What to Do When Anxiety Is Overwhelming
Hello, anxiety, our old friend…
Here we are again with another once-in-a-generation (or lifetime) event with worldwide impact. I’ve heard from a lot of people that the Russian invasion of Ukraine is causing the metaphorical ground they stand on to feel wobbly, once again.
After all, we’re still trying to figure out our world after two years in a pandemic.
It’s no surprise that anxiety levels have skyrocketed worldwide these past two years. While the overwhelming shock of the first few months of the pandemic gradually settled, I’ve witnessed many of my patients struggle with recurring anxiety with each new wave, and even now wondering if we’re through it or not.
It has, indeed, been a bit relentless. One big thing after another. These days, anxiety is the #1 most common thing I treat in my clinic. It isn’t always what brings people in initially. It’s almost an afterthought, it’s become so common. It’s our new normal, this high-functioning anxiety.
A racing mind is a clue that we have high-functioning anxiety, the feeling that we can’t really relax or let go.
You might feel nervous, restless, or just tense no matter what you do. You might have trouble falling asleep, or wake up in the night with spinning thoughts that won’t settle down. It can make it hard to concentrate and impact your daily life. Anxiety can manifest as headaches and migraines, stomach problems, dizziness, or a racing heart or palpitations. When it gets really bad, anxiety can make you feel a sense of impending doom, and can even turn into a panic attack.
So you see, it’s not “just anxiety”.
It has a big impact on your well-being.
So what can you do about it?
Here are a few tips you can use right now to help calm anxiety.
Follow the 3-3-3 rule.
Name 3 things you see, 3 sounds you can hear, and move 3 parts of your body (like your toes, your fingers, and your nose).
This helps to ground you into your body and get you out of your head. I like to also touch something and focus on its texture to help get me out of my head, like the texture of my shirt.
Practice 6:3 breathing
A quick hack for calming your nervous system is to do this simple breathing technique that works by reducing the carbon dioxide to oxygen ratio in your blood, telling your body it’s ok to relax. The important thing here is to breathe out longer than you breathe in.
Blowing out of your mouth like you’re slowly blowing out a candle, breathe out for a count of 6. Then slowly breathe in through your nose for a count of 3. It should feel calm and easy. Repeat this for at least 6 breaths, as often as needed. In fact, the more often you do this, the faster it will help you relax when you really need it.
Check your thoughts.
Are you fixating on worst-case scenarios? Take a step back mentally and ask yourself what might go right. It can also be really helpful to talk to a friend or loved one. Holding it in can make it feel worse.
Focus on what you CAN control right now.
This is especially true for events that are totally out of our control, like the pandemic. When these things threaten to overwhelm you, find something you can control right now, like cleaning your kitchen or getting some exercise. Just do something, the more physical the better to get you out of your head.
And here are some things you can do habitually to help manage chronic anxiety….
Minimize caffeine, alcohol, and sugar
These can all have a stimulating or dysregulating effect on our bodies and moods. Steady as she goes is our motto with anxiety. Eating a nourishing, whole foods diet that doesn’t spike your blood sugar or ramp you up can go a long way in calming anxiety in the long run.
Exercise, whether it’s walking, dancing, yoga, or mountain climbing, is so helpful to discharge all the pent-up energy we experience with anxiety. Regular exercise is one of the most effective things you can do to manage anxiety. Even better, do it outside where fresh air and nature will help soothe your nervous system.
Regular acupuncture is extremely effective at relieving chronic anxiety. It is most helpful to go weekly for at least a month, then taper to once a month, or whatever works best for you. Acupuncture works to regulate and retrain the nervous system to get out of fight or flight and into a more relaxed state. You’ll feel much better by the end of your visit, and the cumulative effect of multiple visits can vastly improve your day-to-day anxiety.
Use Herbal Medicine
Herbal medicine is a safe and natural way to treat anxiety, and importantly, it helps treat the underlying issues that allow anxiety to take hold. We can also treat many of the side effects of anxiety, like insomnia, palpitations, and more, all at once. A trained herbalist will look at your whole body and use a formula that treats all of you.
Anxiety is more common than you think. You are not alone. Let us know if we can help!
Dr. Jennie Luther, DACM, L.Ac
Family Tree Acupuncture & Wellness