Coping with Anxiety and Stress: Reach Out if You Need Help
5 min. read
Over the years, Rachel Rohaidy, M.D., says she has developed a range of tips and tricks for dealing with the normal feelings of stress, sadness, loss and anxiety that most everyone experiences at some point in their lives. Dr. Rohaidy, a board-certified psychiatrist with Baptist Health Primary Care, says these tips have proved especially helpful over the past two years as so many people have struggled with a myriad of emotional issues arising from the pandemic.
“The past couple of years have been difficult for everyone but I’m hopeful that 2022 will be a better year,” Dr. Rohaidy acknowledges. “Maintaining a sense of hope and gratitude, not isolating yourself, and reaching out when you need someone to talk to can have real benefits for your mental and physical health.”
According to the National Mental Health Association, 51.5 million U.S. adults in 2019 were dealing with some type of mental illness. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 25 million American adults suffer from an anxiety disorder. According to the World Health Organization, anxiety affects one in 13 adults worldwide.
“As medical director of The Recovery Village at Baptist Health, I know medication is not the only answer to achieving good mental health,” Dr. Rohaidy says. “Instead, I prefer to focus on behavior modifications and lifestyle changes such as incorporating exercise and healthy eating habits into your daily routine. I only use medications as a treatment of last resort when nothing else has worked.”
Dr. Rohaidy says she is also a proponent of positive psychiatry, which encourages development of positive coping skills to lessen the degree of depression and help ease anxiety. “As a science, and a practice of psychiatry that seeks to promote well-being, positive psychiatry is designed to seek and encourage behavioral and mental wellness and positive social connectiveness,” she says. “I use it with many of my patients as they learn to embrace a more positive approach to life.”
According to Dr. Rohaidy, the three main characteristics of positive psychiatry are resilience, optimism and social connectiveness.
- Resilience refers to being able to bounce back after receiving bad news and how quickly you bounce back.
- Optimism finds the positive in the bad news.
- Social connectiveness is all about not feeling isolated and letting people in to help you cope with bad news.
Dr. Rohaidy says that a good example of resilience, optimism and social connectiveness in action can be seen in a newly diagnosed pre-diabetic patient who might say to herself, “I don’t like that my numbers are bad – it’s a wake-up call. I’ll attend a support group and learn to how to eat healthier.”
Research has shown that people diagnosed with numerous life-changing health issues such as cancer, chronic illness, heart disease or a difficult pregnancy had better outcomes when they looked at the brighter side of things than those who did not.
How we cope
Coping is an attempt to manage situations that are stressful, Dr. Rohaidy says, and there are two different types of coping. “Internal coping involves dealing with emotions, self-control and avoidance of bad situations,” she explains. “External coping is problem-focused and is aimed at controlling external factors and decreasing conflict.”
Dr. Rohaidy says that while a little bit of stress or anxiety is a good thing – “It keeps us focused and sharp” – problems can develop when your system is switched on constantly and doesn’t turn off. “This can have long-term consequences on your physical and mental health,” she warns.
Physical components such as blood pressure can be measured when we’re stressed, according to Dr. Rohaidy. “Learning to manage your stress for better emotional and physical health is essential because everything we feel works together within our body,” she says.
Keys to learning to cope effectively include learning how to be resilient, maintaining social connectiveness (even if on Zoom) and making sure you reach out for help, if and when you need it. “Help doesn’t have to be in the form of therapy,” Dr. Rohaidy notes. “Help can be spiritual, religious or any form that helps you develop a better more positive outlook.”
Dr. Rohaidy sites a positive psychiatry study from 2006 involving two groups, one that used positive psychiatry practices to cope, and a second that did not. The group that practiced positive psychiatry not only managed their medical regimens better they also had better outcomes, she says.
“When you’re coping with stress and anxiety and all the bad news that comes our way every day, know that you’re allowed to have moments of grieving,” says Dr. Rohaidy. However, don’t let it consume your life, she advises. “The quicker you can help yourself bounce back from the bad news and reframe it in a more positive light, the better for your long-term mental health.”
Managing your day-to-day life
Dr. Rohaidy’s list of tips and tricks to make it easier to handle anxiety and stress and manage your day-to-day life includes learning to practice self-care. She urges people to share these tips with family and friends and learn how to reduce stress levels together.
- Learn to say NO. It’s okay. Know your limitations and know what you can and cannot do.
- Sit with your feelings. Practice mindfulness, learn to bounce back from bad things. Ask yourself, “What triggered me, and why am I so anxious?” Give yourself 24 hours to cry and figure it out.
- Exercise daily. Get out of those four walls and enjoy a 10- to 15-minute walk. It will help you reduce cortisol (stress hormone) levels, decrease inflammation and maintain better glucose levels for overall health.
- Sleep. Sleep is so restorative – you awake in the morning refreshed and feeling that things are brighter and better. The problem is few people get the recommended 8 to 10 hours of sleep every day.
- Limit the bad. Reducing the toxins in your body starts with alcohol, drugs, nicotine and fatty foods. Having a day of “guilty pleasure” and enjoying your favorite fast comfort food is fine but remember that bad eating habits can affect your ability to control your mood and can contribute to higher stress levels.
- Eat healthier. And watch the added sugars – they’re everywhere.
- Drink more water. Your body will thank you.
- Laugh. It’s true – laughter really can be the best medicine. Welcome humor into your life by watching silly movies or enjoying a good laugh with family or friends.
- Practice daily. After a month of incorporating these practices into your daily life, you’ll develop a clearer mind and find that you’re better able to cope with stress and anxiety.
Dr. Rohaidy advises that if these tips aren’t working for you and you’re unable to get out of bed or leave your house, that’s your cue to reach out for help from a qualified psychiatrist. “Really learning and processing the information with a therapist can be key for you,” she says. “It’s tough to put into practice but it’s really beneficial – not just for yourself but for your family, too.”
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