“You may find it helpful to bring a family member or close friend with you to your appointment.”
This was the sentence on my Mum’s hospital letter following her lung scans.
My fear factor soared from a 2 to a 10. Alarm bells went off in my head, triggering thoughts like - that doesn’t sound good, especially inviting a patient to bring a companion with them during a pandemic.
I tried to stay calm and reassure my Mum that everything would be ok, even though we were in unchartered waters.
Dealing With Anxiety and Uncertainty
I’m happy to report that my Mum’s consultant is 80% certain the nodule on her lung is benign. Her biopsy results didn't show any malignant tissue, but the hospital will continue to monitor her with future scans.
Given my recent anxiety surrounding my Mum's health, plus the ongoing COVID-19 situation I thought it was a good time to talk about the body’s response to fear and uncertainty, as well as share tips with you on how to deal with anxiety.
Not only are feelings of anxiety an unpleasant experience, unresolved anxiety isn't good for our health. Anxiety that gets trapped in the body will likely gain a mental and physical hold.
While uncertainty impacts us all differently and can bring up conflicting emotional responses, for the sake of our health, we don’t want to be living long-term with feelings of fear and anxiety.
You may not be surprised to know that uncertainty and fear causes more anxiety than perhaps any other single factor in life.
And the level of fear factor experienced determines how intense the body's stress response is.
Here's some typical bodily reactions to fear and anxiety:
Fear and anxiety can make you sweat, increase your heart rate, blood pressure and bodily tension, mess with your blood sugar levels and pump up adrenaline levels to make you extremely alert. This physical response is also known as the “fight or flight” stress response.
Fear and anxiety can lead to accelerated ageing, weaken your immune system and subsequently impact your health, such as causing gastrointestinal problems and hormone imbalance.
Your body also increases the flow of hormones to an area of the brain known as the amygdala to help you focus on the presenting anxiety and store it in your memory. This biochemical reaction means the brain will immediately act on signals from the amygdala.
Instead of more rational processing, it becomes harder to think objectively, regulate emotions, read non-verbal cues and reflect before acting when you’re in an impulsive, fearful, anxious state.
7 Tips to Combating Anxiety
1. Double or even triple your self-care efforts
Practice self-compassion, patience, acceptance, warmth, and kindness towards yourself. Shower your body with love in the form of more self-care activities.
Take hot, soothing baths or showers, commit to gentle exercise and stretching that doesn’t add more burden to existing stress levels, and have a massage to release any tension that you may be storing in your body.
It’s easy for fear and anxiety to get trapped in the body, so anything that helps you release this is very worthwhile.
2. Avoid negative people & media
When you’ve got worries whirling around inside your head the last thing you want to hear about, are other peoples’ bad experiences, or to read / listen to news that stimulates the “fight or flight” stress response.
Everybody is different and every situation is different. Focus on yourself, and supporting those affected if it’s a family member or close friend that you’re concerned about.
3. Slacken your schedule
Don’t over-commit - whether it’s work, social or family. Make sure your manager at work knows that you’re going through a tough time and you can’t cope with additional workload.
I know some employers and bosses are more compassionate than others, but if they’re not that understanding at least they’re aware of your circumstances should you need to take some time off. If you work for yourself, do what you can to relax your schedule temporarily.
4. Nourish your body with healthy food & wholesome meals
Preparing healthy, tasty meals while listening to your favourite music will help motivate you to eat right as well as switch off from fear and anxiety, while supplying your body with nourishment and energy.
You may be emotionally eating or have lost your appetite. Whatever it is, eating delicious food that tastes healthy will foster strength, and support your body while it’s dealing with excess stress.
Meals don’t have to take forever to prepare. You just need to be well-stocked with plenty of fresh vegetables and whole fruit, grass fed / natural meat, and fish, unprocessed whole grains, pulses and other core staples that you use.
If you don’t want to go shopping order online. Supermarkets aren’t the only ones that deliver to your door. There are several farm shops around that can supply you with amazing-tasting, nutrient-dense food. If you live in the UK and want to know who’s out there, check out Riverford, Eversfield, Abel and Co.
5. Increase your water consumption to prevent dehydration
You're more likely to dehydrate faster when you’re feeling fearful or anxious because your heart rate is up and you’re breathing is heavier, so you lose fluid quicker. When you’re even mildly dehydrated cortisol levels in the body increase.
Cortisol production is triggered by the stress response. To help reduce the stress load on your body and cope better with anxiety, drink more water.
If you’re not a water drinker carry a bottle around with you, and try taking a few sips every 15 minutes. If you drink a lot of fizzy drinks try swapping it for fizzy water.
6. Nourish your mind
Find ways to stay positive, whether you’re waiting for news about your health or that of a loved one, or going through a difficult time, or simply just anxious about life in general.
It’s easy for your mind to consume and engage in every negative possibility going. Stick with the facts only, and use mindfulness practices to let go of any other disruptive thoughts that attempt to seep into your consciousness.
Watch a comedy, meet or talk with people who make you feel good, and likewise indulge in hobbies that lift your spirit and help you to tune out and stay upbeat.
7. Prime yourself for quality sleep
Sleep needs to be the most important part of your day, so create ideal conditions by doing everything you can within your daytime, including all of the above, to make sure you sleep well.
When you‘re fearful, anxious and the body is under more stress it’s not the time to be skimping on sleep, even though it’s often the hardest time to get a good night’s sleep. Your organs really need you to devote them time for repair and restoration. The majority of which takes place when your body is at rest.
You know how hard it is dealing with pain when you’re tired, well it’s no different when you’re stressed because sleep deprivation sparks low mood, low energy and low immunity.
Alcohol, technology and stimulating conversations or food, like caffeinated beverages or snacks, 3 hours before bedtime are not conducive for a good night's sleep.
Calming herbal teas are great, but be careful not to drink diuretic teas like chamomile too close to bedtime if you don’t want to be getting up in the night.
Pillow mists have also become very popular as part of a healthy sleep hygiene routine, and I love this naturally fresh SO Sleepy one from Tropic that you can find here.
When you’re trying to switch off from worrying thoughts you may struggle to get off to sleep, or wake up in the night and find it hard to get back to sleep again. If this happens, try either of these two exercises to help you drift off:
1. Visualise a place where you feel calm and relaxed, or a person that makes you feel that way, or remember a memory that made you feel secure and relaxed, and let calmness wash over you.
2. Engage in a breathing exercise that focuses your mind and relaxes your body. For steps on how to do this, check out my post - The Anti-Inflammatory Breathing Technique That Reduces Stress Instantly.
Your body will thank you for giving it this much-needed time, in those difficult times.
Leave a comment below telling me an experience - you’ve already overcome.
This blog post was based on recent anxiety surrounding my Mum's health, work I’ve been doing with clients and the ongoing COVID-19 situation. I hope you found it helpful.
Hi, I'm an Integrative Nutrition Health Coach, Pain & Stress Management Therapist, and Certified Functional Medicine Practitioner.
I help people elevate their mind and body health by addressing diet, nutrition and lifestyle symptoms. Let's work together to optimize how you feel and function.
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