TLC Virtual Resiliency

Don’t Let Anxiety Stand in Your Way

We all know that twinge of anxiety that we get regarding certain situations that make us uneasy. The feeling of anxiety usually doesn’t feel good or comfortable, but luckily for us, anxiety isn’t all bad. In fact, it helps motivate us to complete things and tackle a situation. The Yerkes-Dodson law posits that there is an optimal level of anxiety for performance. Too little anxiety and we won’t have any motivation, too much anxiety and we won’t be able to focus on that task. Our effectiveness can become depleted as anxiety takes over your body. 

Effects of Stress on the Body

Regardless of whether anxiety is  “good” or “bad,” all levels of anxiety are caused by the same biological processes. With the onset of stress, our sympathetic (SNS) and parasympathetic (PNS) nervous system is set off.1 The SNS contributes to the fight or flight response and causes the release of the hormones adrenaline and cortisol. These hormones make our heart beat faster, our breathing rate increase, our pupils dilate, and our blood flows away from our digestive tract and toward our muscles, preparing us for fight or flight. Once the crisis is over, the body recovers with the help of the PNS, which generally opposes the effects of the SNS. 

While short-term stress can be adaptive, chronic stress can drain the body. Chronic stress happens when we experience prolonged stress, such as the Covid-19 pandemic. With repeated activation of the nervous system, stress can negatively affect other bodily systems (e.g. cardiovascular health, immune system functioning). This can diminish your physical and mental wellbeing. 

So what can we do to alleviate anxiety that impedes our effectiveness? 

  1. Deep breathing exercises. Put one hand over your heart and the other over your stomach. Take a few breaths… Notice, which hand moved more? If you’re like most people, you probably breathe into your chest more. Deliberate breathing practices, where you breathe into your belly, will help you breathe in more oxygen, which helps restore energy to balance out our fight and flight response and control anxiety. 
  1. Take a time out. If you start to feel too anxious or stressed, take some time to relax. You can meditate, practice yoga, go for a walk or run, listen to music, or anything that will help you cope with stress in a healthy way. Avoid caffeine and alcohol as they will only increase anxiety. 
  1. Identify things that you can control in a situation. This will help you problem solve and take action during stressful times. 
  1. Stay focused on the present. By its definition, anxiety involves uneasiness about uncertain outcomes (i.e., the future). So focusing on the present by identifying actions you can take right now and remaining mindful of your current surroundings is important for reducing anxiety.
  2. Try to identify anxiety triggers. The more you recognize specific triggers, the better prepared you are to cope with anxiety. If you are prepared, you can compensate, or even prevent anxiety, with coping skills that work for you (e.g. breathing techniques, muscle relaxation).

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