In June of this year, USA Facts reported that anxiety amongst Americans was at its lowest since the start of the pandemic. In the months since, anxiety has increased significantly as the Delta Variant is filling up hospitals and felling even some of our healthiest.
Dealing with this sort of anxiety can be overwhelming at times. Anxiety disorder affects some 40 million adults worldwide, including many of the psychologists, psychiatrists, counselors, and therapists to whom we look for guidance.
Anxiety can manifest itself in numerous ways, from insomnia to headaches to back pain. It can also lead to distraction, resulting in falls or accidents (like with sharp objects). How do therapists handle their own anxiety? Here are some of the tools they use.
Brown or Pink Noise Machine
You've heard of white noise machines and may have one in your bedroom to help you fall asleep. A brown noise machine is a deeper, richer sound. By removing the higher frequencies that accompany white noise, brown noise is a bit "rougher."
For example, if you have a gentle rainfall on your white noise machine, it would be sound more like a heavy rain on a brown noise machine. Natural sounds like thunder, a waterfall (instead of a brook), and steady wind (rather than occasional windchimes) with more bass tones and low-frequency concentrated energy make up brown noise.
Pink noise is a combination of the high frequencies of white noise and the low frequencies of brown noise. It is a smoother sound than white noise and offers a bit more variety of sound levels than brown noise. If you live in a home with a lot of coming and going, pink noise may help cover up the sounds of car engines and closing doors and help you stay asleep longer.
If you live in a less active home, the soothing low-frequency sounds of brown noise may help you fall asleep faster.
It is worth experimenting with each type of noise to see which helps relax you best and enables you to stay asleep longer. This device from Sonorest, has all three noise types.
A jigsaw puzzle is a great way to relax if you have a natural ability to see how shapes fit together. If numbers are your thing, sudoku is a good alternative. Crossword puzzles, match-3 games like Candy Crush, WordFinder, and mazes all work to help calm your brain and keep you focused on less stressful thoughts.
Solving puzzles causes your brain to produce dopamine, an essential part of your body's reward system. It affects movement, memory, and focus. Healthy levels of dopamine drive us to seek and repeat pleasurable activities, while low levels can have adverse physical and psychological impacts. When dopamine is released, it plays an important role in mediating anxiety.
It isn't necessary to put on a Wyndham Hill piano CD to benefit from music's calming and distracting benefits. Some people swear by Bonnie Raitt after a painful loss, while others feel the need to put on dance music and bop around the house to relieve tension.
Therapists say heavy metal, rap, and dissonant music might not be the best choices for reducing stress, but some music may bring on happy memories, resulting in relaxed muscles, lower blood pressure, and even smiling.
Smiling not only offers a mood boost but helps our bodies release cortisol and endorphins that provide numerous health benefits, including reduced blood pressure, increased endurance, and reduced pain.
BlueTooth headphones, specifically designed for sleep, are a comfortable way to listen to calming music or meditations as you lie down or lie back to rest. Made from soft, stretchable material, you can sync it with your phone or tablet.
Channeling your energy into something creative is another great distraction from anxiety-inducing thoughts.
Coloring has the ability to relax the fear center of your brain, the amygdala. It creates the same state as meditating by reducing the thoughts of a restless mind. This generates mindfulness and quietness, which allows your mind to get some rest.
You've been reading about weighted blankets for quite some time now and may wonder what all the fuss is about ad how it works.
Your autonomic nervous system — which controls basic bodily functions such as breathing, digestion, sweating, and shivering — prepares your body for stress or rest. This is often called the fight or flight response.
The pressure of weighted blankets puts your autonomic nervous system into "rest" mode by providing a calm-inducing amount of pressure on your entire body, similar to the feeling of being hugged, swaddles, or held. This reduces some of the symptoms of anxiety, such as a quickened heart rate or breathing, providing an overall sense of calm.
Exercise doesn't have to mean running 5 miles or getting on a stair-climber for 30 minutes. A 15-minute stroll around your block can help get your circulation going and your muscles loosening at even a slow to moderate pace.
Exercise reduces stress hormones and stimulates the production of endorphins, which together help foster relaxation. And, you can use your sleep headphones while exercising on cold days to help keep you moving and warm.
Routines and rituals are helpful when dealing with anxiety. Whether you sit down at 4 PM each day for a cup of tea, or you make yourself a cup of coffee to have at your desk each morning, having a routine does two things. First, it keeps you focused on the task at hand, limiting the amount of time you have to fret or fester, and second, it gives you something to look forward to during an otherwise busy or stressful day.
Since tea has more caffeine than a cup of coffee, you may want to consider a relaxing tea blend like Yogi Honey-Lavender Stress Relief or Traditional Medicines Cup of Calm. Mint, Matcha, Rose, and Chamomile teas also have soothing effects.
It's pretty intuitive that reducing stress can improve your overall health and lower your risks for conditions like heart disease, obesity, high blood pressure, and depression. Good health leads to good habits and more optomistic thinking. We'll get through it with careful planning, healthy distractions, faster healing, and mindfulness.
What are your favorite stress reducing activities?
Sources: Mayo Clinic, Cleveland Clinic, NIH, Health.gov, vendor sites linked.