Anxiety in the Time of COVID-19
By Kathy Ferguson, RN, Parish Nurse
Do not be anxious about anything, but in every situation, by prayer and petition, with thanksgiving, present your requests to God. And the peace of God, which transcends all understanding, will guard your hearts and your minds in Christ Jesus. Philippians 4:6-7
Dealing with the COVID 19 pandemic has been stressful for everyone. For many individuals who have anxiety (and depression), it has been nearly unbearable. In this month’s article, we will talk about anxiety—how you might feel if you have anxiety and what you can do to manage mild anxiety.
I think that we all have said it—“I am so anxious about…” As a child, I would frequently have stomach aches. I remember my mom taking me to the doctor and him telling her that I had a nervous stomach. About 45 years later it occurred to me that this was my first experience with anxiety. It was not the last time I would have to deal with anxiety. It has been a companion (usually, unwelcome) throughout much of my life—even when I didn’t know exactly what it was. In my mind, I think of anxiety on a continuum. Imagine a straight line. On the far left we have butterflies in your stomach (or in my case “nervous stomach”)—mild symptoms. As the continuum/line continues to the right, symptoms related to anxiety increase. At the far right, we find actual anxiety disorders: OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder), PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), and phobias. The anxiety disorders on the right of the continuum usually require some kind of treatment—psychotherapy or medication.
First of all, we all have situations that lead us to feel anxious—problems at work, taking a test, making a decision, COVID-19. People who have anxiety disorders—think to the right on the continuum– involve more than temporary worry or fear. For a person with an anxiety disorder, the anxiety does not go away and can get worse over time. The symptoms can interfere with daily activities—jobs, school work, and relationships. Research shows that anxiety disorders tend to run in families and that they have a biological basis, much like allergies or diabetes and other disorders.
For many people, lifestyle changes may be enough to cope with the symptoms of mild anxiety. In moderate or severe cases, however, treatment can help you overcome the symptoms and lead a more manageable day-to-day life.
How might you feel if you are anxious?
Nervous, restless or tense
Increased heart rate
Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
Feeling weak or tired
Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry
Having trouble sleeping
Difficulty controlling worry
Having the urge to avoid things that trigger anxiety
So what can you do if you are feeling anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic or anything else?
Here are some natural remedies that may be helpful:
Get enough sleep
When you are stressed you need adequate sleep and rest. Aim for 8 hours a night.
Meditation removes chaotic thoughts from your mind and replaces them with a sense of calm and mindfulness.
The process of taking slow, even, deep breaths can help restore normal breathing patterns and reduce anxiety.
Research has found that yoga can improve symptoms of anxiety.
Using fragrant essential oils promote health and well-being—helps you relax, sleep and reduces heart rate and blood pressure. One of my favorites is lavender. I have a lavender pillow spray that I spray on my pillow at bedtime and use it in my diffuser to relax me.
Regular exercise is good for your physical and emotional health. You may experience anxiety relief for hours after working out.
Eat a healthy diet
Stay hydrated, eliminate processed foods, and eat a healthy diet rich in complex carbohydrates, fruits and vegetables, and lean proteins.
Limit alcohol and caffeine
Alcohol and caffeine can trigger anxiety. Drink water instead.
A weighted blanket
Weighted blankets are said to put your autonomic nervous system into “rest” mode, reducing some of the symptoms of anxiety, providing an overall sense of calm. Some people swear by them. I have never tried one, but I can only imagine feeling claustrophobic (speaking of anxiety) having a 15 pound blanket on top of me.
Talk to someone
Get in touch with a friend or if symptoms become unmanageable, call your health care provider.
Pray for peace and guidance. I always think of the hymn when I am anxious, “What a Friend We Have in Jesus”: Oh, what peace we often forfeit. Oh, what needless pain we bear. All because we do not carry everything to God in prayer.
Mayo Clinic. (2018). Anxiety disorders. https://www.mayoclinic.org/diseases-conditions/anxiety/symptoms-causes/syc-20350961
McDermott, A. (2020). 10 ways to naturally reduce anxiety. https://www.healthline.com/health/natural-ways-to-reduce-anxiety#1