Are you noticing an increase in your anxiety during social distancing? In my practice as a clinical psychotherapist, I have noticed a significant increase in patients with anxiety and depression. Recently with social distancing, our usual life pattern has been disrupted and replaced with isolating ourselves from others. Most of us are no longer working at our jobs or playing gigs like we usually do. Not only that, but our normal pattern of life has been replaced with the unknown. In our daily lives, we basically know what to expect from day to day and what the near future is going to be like.
How do we cope with this? We are basically social people and we either enjoy or are required to interact with others. This interaction keeps our minds busy and provides a sense of belonging. This interaction allows us to have personal expression and interact with people in a familiar social environment we are used to. For most people, this social activity has been a constant behavior for several years. When we are required to abruptly cease this social behavior, a form of a crisis is created which causes the brain to figure out how to deal with this change is social interaction. The human brain also likes to know what to expect and does not enjoy uncertainty. Job loss, change in income, altered social interaction and fear of the unknown are just a few basic presumptions of what many are experiencing. Most of us have some form of anxiety in our subconscious which we do our best with to deal with every day. When we are busy, we feel better. We are focusing on our every day lives which likely pushes our anxiety back into our subconscious. When we have no activity to distract us for extended periods of time, our subconscious is more likely to reveal unfinished business from our past. His can lead to an increase in dreams, irritability, increased anger and decreased ability to cope.
Anxiety definition: Anxiety is the result of threats that appear to be uncontrollable or unavoidable. Anxiety is considered to be a normal reaction to stress.
How do we cope with anxiety? Anxiety is a cycle and do make change, you have to do something to reduce the cycle. If you keep doing the same thing you did, you will get the same thing you always got. Here are a few ideas.
Long tones! Playing long tones is very similar to a mindfulness exercise I give to my patients to help reduce anxiety and treat panic disorder. Play a low c below the staff as soft as possible and focus on steady air. You will feel your shoulders, arms and neck begin to relax. This would also help clear your mind and decrease tension in your body. Here is one of the breathing techniques frequently used without the instrument. Slowly inhale through the nose for 8 seconds, hold your breath for 4 seconds, and slowly breathe out through the mouth for 8 seconds. Practice keeping the air as steady as possible when breathing out. Notice the tension on your shoulders, neck and face start to diminish. This breathing exercise is very similar to doing tones!
Take a break from watching the news. Watching the news can be entertaining and informative. Unfortunately it can also cause additional anxiety if watched too much. Limit the amount of time you watch the news.
Exercise! How does exercise reduce anxiety? According to Dr. John Ratey of the Harvard medical School, exercising can reduce anxiety. Increasing your heart or pulse rate increases certain neurotransmitters in the brain which significantly reduce anxiety. These brain chemicals include serotonin, gamma aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids. Exercise activates frontal part of the brain responsible for executive function and our basic thinking. Have you ever noticed it’s more difficult to focus when your anxious? Exercise helps to control a gland in the brain called the amygdale.
How the brain perceives fear, Have you have ever almost been in a car accident and experienced your body become tense, rapid heart rate, sweating and even dizziness? This response is involuntary and occurs because the brain perceives you are in imminent danger. Another example is if you have experienced fear while watching a horror movie. Although you are not in actual danger during the horror movie, the body and brain perceives fear the same. The primitive response part of the brain (hypothalamus) cannot tell the difference between actual reality and perceived reality and therefore cannot determine if you are in actual danger or perceived danger. The hypothalamus releases chemicals and can help to regulate the body’s temperature. The same psychological response may occur (rapid heart rate, sweating, tense muscles) because the hypothalamus perceives a threat. Your hypothalamus cannot tell the difference between actual danger and perceived danger, therefore a physiological response may occur from a memory that was once perceived as a threat. F.E.A.R. False Evidence Appearing Real * Fear is related to escape and avoidance. * Fear occurs in the presence of an observed threat that is unfamiliar and the solution of the threat is unknown. * The threat can be physical or emotional. * When fear is not worked through, it remains in the subconscious and may manifest into anxiety. * When fear becomes excessive and dominates the consciousness, it can be anxiety. Negative self talk: Question the validity of the negative self talk. Are the negative things your saying about yourself actually true? What positive thoughts will you use to replace the negative thoughts. These negative thoughts serve no purpose and must be re-framed. I hope you and your families are safe, happy and healthy.