time, uncertain.

People experience anxiety in different ways. For some people, the worry thoughts are easy to identify and challenge. But many people “feel” anxiety in other ways, like aches and pains, irritability or poor concentration. Identifying that these changes are caused by anxiety helps us know what to do next. If you suspect that you or someone in your house is experiencing anxiety:

  1. Don’t get over focused on the symptoms (e.g. irritable mood, headache, etc.). Pretend that you have an X-ray to see underneath the outward signs and figure out what is going on. For example, if a person seems more irritable on the days when s/he needs to go shopping, could the fear of being exposed to the coronavirus be impacting his/her mood?
  2. Try to find a solution that reduces that anxiety without dwelling on the behavioural symptoms. For example, would ordering groceries online for curbside pick-up or delivery be less anxiety provoking than shopping in a store with a mask?
  3. Offer to listen if a person wants to talk about his/her anxiety. Remember this is his/her reality. There is no need for judgment.
  4. Try to find a solution without discounting another person’s feelings. Many anxious thoughts are irrational, but yelling, arguing or getting upset with an anxious person is not an effective treatment.
Because we experience anxiety in different ways, there’s a good chance that one person’s response will clash with another person’s coping strategies. When this happens in the same household, conflict may arise. For example, one person may respond to worries about coronavirus by ignoring or avoiding the news that makes them feel anxious. But that person will probably experience stress if another individual in the house is satisfying his/her nervousness by watching the news and discussing it every day. Or what about a person who suppresses anxiety by keeping his/her house neat and organized, only to find that another person in the house is relaxing and leaving messes everywhere? Every person should get what s/he needs, but that might take some thought, effort and understanding.

Managing relationships includes recognizing anxiety and accepting that people have different ways of coping.

Self-care is an important way to help regulate anxiety. Ironically, many anxious people feel as though they don’t have the time or energy for self-care. Expectations need to be reasonable or else it probably won’t get done. Here are some ways to help yourself and others practice self-care:
  1. Small, mindful activities like listening to music in the car, cuddling with the dog or drinking a cup of tea in the sunshine can provide a much-needed break without much effort.
  2. Treat exercise as medicine for anxiety. Research shows that exercise is good for our brain. Set reasonable goals and get it done. For example, if going to the gym seems impossible, try walking up and down the stairs in your house for 15 minutes each day.  
  3. Help another person with their self-care by giving the gift of time. Offer to cook a meal, babysit or go shopping so he/she can take some time for him/herself.
Acknowledging anxiety doesn’t have to mean that you are encouraging the worries. Self-awareness is a key part of making sure everyone is getting what they need, because often when needs are met, anxiety fades.

If you have concerns about your mental health and feel that you would benefit from additional support, visit our website for mental health resources in York Region and Simcoe County. For emergency, please call 911 or go to the nearest hospital emergency department.