As the days blur together and the news continues to roll out about the long-term impact of the coronavirus crisis, uncertainty about our health, finances and future is at an all-time high. But rather than resign to the anxiety, there are simple steps you can take to help you better face life’s uncertainties.
The human brain isn’t wired to tolerate uncertainty, but it is wired to be alert to any threat. Your brain is constantly updating your world, making judgements about what is safe or what isn’t. If your brain cannot see what’s around the corner, it cannot keep you out of harm’s way and therefore, assumes the worst.
‘Fear of the unknown’ is a fundamental reaction, hard-wired into our biology to help keep us safe. When certainty is questioned, our body releases stress hormones such as adrenaline and ignites our ‘fight or flight’ response.
Anxiety occurs when your body’s ‘fight or flight’ defence works continuously. An ‘imbalance’ in the way the body processes environmental and sensory stimuli leads to a disproportionate ‘excitatory’ response, and excessive release of neurotransmitters between nerve cells in the brain, leading to overstimulation of the nervous system and feelings of anxiety.
Commenting on common symptoms and treatments for anxiety, GP and media medic Dr Sarah Jarvis says: ‘Some people feel an uncontrollable sense of dread or recurring worries about the future. Some have difficulty concentrating or an inability to relax. Others feel tense and have difficulty sleeping. Whatever your symptoms may be, there is a general feeling of tension, nervousness, panic, and worry that cause you to feel anxious.
‘According to The Associations of Independent Multiple Pharmacies (AIMP), there has been a 10–15% increase in anti-anxiety prescriptions since the UK entered lockdown. In my general practice, I recognise that anxiety affects people in different ways and that not all experiences or symptoms warrant prescription medication. As such I welcome a range of treatment and support options, including pharmaceutical quality lavender oil capsules and other non-prescription options such as mindfulness and talking therapies.’
While you cannot make your fears and anxieties just ‘go away,’ there are simple and effective ways to manage them. Many are essential ingredients for a healthy lifestyle, and adopting them can improve your overall emotional and physical well-being:
- Recognise and acknowledge your feelings. Face your feelings about fear and the transition you are going through, especially when the change is imposed and beyond your control. Simply writing down your thoughts and feelings can help you understand them more clearly. Keeping a journal can also help you gain control of your anxiety and improve your mental health.
- Avoid dwelling on things you cannot control and focus on what you can. When uncertainty strikes, many people immediately imagine the worst-case scenario. Get out of the habit of ruminating on negative thoughts. Instead, focus on the things that are within your control, even if it’s as simple as weekly meal planning. Establish routines to give your days and weeks some comforting structure.
- Be kind to yourself. Don’t let uncertainty or anxiety derail your healthy routines. Make efforts to eat well, exercise and get enough sleep. Remind yourself that it might take time for the stressful situation to resolve and be patient with yourself in the meantime.
- Try a traditional herbal remedy, such as Kalms Lavender. Lavender oil has a long-standing association with relieving symptoms of mild anxiety, such as stress and nervousness. Over 15 clinical trials have shown that a daily capsule of uniquely prepared lavender oil can relieve the symptoms of anxiety in just one to two weeks. Benefits are
comparable to commonly used anti-anxiety medications without problems such as sedation, addiction or interaction with other medications.
- Seek support. It’s normal to feel a bit worried, scared or helpless during uncertain times. Remember: it is OK to share your concerns with others you trust – and doing so may help them too. If you cannot speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, there are plenty of helplines you can try instead.
Dr Sarah Jarvis is a GP, GP trainer and fellow of the Royal College of General Practitioners.
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