How to Manage Your Anxiety about Global Affairs
Anxiety is the latest health epidemic.
Feelings of dread, irritability, and unease have gripped millions of Americans. This has worsened after two years of the COVID-19 pandemic and is further exacerbated by military attacks in Ukraine. These global events are creating a wake of emotional trauma in both children and adults. The fear of nuclear war and a widespread disease can be re-traumatizing for those who lived through the Cold War and previous public health epidemics.
More than 40 million adults in the U.S. are diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, and many others are suffering without seeking help. During challenging times like these, don’t wait until your mental health is on the rocks, teetering toward a breaking point.
“Unrelenting thoughts of impending doom can begin in response to real events and then escalate to become a pervasive sense of being unsafe,” says Spencer Eth, M.D., a psychiatrist with the University of Miami Health System who specializes in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). “There’s a difference between the experience of protective fear in a situation of actual danger and an anxious over-reaction that may occur from personal emotional conflicts.”
What does anxiety feel like?
“Traumatic events can leave a long-lasting effect on one’s mental health. Traumatic events that take place over a longer period may also lead to emotional blunting,” says Mousa Botros, M.D., a UHealth psychiatrist with expertise in anxiety disorders.
“Re-experiencing similar triggering events can lead to the emergence of symptoms such as irritability, depression, anxiety, anger, and startle reactions.”
Anxious thoughts can cause poor frustration tolerance, difficulties with sleep, and fatigue. Anxiety can also manifest in physical symptoms like worsening headaches, nausea, and muscle spasms. Self-medicating with alcohol, drugs, or risky behaviors are also warning signs.
If you’re struggling with anxiety, people in your life may let you know that you don’t seem like yourself. Do you find yourself frequently venting your frustrations and fears or pulling away from people who care about you?
“This can take a toll on your relationships, friendships, or work performance,” Dr. Botros says.
When you feel anxious, what should you do?
“Self-awareness is a helpful skill in this difficult time. We should strive to feel compassionate and kind towards ourselves, as we would towards others. We should also be open to receiving a healthy dose of care when needed,” says Dr. Botros.
The following self-care techniques may help reduce your anxiety and stress:
- To help restore your energy, structure your days (with periods of activity, downtime, and sleep).
- Try thoughtful meditation to calm racing thoughts and help moderate your reactions.
- Exercise regularly to lower blood pressure, improve sleep, increase energy, and boost mood.
- Maintain your interest in hobbies, new experiences, socializing, and activities that inspire joy.
- Spend more time outdoors. Exercising in nature has even greater mental health benefits.
- Don’t isolate yourself. Stay engaged with loved ones and pets.
- Eat more whole foods (rather than processed and fast foods) to support your brain health.
- Do something for someone else (like volunteering or helping a friend). Being productive and helpful can feel satisfying and distract you from anxious thoughts.
- Reduce your drinking. Alcohol is a depressant that can alter your mood and interrupt your sleep.
If watching the news about the pandemic and the conflict in Europe triggers your anxiety, limit your exposure.
“Although it may be helpful to stay informed, obsessively following the latest news feeds is more often associated with anxiety than relief,” Dr. Eth says.
When self-help measures aren’t enough to manage your symptoms, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
“As we follow traumatic events, it’s vital to be mindful of our well-being and seek help when needed,” Dr. Botros says.
“A clinical evaluation can provide a greater understanding of your stress and coping skills. Talking with a professional takes place in an environment governed by empathy, confidentiality, and unbiased therapeutic concern. Talk therapy can help maintain awareness of your thoughts and behaviors. It can help you build an insightful set of tools to recognize anxiety thoughts and how to cope with them. This can ultimately lead to a healthy, person-centered plan that can include medications or talk therapy,” he says.
If you or someone you love is struggling, call the 24/7 Suicide Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
To make an appointment to talk to someone at the University of Miami Health System, call 305-243-2301.
Dana Kantrowitz is a contributing writer for UMiami Health News.