While it’s hard for most Americans to cope with the anxiety and fear of dealing with viral enemies, lockdowns and economic strife, experts worry that some people will begin to fall apart as the threat of COVID-19 drags on.
“We’re living constantly with a level of fear, a heightened state of arousal, much like the Vietnam vets and Iraqi vets live with every day,” says trauma counselor Jane Webber, a professor of counselor education at Kean University in New Jersey. She tells CNN that our nervous systems can stay in this state for only so long before we crash.
Psychologist Shauna Springer, who is an expert on post traumatic stress disorder, or PTSD, has coined a name for this heightened state of arousal. She calls it “chronic threat response,” according to CNN.
Here are signals that our nervous systems may be on the verge of breaking down:
- Poor sleep. Nightmares and poor sleep quality are two signs that anxiety is threatening our mental health, says Springer, author of a new book called, “Warrior: How to Support Those Who Protect Us." It may be helpful to practice good sleep hygiene.
- Focusing on bad news. According to CNN, spending hours in your “foxhole” watching alarming media reports can signal a shift to the dark side.
- Loss of interest or pleasure. Springer says it’s a serous sign when we can’t find pleasure in anything and start to feel emotionally numb.
- Helplessness. Crippling anxiety that leads to panic and a sense of hopelessness, is another signal that we need help, says the expert.
- Thoughts of suicide. Obviously, this symptom requires immediate attention. Call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.
Springer offers tips on how to help diffuse our anxiety:
- Stay connected with friends and family not only via social media but by phone which is more personal and effective.
- Take deep breaths. Breathing deeply, says Webber, is a highly effective way of calming the nervous system. It is simple and doesn’t cost a dime.
- Practice gratitude. Science has shown that people who practice gratitude are happier and more optimistic, according to CNN.
- Try to unplug. There’s a difference between being informed and obsessing about the news, Dr. Gregory Jantz, Ph.D., a behavioral disorders expert tells Good Housekeeping. “Leaning on social media as your source of information about COVID-19 will increase your anxiety,” he says.
- Stay active. Exercise, dance, do yoga — keep your body moving, say experts. According to Good Housekeeping, exercise combats the physiological symptoms of anxiety such as sweating, tension, nausea or constant negative thoughts.
- Smile. The old saying that “laughter is the best medicine” applies to treating the anxiety of our times. “Remember, you can’t be anxious and smile at the same time,’ Webber tells CNN. Watch funny movies or comedy routines.
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