by Dr. Brittany Schamerhorn, ND
With all of the recent and rapid changes that have occurred, many people have experienced an increase in stress and anxiety. Many of us had to quickly change plans and were forced to adjust to situations that are far from stress free.
We know that stress and anxiety impact our health and wellness in the long term. They leave us feeling reactive, uneasy, and can result in issues with sleep, focus, and our mental health.
So, what can we do about stress and anxiety?
It’s okay to not be okay
Anxiety and stress are a normal response when situations occur that cause unforeseen shifts and changes in our lives. Everyone impacted will respond differently, and some people may have a harder time coping than others.
When we are okay with not being okay, it also makes it easier for us to connect with those around us who are feeling the same. Sharing concerns and being able to discuss them with our friends, family, and loved ones allows us to feel supported, which is crucial when it comes to coping with stress and anxiety.
Focus on health basics
Don’t forget about the basics of sleep, movement, and nutrition. These few things often fall aside when life gets busy and overwhelming. But we all know how important these basics are when it comes to our overall health, wellness, and resilience.
Start with small steps! Do not stress yourself out further by trying to change everything in one day. If you know that regular exercise and movement is what makes you feel good, start there.
Set an achievable goal for movement each day. For some that may be only 5 to 10 minutes – and that is okay! Others might start with cooking a healthy meal, meditating, reading, or going to bed earlier.
The first step will be different for everyone, but it is important to make each step attainable and not overwhelming.
Many people find it challenging to sleep in times of anxiety and stress. Implementing a calming bedtime routine and good sleep hygiene is a smart first step to address this. Good sleep hygiene tips include:
- don’t use electronics before going to bed
- keep your room dark and quiet (use an eye mask and ear plugs if needed)
- avoid stimulants like caffeine and sugar too close to bedtime
- have a consistent bedtime.
A bedtime routine needs to be consistent and the same each night. It’s a nudge to your system that it’s time to wind down and prepare for sleep.
If you need more support when it comes to sleep and you experience issues with falling and/or staying asleep, I encourage you to reach out to a health care provider to determine what other treatments may help you.
Routine and Structure
In a time when everything feels like it is out of our control, it’s important to realize that there is always something you can control. If your daily schedule has been thrown for a loop, create a new routine.
Keeping a routine and structure to our life helps us cope. Even if the routine looks different than our ideal, it’s helpful to have an idea of what we want to do each day. Remember to include self-care activities such as movement, healthy meals, and connection with others — even if it’s by phone or a virtual meeting or chat.
When our routines shift, we need to remember to keep the helpful tools in place that we have already implemented. Continue to engage in activities that were a part of your routine that supported you like medications, supplements, and habits such as meditation and journaling.
Meditation and Mindfulness
The benefits of meditation and mindfulness when it comes to relieving stress and anxiety are well known and have been well researched. The challenge comes when people feel like they don’t have time or they have tried it and think they “failed”.
Whenever trying something new, we need to keep our expectations realistic. We wouldn’t expect to go out for our first run and successfully run a marathon, so why do we expect this from our brains? Start small and use the tools available. There are many apps and resources that will help guide you through.
When nothing seems to help
Stress and anxiety can be a struggle for anyone, and there are a variety of tools that can be used to help support you. And sometimes there can be other issues preventing you from coping and managing as you usually would (such as nutritional deficiencies and hormone imbalance).
If you are having trouble coping and/or feel like something else is wrong, I encourage you to reach out for support.
Dr. Brittany Schamerhorn, ND, is a naturopathic physician with a focus in women’s health, stress management, gut health, hormones, and mental health. She helps patients go from tired of being tired to energized and resilient. It is her goal and passion to motivate and inspire people to take control of their health and wellness, while empowering them with the right education and tools that allow them to achieve their health goals and feel like themselves again.