We are living in uncertain times as a result of the global pandemic caused by the coronavirus outbreak and the world-wide lockdown which ensued. I speak to clients from all over the globe and from all walks of life, and it seems to me that one’s anxiety triggers pre-corona tends to be exacerbated multiple fold during these unprecedented times.
We may think that stress and anxiety are one in the same, but they are not. We can feel stressed and experience anxious feelings, but these are fleeting and usually occur as a response to a stressful situation. Once that situation is over, so are the feelings. Anxiety has the tendency to stick around, it doesn’t discriminate, and it can creep up on you unexpectedly.
Tell me, are you familiar with any of the following feelings – increased blood pressure and heart rate, shortness of breath, brain fog, lack of concentration, dizziness, sweating or trembling? These are all signs of anxiety. Some experience it in such an overwhelming fashion that it turns into a panic attack and is sometimes mistaken for a heart attack.
Anxiety isn’t just a condition related to the mind. Genetics, physical health and hormones are all contributing factors, in particular cortisol, oestrogen, progesterone and thyroid hormones. Cortisol is commonly known as our stress hormone and long-term stress or anxiety leads to high cortisol levels and eventually adrenal fatigue.
Once upon a time in the caveman days, a stressful situation was quite literally running for your life. In response, your body would pump out cortisol to send you into ‘fight or flight’ mode and accelerate you to run as fast as you possibly could. Once the danger was gone, so was the need for cortisol. Nowadays, we rush around in a constant state of stress that our body is continuously thinking it needs to run for its life, leading to an overproduction of cortisol and, you guessed it, anxiety.
The increase of anxiety sufferers I believe, has a great deal to do with the fact that more and more so, we connect with each other through social media, rather than on a face-to-face level, and especially of course through lockdown time. The likes of Facebook, Instagram and Snapchat allow us to connect with friends and family no matter where we live, and enrich our experiences through the truckloads of information at our fingertips, however there is in fact a dark side which only a few dare to speak about.
Virtual connections such as Zoom hangouts aside, the problem I see with social media is whilst it might satisfy our people watching desires and hunger for instant knowledge in the short-term; in the long term, it is really quite detrimental to our mental health. Notwithstanding increased feelings of disconnect and loneliness, social media anxiety (yes, this disorder has been coined) is problematic because we have a humanistic tendency to compare. And note, we never seem to compare ourselves to the girl or boy next door. It’s always someone who we perceive to be ‘better’ in some way - better job, better body, better relationship, better kids, better stuff, better life. Then throw into the cauldron the scary fact that over one billion people use fudging apps rendering fake images (dewy skin, skinny waist, longer legs and a defined torso are just a few thumb dances away), we might just be comparing ourselves with an illusion.
This my friends, sets us up for a downward spiral of unpleasantries - ranging from mild unease to feelings of tightness and inability to take in enough air, to intense fear - AKA anxiety. Theodore Roosevelt was right when he said: “Comparison is the thief of joy”. It is also the root of unhappiness, as well as being a causal factor in social media anxiety, because comparison triggers deep-seated feelings of inadequacy and invokes emotions such as jealousy, hatred, envy, bitterness or anger - which are more toxic than an all-night party binge. Worse still, we ferociously follow and frantically flick through posts often late at night and just before we go to bed, which can have a terrible impact of toxicity on our glial cells (supportive cells in the Central Nervous System).
I purposely take regular breaks off social media and so I’ve tried and tested FOMO (fear of missing out) and can tell you it is just a myth. Here’s what I found:
- No one has actually missed you.
- You haven’t actually missed anything.
- Life in the social media world goes on, with or without you.
Pinpointing what causes anxious feelings to arise has been proven to be the most beneficial long-term treatment for sufferers. As well as finding the lesson and positively reframing the symptoms of anxiety. Here are some other sure-fire ways to managing anxiety:
- Around 90% of our serotonin (happy hormone) is produced in the gut so it makes sense our diet reflects our state of mood. When we fill our bodies with heavy, acidic foods naturally our mood fluctuates to low and irritable. Certain foods are known to exacerbate symptoms of anxiety such as caffeine, sugar, alcohol and fried and fatty foods. On the contrary, foods rich in magnesium, zinc, B Vitamins and antioxidants may assist relieving the symptoms of anxiety. These include dark green leafy vegetables, asparagus, broccoli, fruit, legumes, whole grains, nuts, seeds, oysters, cacao, offal and gut-loving foods such as fermented vegetables, kefir and kombucha.
- Reduce Lactate Levels. Perhaps the most significant factor in people suffering from anxiety attacks is an increase of lactic acid in the blood. In a nutshell, lactic acid is the waste product produced through anaerobic metabolism, so the key is to oxygenate the blood through circulation AKA exercise.
- Avoid the fear mongering and side-step the ones who attempt to force-feed their pessimism when you’re innocently out walking the dog. Instead, notice the good in the world, the helpers and the silver linings. There is a lot of scary, negative, and overwhelming information but also are plenty of stories of people donating, sacrificing and supporting one another in miraculous ways. It is important to counterbalance the heaviness with messages of hope.
- When you’re overwhelmed with anxiety and fear it’s easy to think you’re ‘stuck’ in a situation. Remember, it is up to you as the individual to change your circumstances. Taking the lead in your own life is a great step towards managing anxiety. Uplifting self-talk or affirmations allow for positive reinforcement in the brain. It is possible to retrain your brain and alter your thought process.
- No matter how busy you are or how many people you need to please (the need to please is a set up for failure in itself), you always need to find time for the most important person in your life… You! If you give too much of yourself, what will you have left to fill your own cup?
- Meditation. Sounds cliché but the best thing you can do for anxiety is to get out of your head. It doesn’t necessarily mean sitting cross-legged for hours chanting ‘Om’, this has to be your personalised time of complete mindful quiet and peace. Your meditation might be going for a surf, playing your musical instrument, doing breathwork or conscious movement like yoga. Research has also shown that repetitive movement such as knitting, colouring, painting, clay sculpting, jump roping, etc, and especially left-right movement (running, drumming, skating, hopping, etc) are incredibly efficient in managing anxiety.
- Changing lifestyle factors is sometimes not enough. That’s when herbal medicine comes in. Homeobotanical Elixirs have a profound effect in the treatment of anxiety as they work on a cellular level, toning and supporting the nervous system. Choose the right elixir according to the expression of anxiety symptoms. Just sing out if you need professional naturopathic advice in deciding which elixir best treats your anxiety.
- Magnesium, also known as “King of the Nerves” possesses anxiolytic (anti-anxiety) properties by suppressing the release of stress hormones and acting as a blood-brain barrier preventing them entering the brain. In Australia, our soils are significantly deficient in magnesium so supplementation is often required.
- Look to your humble kitchen for some proven anxiety soothers. For example: Nutmeg – known in ancient folk medicine to be a relaxant spice commonly used in the treatment of anxiety.
Chamomile – calms restlessness, insomnia, stress and anxiety.
Cinnamon – a grounding spice that calms the nervous system, boosts mood and cognitive function.
- Talk to someone. There is help and support out there, all you have to do is reach out. Support workers from naturopaths, counsellors, psychologists and nurses are working round the clock online and like me, are here to serve.
- For many of my clients, social media is a non-negotiable for business. These days, it’s how we build profile, build community, build a brand, build interaction and build a business. The way to minimise the destructive elements such as social media anxiety and use it instead as a positive tool, we have to monitor our checking-in to 30 minutes to 1 hour two to three times per day depending on your brand requirements. Never first thing in the morning or last thing at night however, and after food is always best.