How to Recognize and Manage the Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety

COVID-19 Is Increasing Stress and Anxiety

As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, more and more of us are experiencing stress and anxiety. This can be due to fear of contracting the virus, the economic toll of the pandemic, uneasiness about the future, or the uncertainty surrounding the entire situation.

As explained by Harvard Health, experiencing stress and anxiety causes your autonomic nervous system to go into overdrive. This system is responsible for regulating numerous functions such as heart rate, breathing, urination, and sexual function, as well as your flight or fight response to threats. Frequent stress and anxiety can strain your autonomic nervous system, which is when you begin to experience physical symptoms.

Common Symptoms to Look For

Listed below are some common symptoms of stress and anxiety. For additional information on any of these symptoms, visit!

  • Headaches
  • Nausea
  • Shortness of breath
  • Shakiness or dizziness
  • Stomach pain
  • Muscle pain
  • Fatigue
  • Insomnia
  • Restlessness
  • Irritability
  • Inability to focus

Recognizing these symptoms and not understanding where they are coming from or why they are happening can often create a vicious cycle. As stated by Dr. Arthur Barsky, professor of psychiatry at Harvard Medical School, “Anxiety and stress themselves produce these physical symptoms, and on top of that your reaction to those symptoms can make them worse. The more you focus on them, the more alarmed you become, and the more intense your symptoms become. It can get really out of control and become so uncomfortable that you might not be able to do much more than sit and worry.”

Tips for Easing Symptoms of Stress and Anxiety

Here are some of the best tips from Harvard Health on how to not only recognize the symptoms above, but how to help manage them as well:

  1. Be Mindful: The most important step to take is being mindful of your body and how you are feeling. Take the time to slow down and assess your situation and any symptoms you might be feeling. Ask yourself has a stressful event occurred? Am I tensing my jaw and/or my muscles? What was I thinking about or doing when I began experiencing symptoms? These questions and assessments can help you determine if your symptoms were emotionally triggered by stress and anxiety.
  1. Distract Yourself: Instead of focusing on your symptoms, do something else to distract yourself. It could be getting up and doing laundry or other household chores, reading a book, making a healthy snack, going for a walk, etc. Everyone is different so take some time to figure out what activity best redirects your focus and helps you feel calm.
  1. Relax Your Body: If you are able to focus on relaxation techniques, consider trying yoga, deep breathing exercises or meditation to help calm your mind and body.
  1. Exercise: If you notice your mind wandering during relaxation techniques, try physical activity instead. Exercise is a great way to relieve stress and anxiety, and release endorphins.
  1. Know When to Get Help: If you are experiencing a physical symptom that does not resolve with any of the above techniques, contact your doctor to have it checked out. In addition, if you notice that your anxiety is affecting your desire to participate in certain activities or your ability to function in everyday life, it is time to seek help.

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