I've been feeling it a lot this fall: people are stressed and anxious. This election season has been tough on everyone, and many people are worried, regardless of political preference. Add to that the upcoming holiday season and it's no wonder people are coming in to my office asking for help with anxiety, insomnia and stress. The following are some of the tips and ideas I've successfully used to help my patients with these problems.
I think a lot of people are particularly discouraged by watching the TV news or spending too much time on social media. It's easy to get sucked into the worst of FaceBook or Twitter, and I guarantee you that this only adds to peoples' stress. You may need to go on a media diet for a while to allow yourself some mental space to heal. Give yourself a week or two of no (or very limited) news consumption and social media use. Use the time to connect with friends in person instead (make that phone call! arrange that coffee date!) - this will enrich your life rather than drag you down further.
2. Pamper yourself
We all need a break to take care of ourselves and find a way to relax. This could mean getting a massage, going to the spa, or simply doing something you love, like art or music, or going to movies or plays. I'm suggesting these things because they tend to take us out of our "fight or flight" mode and allow us to "rest and digest" - the sympathetic vs the parasympathetic nervous system. When you're on constant alert because of a stressful situation, your cortisol levels rise and your adrenal glands secrete lots of the "emergency" neurotransmitters and hormones, like epinephrine (adrenaline) and norepinephrine. These, in turn, raise your blood pressure, cause digestive problems, and, in the long term, contribute to chronic inflammation.
Exercise is one of the best non-pharmacological ways to manage depression and anxiety. Of course, the trouble is that when you're anxious and/or depressed, it can be difficult to get yourself to exercise. The good news is that it doesn't take much to have a good effect, and even if you don't have a gym membership there is plenty you can do from home. Some ideas:
• Go for a daily 10-20 minute walk. Find a friend to go with you and make a standing date, and get out into the fresh air.
• Sign up for a yoga class. This is excellent for physical fitness and stress reduction.
• Home fitness: check out the 7 minute workout. You only need a chair, a timer and a wall. This workout was developed by the American College of Sports Medicine to work out all the major muscle groups in a specific order. It has become very popular so it's easy to find an app or a YouTube video explaining the workout and walking you through it.
4. Get good sleep
Unfortunately, sleep is one of the first things to go when you're stressed out, and this is the time you need your sleep the most! It's normal to have a couple of nights of wakefulness around a stressful event. It's NOT normal when this sleep pattern persists for weeks or months. Practice good sleep hygiene by going to bed at the same time every night and by turning off screens at least an hour before bed. Dim the lights as well - lower levels of light stimulate melatonin production and help you fall asleep. Do a little meditation or gentle yoga before bed, or read a pleasant book to help you fall asleep.
If you find that you still can't sleep or that an unhealthy sleep pattern lasts well after the stressors have lightened, you may need a little more help. There are a number of supplements and herbs that can aid sleep, and occasionally medication is needed as well.
Please call for an appointment if you're feeling that stress is getting the better of you - I'm here to help.