How to Lower Anxiety and Fear In Times of High Stress
Updated: Sep 2, 2020
As we all know with COVID running rampant the last few months, there has been so much focus on fear, worry, anxiety, and how we can avoid exposure. It’s heavy.
I want to shift our focus today and look at what we CAN control.
For those of you who don’t know me, I am an oncology physician assistant and a certified health coach. I’m blessed to work with cancer patients to help them find peace and empowerment on their cancer journey. We work together to implement tools and resources that restore lasting health and wellness.
I’ve found so many parallels between the worry and anxiety we are all collectively experiencing now with COVID and the fear and anxiety my cancer patients go through. If you’ve worked with me, you know that focusing on the things you can’t control becomes a vicious cycle.
I'm frustrated that in all the COVID news, there hasn’t been any talk about all the ways our bodies are beautifully and wonderfully made to protect us. As I teach on three core pillars of healing: Mind, body, and soul, let’s explore a couple of these pillars here and the tools we can implement to help us combat stress and fear during these times:
I believe the core of disease stems from our mindset and emotions. Although it’s easier to focus on the practical parts of nutrition and exercise, we need to look at the mind because the mind-body connection is so powerful. Let’s start with one of the many tools I use with my 1:1 patients: Mindfulness.
Mindfulness is bringing awareness to the moment and having the capacity of understanding what feelings and thoughts you’re having. Sometimes, we can get so carried away with stress or anxiety, you end up reacting subconsciously.
As soon as you feel worry creeping in, I invite you to place one hand on your chest and one hand over your belly button. This can help you feel like you’re covered in a blanket - it brings awareness to your body and allows the power of the fear to dissipate.
Close your eyes and take deep, cleansing breathes - in through your nose and out through your mouth. Focus on the expansion of your hands as you do this deep breathing. If you’re having a hard time slowing down your breath, count to four as you breathe in through your nose, hold for two seconds, and breathe out through your mouth for four seconds. The breathe is linked to our autonomic nervous system, and by controlling slower, deeper breathes you override your autonomic nervous system - the fight or flight response.
I think of this as a way to step off that runaway train of thought and back onto the platform to watch that train go by rather than being carried away by the thought. You'll still have these runaway thoughts, but having an awareness around them helps you jump off that train ride of anxiety and fear.
The other thing that has me worried about the "stay at home orders" with COVID is that we're not spending enough time in the great outdoors, which I believe is one of the greatest healers we can utilize. I encourage you to go outside for walks when you can.
There are so many benefits to fresh air and the serotonin that comes about through movement. Also, Vitamin D has been scientifically shown to improve our immune system.
Some studies show sufficient Vitamin D levels can combat anxiety and depression. One breast cancer study even showed that sufficient levels of Vitamin D led to lower chances of recurrent breast cancer. You can get Vitamin D from food and supplements, but the best source is of course the sunlight.
With so much hype around sunscreen and preventing skin cancer, the only unfortunate part is that sunscreen blocks your body’s ability to absorb Vitamin D. So, I encourage my cancer warrior to get out in the sun with arms and legs exposed during non-peak hours (8am-10am and 5pm-7pm) with no sunscreen for about 20-30 minutes of direct sun exposure.
Do you utilize mindfulness and Vitamin D on a daily basis? Let me know what other tools you use to help with fear and anxiety!