Have you ever thought your smartphone was ringing or vibrating only to check it and there is no notification, no call, no text or email? This is a classic example of chronic anxiety known as the “phantom phone syndrome” according to Psychology Today.
Anxiety is defined as the feeling of being distressed and fearful of impending danger. Other classic signs of anxiety are a racing heart or jitteriness. According to the National Institutes of Health, the condition strikes more women than men, with nearly one-third of adults in the U.S. reporting feelings of anxiety at some point in their lives.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, many more Americans are feeling anxious based on an uncertain future. In fact, a recent Kaiser Family Foundation poll found 74 percent of Americans believe “the worst is yet to come.” And for family caregivers, the anxiety is all too real since the global pandemic. Many caregivers have taken on more hours caring for loved ones, not less, and are often doing it without any help, creating a sense of isolation that can breed anxiety.
A recent Rosalynn Carter Caregiving Institute report “Caregivers in Crisis: Caregiving in the Time of COVID-19,” found that 83 percent of caregivers are feeling more stress and anxiety since the pandemic began, with many respondents expressing fears about transmitting the virus to an older loved one, fears about managing financial resiliency, fears over the inability to see loved ones in assisted living or nursing homes, fears about job security, and more.
In fact, fear is at the center of most anxiety disorders, and this fear comes from not having a sense of control over one’s environment. Many psychologists believe that some anxiety levels based on fear are similar to post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), including heightened arousal and sensitivity to noise, disrupted sleep patterns, and increased irritability.
Anticipatory fear is a biological stress response that serves as a survival mechanism meant to accelerate our energy in the short-term when facing a threat, and then returning our bodies to homeostasis or balance. When our sympathetic nervous system is in a constant state of increased anticipatory stress response, the result is feelings of fatigue, frustration, depression and burn out.
Taking back control
Here are three simple things caregivers can do to help take back control over anxious feelings:
- Smile – This tiny act of kindness spreads faster than the coronavirus. A Dignity Health survey found small acts of kindness — such as smiling at strangers — can release serotonin, the hormone associated with well-being and happiness, as well as oxytocin, known as the “love hormone” because it encourages feelings of bonding socially, which helps increase blood flow. Eight in 10 survey respondents felt smiling made them feel less stressed and anxious.
- Learn to let it go – In order to find tranquility, caregivers must first accept that uncertainty is a constant in life. Once caregivers understand some things cannot be controlled, they can find more calm and rid themselves of chronic anxiety. Finding a mindfulness practice or app like meQuilibrium, Headspace, or Calm is a key to learning how to let go of angst and fear.
- Recharge through sleep – Insomnia is a byproduct of uncertain times. Yet not getting the recommended 7-8 hours of restorative, deep sleep is like not charging your phone at night. Your battery will be run down and normal functioning is impaired. People who have chronic anxiety and lack good sleep also have an increased risk for chronic disease, including higher rates of cardiovascular disease, and increased risk for heart attacks and cardiac death. Our bodies need rest to repair cell damage from daily wear and tear, and to also allow for brain plasticity that aids in memory and alertness. Grab a sleep mask to remove any artificial blue light from technology in the bedroom that interrupts natural sleep patterns, and try putting lavender scent on pillows to relax your mind and body.
Anxiety can be overcome even with small, simple, daily practices. For family caregivers, finding ways to feel more in control will help in conquering anxiety and stress.