Soothing Anxiety and Stress: Advice From the Year in Well

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For many of us, 2020 was an exceptionally stressful year, dominated by fears about the coronavirus pandemic. Even with the vaccine on the horizon, we’re likely to need some stress management strategies to carry us into 2021. There’s lots of advice in this guide by Tara Parker-Pope, How to Be Better at Stress. Stress doesn’t have to get you down, she writes: “Approach it the right way, and it won’t rule your life — it can even be good for you. Here are ways to deal with stress, reduce its harm and even use your daily stress to make you stronger.”

Following are more tips from the past year’s stories by Well writers.

By Kari Leibowitz and Alia Crum

These are stressful times. As a result of coronavirus and the disease it causes, Covid-19, millions of Americans aren’t just worried about their health, but also about their livelihoods and their futures. At the same time, warnings abound that stress itself is bad for our health and might even make us more susceptible to the illness. The irony is obvious.

Fortunately, there is an alternative approach: We can actually use that stress to improve our health and well-being. Over a decade of research — ours and that of others — suggests that it’s not the type or amount of stress that determines its impact. Instead, it’s our mind-set about stress that matters most.

By Gretchen Reynolds

Exercise makes it easier to bounce back from too much stress, according to a fascinating new study with mice. It finds that regular exercise increases the levels of a chemical in the animals’ brains that helps them remain psychologically resilient and plucky, even when their lives seem suddenly strange, intimidating and filled with threats.

The study involved mice, but it is likely to have implications for our species, too, as we face the stress and discombobulation of the ongoing pandemic and today’s political and social disruptions.

By Jenny Taitz

Rather than dealing with anxiety and uncertainty by getting lost worrying, then chasing short-term fixes with longer-term consequences, like procrastinating, using food or marijuana to cope or relying on benzodiazepines — the anti-anxiety drugs like Xanax — it’s helpful to experiment with quick strategies that will empower you. These strategies are not necessarily a cure, but can help lower the intensity of overwhelming emotions, allowing you to recalibrate to better deal with challenges you face.

My patients often reflect that an additional perk of strategic coping is boosting your sense of mastery — the hope that arises when you stretch yourself and accomplish something difficult, like coping with your anxiety in a productive way.

By Jane E. Brody

Covid-19, the invisible enemy now bearing down on 328.2 million Americans, is tailor-made to induce fear and anxiety, prompting both rational and irrational behavior and, if the emotional stress persists, perhaps causing long-lasting harm to health.

A psychotherapist I know has advised his patients to limit their exposure to the news and discussions about Covid-19 to one hour a day and, if possible, in only one location, then use the rest of the day and other parts of the home for productive or pleasurable activities.

By Perri Klass, M.D.

Yes, this is an anxious time, and yes, everyone is anxious, but it is particularly hard to be an anxious kid in an anxious time. Anxiety disorders are the most common mental health disorders in children and adolescents (and this was true before the pandemic), and they can be linked to other mental health issues, notably depression.

Anxiety can bring children into emergency rooms, and into psychiatric hospitalizations, and in a time of generally heightened stress and anxiety, parents with anxious kids find themselves worrying especially about the worriers, wondering how to talk with them about the complexities of life in 2020, and trying to assess when worry is, well, worrisome enough to need professional help.

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