The subjectivity related to the field of mental health has a lot to do with the many different versions of a particular mental illness. Someone with MDD may by suffering from a decreased appetite and sleep, while another person with atypical depression may be experiencing an increased appetite and sleep. Mental illness may affect everyone differently even if the diagnosis is the same. That’s why we cannot assume that we understand what everyone is going through. . .
The whole world is going through an extraordinary phase. The present COVID-19 pandemic and the resulting lockdown is causing a great deal of uncertainty and doubt that might be ultimately affecting your mental health negatively. During this phase it becomes even more imperative to remain positive and take care of your mental health. Here are few ways in which you can stay positive during these trying times.
Limit your news intake: First of all you need to moderate your intake of news. There is no doubt that watching news seems to be the only way to stay updated regarding the COVID-19 pandemic. But, watching too much news can be overwhelming and can cause a good deal of stress. If you feel stressed and anxious after watching news, it’s a sign that you need to limit excessive news consumption. You can make a point to watch news only twice or thrice a day, to stay up-to-date. Moreover, it is important that you follow only authorised and reliable sources of information. It is important to stay alert but no reason to stay alarmed all the time.
Follow a routine: If you are working from home or have kids who are attending online classes, it becomes even more important that you follow a routine so that you get proper time for all the activities and don’t unnecessarily get overwhelmed with all the tasks and activities at hand. Moreover following a routine will make you feel more in control of the situation and it will help you normalize the not-so-normal circumstances that the whole world is going through. You can make a To-Do list to organize work or maintain a dairy or journal of the tasks to be completed. Allocate time to work, exercise, rest, etc judiciously.
You are not alone: Remember, that you are not alone in this, everyone is going through almost the same situation. The only difference is how everyone is responding to these circumstances and no single way can be considered perfect. Do what suits you best.
Exercise, eat healthy, and sleep well: It has become even more critical during this lockdown that you eat a healthy diet and exercise daily. As per health officials, a healthy adult is required to perform 2.5 hours of exercise per week. Exercise has been found to have various health benefits, like it helps maintain healthy cognitive functions, and helps reduce stress, anxiety, and depression by releasing feel-good hormones like endorphins. It is equally important to follow a healthy balanced diet. Avoid food that has too much fat and sugar content, avoid packed food that is filled with preservatives. Eat fresh fruits and vegetables regularly. Last but not the least, make sure you get 7-8 hours of sound sleep. Following a healthy balanced diet and exercising daily along with a sound sleep will boost your immunity and help you stay active.
Meditate: Meditation has been found to relieve stress and anxiety. It can also relieve depressive feelings. Just a few minutes spent on meditation can have a huge positive impact on you mental, physical and emotional health. Make it a point to spend few minutes daily on meditation. Find a quiet place where you can place a comfortable seat, make sure that the temperature of the room is neither too hot nor too cold, wear comfortable loose fitting clothes, and ensure the lighting of the room is not too bright. You can also add other elements like, a candle or aroma diffuser if you want. The purpose is to create a happy and comfortable space.
Practice mindfulness: Mindfulness refers to being present in the moment. Not thinking about the past or future, just being aware of the present moment non-judgementally. You can be mindful while cooking, eating, or even while sitting in your balcony. You can start practicing mindfulness by noticing things you can touch, see, and hear. Simply pause for a while and focus your attention on objects you can touch, see, and hear in your present environment. Close your eyes and take a few deep breaths. Notice how your body reacts to deep breathing. While eating or cooking, use all of your five senses to notice how the food looks, smells, tastes, and touches like. These are some of the ways you can be mindful while performing your regular activities.
Stay in touch with your family and friends: While we all are basically locked up in our homes, this does not mean that you cannot meet your family or friends virtually. Stay in touch with your family members and friends by calling them up or having a video chat. Don’t let the lockdown cause loneliness. Stay connected with people around you virtually. Man is a social animal, and therefore, keeping in touch with others is vital for your mental and emotional wellbeing.
Break the monotony: The lockdown has already put a halt on a lot of our usual activities. We all are confined to our houses, so it is natural to experience monotony in our day-to-day activities. It, therefore, becomes even more important that we do not let monotony set in. If you are spending a lot of time on Netflix or Facebook and still not feeling entertained much, or feeling rather bored, it’s time to take a break and do something else—read a book, take a walk indoor, talk with your kids or partner. You can also break the monotony by simply changing your bed-sheets, trying some new dishes, going through old family album, redecorating your house, or by organizing your forever messy wardrobe. Who said there’s a rule where you can’t dress up for home or you have to use your finest crockery only for guests. Arrange a candle light dinner for your partner or family members, dress up, use your finest crockery and have a restaurant like feel at home. You might have to compromise on food, but who cares. The point is to create memories and moments that you can cherish when the pandemic is over.
Gratitude: No matter how difficult the present situation seems, there is still plenty to be grateful for, if you look properly. When there are people who are struggling to survive in shelter homes, when people are barely getting enough to eat—in such times, if you are getting three meals a day, have roof over your head, and loved ones who care for you, you have enough to be grateful for. Think about it—on the one hand, there are frontline workers who are risking their lives to save others and on the other, there is you who can stay safe indoor. If you bring all this to your consciousness, you would definitely experience a sense of gratitude. The feeling of gratitude will, in turn, help you overcome all your stresses and worries resulting in contentment, which will bring to you peace and satisfaction.
Help your community: It has been proven that helping others makes one feel positive and capable. In whatever little ways you can, try to help your community, maybe by giving food or other essentials to the needy (while taking all the necessary precautions and maintaining a safe distance), by appreciating the healthcare and other frontline workers, or even by following the directions of the state government. You can also help you community by just being kind to each other. In these difficult times, everyone is going through a lot, so simple gesture of kindness can bring positivity not only into your life but also into the lives of others.
Don’t think about future, prepare for the future: As we all are going through this stressful phase, there must be many who are fearing possible layoff in the near future. Already a lot of companies have started downsizing their work force. This has led to a great deal of anxiety and stress among a lot of individuals. But worrying simply cannot help you in this time. Instead of thinking too much about the future, use this time to enhance your skill sets, so as to make yourself essential for your company. Enrol yourself in some online courses and take part in these courses with full dedication. Don’t consider work from home as a paid holiday, work with full dedication.
Be gentle with yourself: Don’t forget to be kind and gentle with yourself as well. Remember, this is something which none of us has ever experienced before, so you must not blame yourselves for not being prepared enough. If you are not able to learn a new skill or cook fancy dinners for your family, or if you are not as productive as your usual self, there’s no need to be harsh on yourself. If you don’t feel like doing anything, that is fine too. Relax, take rest. Remember, the lockdown could also be a chance to refresh or take a break from the normal hustle and bustle of life. If you come out of this lockdown as more energized and refreshed, consider it a success and achievement. Also, stop comparing yourself with others. Every individual is different and will be responding to the situation differently, there’s no point comparing yourself with others. Spend more time with your family. If you feel anxious or depressed there’s no harm in reaching out for help. There must be some online counseling services provided in your community, reach out to them.
Sleep is something that nearly all species need to survive. On a daily basis, humans need about 8 hours, dogs and cats recharge with around 12 hours, and the koala takes nearly the entire day — napping a whopping 22 hours. But unlike dogs, koalas, or most other animals, we humans don’t always get enough […]
Even just one night of sleep loss could lead to epigenetic changes that tweak our metabolism and regulation of gene expression, a new study suggests. Researchers at Uppsala University found that one night without sleep was linked to alteration of the human epigenome, weight gain, and the loss of lean muscle mass. Previous research has shown that skipping sleep […]
Ample research links sleep quality and quantity to performance including alertness, memory, creativity, cognitive reaction times and accuracy. Even so, studies of US workers report many people show up to work feeling too tired to perform their best. With competing priorities, sleep is often the first thing to go. And even those of us with relatively decent sleep practices at home struggle to get quality sleep when traveling for work. I’ve been focusing on improving my sleep habits for years and offer the following five strategies to try the next time your work takes you on the road.
If you find yourself having trouble falling asleep at night because of too many thoughts, try adopting mindfulness on a nightly basis. Nighttime is the worst part of the day to have unresolved thoughts which you have not paid enough attention to during daytime. When these thoughts linger in the middle of the night, it makes falling asleep nearly impossible. Your mind becomes like a night owl, ready to scavenge whatever it can find. […]
A scientist explains which plants are research-backed to help you rest and relax.
For thousands of years people have relied on plants and herbs for their medicinal properties, using them to create healing remedies, including as aids to promote rest and combat insomnia. [. . .]
We all forget things once in a while. And most times we don’t even pay attention to this problem until and unless we find ourselves in a demanding situation. Memory loss is not something to be taken too lightly and we ought to make conscious efforts to improve our ability to memorize, retain, and recall information. Although there is no sure shot way to prevent dementia, certain techniques may go a long way in helping you improve your memory and increase your brain’s potential in general. Here are 12 strategies that can effectively boost your memory and help you remember and recall better:
1. Focus your attention: In order to store information in your memory storage system, you need to take interest in the information presented to you and give it your full attention. Information is more likely to get lost when you pay half attention to it. While reading or meeting people for the first time, give your full attention.
2. Visual/Imagery: While attending to the information add visual imagery to the information. We are better able to remember things that are visual. So while reading for an exam, use imagery as much as possible.
3. Associate: Associating new information with the information you already know or have can also help you better memorize new information. Associations help create more mental connections of the information which, in turn, helps in better retention of the memory of that information.
4. Chunking: This technique can help you memorize a large set of information by breaking the information into small chunks or groups. In other words, the information to be remembered is divided into small chunks or groups of information. For example, if you need to memorize a phone number- xxyyyzzxxx, you can make chunks of this number—xx/yyy/zz/xxx.
5. Get good sleep: Our brain gets to consolidate the day’s information during sleep. Consolidation is a process in which short-term memory is transferred into long-term memory. In order to improve your memory you need to get a quality sleep of 7-8 hours daily, whereas, lack of proper sleep can affect your memory negatively. That is the reason students are advised to get a good sleep before an exam.
6. Mnemonics: Use of mnemonic techniques can also help to memorize better. Mnemonics are specific techniques designed to improve recall. Like using first letters of the given information to form a word, for example using VIBGYOR to memorize the colors of rainbow.
7. Brain exercises: Just like any other muscle in the body our brain is also a kind of muscle that needs exercise to work at optimum level. In order to enhance memory, play brain games. Solving puzzles, crossword, Sudoku, and playing word-recall games etc. have been proven to boost memory.
8. Be active while learning: There is a saying that individuals remember 20 per cent of what they hear, 75 per cent of what they see, and 90 per cent of what they do. And this saying is fairly correct. Being active while learning something like movement of arms, pacing back and forth, and using gestures while learning a new information has been found to enhance memorization. So keep your body actively involved while learning.
9. Recite: Repeating something in a loud voice can help memorization of that information better. As you recite you involve another sense, i.e., hearing. This helps better anchoring of the information in your brain. You can also recite what you have learned to another person in your own simple words and language. This technique is especially effective for students.
10. Meditation: Meditation has been found to improve memory. Mediation helps lower the stress which, in turn, is known to affect memorization. Meditation has also been found to improve the gray matter in brain, which positively affects memory. Practice meditation on daily basis for healthy mind and body.
11. Exercise: Scientists have proven that daily exercise as simple as running or jogging can help in formation of new neurons in brain and can help improve memory. Exercising daily not only keeps you physically fit but it also keeps your brain fit.
12. Keep stress away: As mentioned above, too much of stress has been found to affect memorization and recall both. Chronic stress has also been found to damage brain cells, especially in hippocampus which is responsible for retrieval of old memories and formation of new memories. So in order to improve your memory you also need to keep your stress level under check.
Panic attack refers to sudden or unexpected onset of fear or terror that often seems to come out of the blue. The episodes of these attacks can occur anytime and anywhere. The panic attacks are often emotionally overwhelming and are accompanied by physical symptoms. The person experiencing them may feel that he or she is having a heart attack or is going crazy and is often concerned about having another attack or about the consequences of having such attack. Another characteristic of panic attack is that these episodes occur in situations where they are least expected like during sleep or during relaxation and often last for not more than thirty minutes. However, in some instances, panic attack can be situationally predisposed, occurring only in certain situations such as being in a crowd or while driving. If left untreated panic attacks can develop into panic disorder and other difficulties and can become quite disabling. If you have experienced one or two such episodes without any further episode or complications in the past month, chances are that you are not suffering from panic disorder, and there’s nothing to worry. However, if you have been repeatedly experiencing such episodes along with fear of having another attack combined with major behavioral changes, for at least a month, then you might be suffering from panic disorder or at the risk of developing panic disorder.
Symptoms of panic attack include:
- Shortness of breath
- Heart palpitations
- Chest pain
- Shaking or trembling
- Depersonalization (a feeling of being detached from one’s body) or derealization (a feeling that external world is strange or unreal)
- Fear of dying
- Numbness or tingling sensation
- Fear of “going crazy,” or of “losing control”
- Hot or cold flashes
- Choking feeling
Here are some effective strategies to handle panic attacks:
Breathing exercise: Panic attacks can often cause rapid breathing and this hyperventilation can actually worsen the symptoms. Hyperventilation leads to light-headedness, dizziness, palpitation, tingling sensation in feet and hands, and breathlessness, which can actually make the experience more overwhelming and terrifying. Engaging in breathing exercises, however, can really help you ease yourself and control the related symptoms. Engaging in diaphragmatic breathing can actually help calm yourself as you start to experience the symptoms. Close your eyes and slowly inhale deeply through your nose and exhale slowly through your mouth. You can count to five as you breathe in and out. Try to concentrate on your breathing.
Avoid alcohol, smoke, and caffeine: Eat a healthy balanced diet and avoid consuming caffeine, alcohol, and smoking as these have been shown to make the symptoms worse. Furthermore, avoid medicines that contain stimulants.
Relaxation techniques: Engage in relaxation techniques like progressive muscular relaxation, yoga, and meditation. Make them a part of your daily routine as these activities tend to calm mind and body, and help keep anxiety symptoms in check while inducing feelings of happiness in general.
Exercise: Exercise has been shown to release feel-good hormones and hence, works as a natural anxiety buster. You can engage in walking, running, or simple aerobic exercise for at least 30 minutes daily. Even dancing for 30 minutes can help relieve anxiety symptoms.
Sleep: Lack of proper sleep can also worsen the symptoms of panic attack, so try to get seven to eight hour sleep daily. But there’s another side to it also—symptoms of panic attacks or fear of getting another panic attack can actually damage your quality of sleep.
Learn mindfulness: Mindfulness can help your control the symptoms of panic attack. Depersonalization and derealization are some of the symptoms of panic attacks that can be quite distressing. Mindfulness can help you stay in touch with the reality and present. Concentrate on the physical sensations, like texture of clothes on your body and your feet touching the ground etc. These can help you stay in your present reality.
Concentrate on the objects: As your experience symptoms of panic attack, try to focus your mind on some object that is in your sight. Try to observe all the details of the object. This can help you distract your mind. As you concentrate you may feel the symptoms are settling.
Acknowledge: Since most of the symptoms of panic attack are often physical and the person experiencing them can feel that he or she is having a heart attack or is about to die, it is important to first and foremost acknowledge that you are having a panic attack. It is important to rule out any medical condition, and once that is done, you should educate yourself about panic attacks. Learn about the symptoms and find out any cues that act as a trigger. This can help you manage your condition more effectively. You might experience that the symptoms are not as overwhelming as they used to be. Once you acknowledge that you are having a panic attack you will be able to calm yourself more quickly and effectively.
The purpose of various relaxation techniques like diaphragmatic breathing, meditation, yoga, mental imagery is to help the body reach homeostasis in states of heightened arousal. Whenever, we face a stressful or anxiety provoking situation, our body reacts by going into state of heightened physiological arousal both at neurological as well as hormonal levels, and the sole purpose of these techniques is to help reach physiological calmness. Diaphragmatic breathing is one such relaxation technique and perhaps the easiest one to learn and practice in day-to-day life. It is easy because breathing is an act that we perform without any hesitation or thought. But factors like stress, poor posture, clothes that cause restriction of movement, lead us to breathe from our chest instead of from diaphragm. Diaphragmatic breathing is controlled deep breathing and involves the movement of lower abdomen, whereas, normal breathing emphasizes on the expansion of the chest.
There are lots of benefits of diaphragmatic breathing and it plays an important role in meditation which helps in managing stress, anxiety, lack of sleep, posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD) etc. It also helps lower heart rate and has been highly recommended for patients with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The beauty of diaphragmatic breathing technique is its simplicity; it can be performed anywhere and at anytime and does not require special equipment.
Here’s step by step guide to diaphragmatic breathing:
1. Take a comfortable position: Start by taking a comfortable posture. With your eyes closed you can either sit in a comfortable chair or preferably lie down on your back on the floor. It is recommended for the beginners to wear loose clothes, especially around the neck and waist. To begin with, it is recommended that you keep your hands on your stomach so that you can feel the rise and fall of your abdomen. Once you have mastered the technique, you can perform diaphragmatic breathing almost anywhere and at any time—while driving, standing, or while talking to someone.
2. Concentration: Just like other techniques of relaxation, diaphragmatic breathing also requires concentration. For the beginners, it is recommended to practice the technique in a quiet place with less interruptions and noise. While practicing, you might experience that your thoughts begin to wander. This is normal. Whenever you feel this happening, bring your attention back to breathing. You can in fact imagine these thoughts leaving your body as you exhale metaphorically.
Whereas, normal breathing is an involuntary and not-a-conscious activity, diaphragmatic breathing is a conscious and voluntary one. Concentration can be enhanced by focusing your attention on the components of each breath. Each breathing cycle is composed of four phases–inhaling; slight pause; and exhaling; followed by another slight pause before inhaling again. When performing this technique, isolate and recognize each phase and try to control the pace of each phase-breathing thereby regulating your breathing. During the phase of exhalation, body experiences the highest form of relaxation, so try to focus on this phase and experience how light and relaxed your body feels during this phase.
3. Visualization: This can be easily attached to diaphragmatic breathing and can enhance the effects of this breathing technique. The two most commonly used visualizations along with suggestion are discussed below:
(i) Breathing clouds: Start by closing your eyes and try to focus all your attention on your breathing. As you inhale, visualize the air being inhaled as pure, clean, fresh, rejuvenating, and with healing power. Imagine this whole air traveling throughout your body from your head to toe. Now as you exhale, visualize the air leaving your body as some dark cloud of smoke comprising stressors, tension, and toxins that are inside your mind and body. During each phase of inhalation and exhalation, feel the clean, fresh air with healing power circulating though out your body and all the stress and tension leaving your body as you exhale. Repeat this breathing cycle for five to ten minutes. As you perform the breathing technique, observe that your body becomes more relaxed, stress-free and tension-free. Also, the color of the exhaled cloud becomes light in color from dark to light, which is a symbol of your body becoming relaxed and cleansed from all the negativity.
(ii) Alternate nostril breathing: This technique may require some practice. Start by closing your eyes and concentrate on the breathing. Inhale through your nose or mouth and feel the air entering your body and reaching down your lungs and experience a rise in your stomach as you breathe in. Now feel your stomach descending as you exhale. As you become relaxed, through breathing, take a slow deep breath again. This time exhale solely through your left nostril. After you take out all the air from your body through left nostril, begin inhaling only through your right nostril. Repeat this breathing cycle for fifteen to twenty times. Breathe in through your right nostril and breathe out through your left nostril. After fifteen to twenty cycles, now shift the passage of breathing cycle; start by slowly inhaling through your left nostril and exhaling through the right one. Repeat the cycle for fifteen to twenty times. As you do, visualize the air as it flows through your body. Use your fingers to control inhaling and exhaling, it will also helps you better visualize the air flow.
(iii) Energy breathing: This is a breathing technique in which you breathe not only through nose or mouth, but through your whole body. This helps vitalize the body. In this breathing, the whole body in a sense assumes the role of one big lung. This technique can be performed while sitting or lying down on the floor. This technique has three phases. First, attain a comfortable position; now imagine a hole at the top of your head. As you inhale, visualize energy entering the top of your head in the form of a light beam. Now as you inhale, take this energy down to your abdomen. As you breathe out, let it (energy) go out from the top of your head. Repeat this ten times. As you perform this technique, let the light touch all the inner parts of your upper body.
Now move on to the next phase; visualize that the center of each foot has a hole. Again imagine energy in the form of a light beam. As you breathe in from your diaphragm, let the flow of energy move up to your abdomen from your feet, while focusing only on the lower parts of the body. Repeat this ten times. As you do, let the energy in the form of light reach all the inner parts of your lower body.
Now uniting the movement of energy from the top of your head and feet, direct it to the center of your body while inhaling with the diaphragm. Then allow the flow of energy to reverse direction as you breathe out. Do this ten to fifteen times. Every time you circulate the energy in your body, feel each body part and each cell getting rejuvenated. This technique, however, requires practice.
Also read Five Tips for Better Sleep
Also read Sleeping Problems and Anxiety and Stress—A Two-way Street
Also read Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Sleep plays a vital role in an individual’s physical and mental well-being. It acts as a reset button that triggers body’s restorative processes and gives mind the time to process emotions in order to recognize and react appropriately. Regular good quality sleep is essential for proper brain functioning, repair of heart and blood vessels, and overall physical and emotional healing.
Sleep provides the nerve cells an opportunity to shut down and repair themselves meanwhile, without which they might get exhausted and start malfunctioning. In today’s fast paced world however, we often neglect our sleep just to meet the worldly demands and get things done. According to a 2014 survey, less than 50% of survey participants across the world claimed to be sleeping well at night.
Most healthy adults require seven to nine hours of sleep for healthy functioning, though the sleep requirement may vary from person to person slightly. Absence of adequate sleep often leads to impaired judgment, slower reaction times, and brain fog.
During the past few decades neuroscience has advanced a great deal but unfortunately sleep still continues to remain largely a riddle. However, what’s a known fact is that sleep like air, water, and food is indispensible for us. Sleep deprivation creates a sleep debt that our body is going to demand to have squared up with at some point.
Sleep Deprivation, Anxiety, Stress: Causes and Interrelation
Sleep deprivation may be caused due to various medical (painful ailments), environmental (light, noise, or extreme temperatures), or psychiatric (depression and anxiety disorders) conditions. The causes may be different, but sleep deprivation, indiscriminately, results in disruption of body’s natural slumber cycle in all cases.
Life stresses like job loss or change, passing away of a kith or kin, a temporary illness, or environmental factors usually trigger acute or short-term insomnia or sleeplessness. On the other hand, factors such as chronic stress, anxiety disorders (GAD, PTSD, etc.), depression, and chronic pain or discomfort at night, usually result in chronic or long-term insomnia that occurs at least three nights a week and continues for a month or longer. Ruminating in bed on daily basis about pending works, unresolved issues, and emotionally devastating long-term life-changes, or excessive worrying about future uncertainties are some of the common reasons leading to chronic insomnia.
Most people who experience persistent stress and anxiety or panic attacks on a daily basis report that they have trouble sleeping. While stress and anxiety interfere with sleep, sometimes it becomes difficult to tell whether one is having trouble sleeping because of anxiety, or one is anxious because one can’t sleep. Actually, it may be both. Whereas stress and anxiety can cause sleeping issues, or worsen existing ones, lack of sleep can also cause an anxiety disorder.
It has been demonstrated that sleep debt can have severe ramifications on one’s anxiety levels. A study has shown that grave sleep deprivation leads to an increase in one’s state of anxiety, depression, and general distress in comparison with individuals who had a normal night of sleep. According to another study, individuals who were sleep deprived reported a greater spike in anxiety during tasks and rated the likelihood of potential disasters as higher when sleep deprived, as compared to when rested.
The amount of sleep an individual gets each night also governs how well he or she can deal with anxiety and stress. When an individual is severely sleep-deprived, the deprivation acts as a chronic stressor that hinders brain functions and leads to an overload on the body’s systems, which in turn, contributes to brain fog, confusion, memory loss, and depression, making it harder for the individual to deal with stress. Also, sleep deprivation leads to an imbalance in the hormone levels that increases anxiety levels. Anxiety issues are also worsened because of
Effects of Sleep Deprivation
Chronic sleep deprivation can result in a range of health problems such as cardiovascular disease, Type 2 diabetes, excessive daytime sleepiness, memory problems, weight gain, and increased levels of stress hormones.
Anxiety is one of the most common yet most debilitating mental health conditions that can range from worry to full-blown anxiety disorders. There would rarely be anyone who has never worried about anything in his or her life and therefore, occasional worry or fear is rather a part of normal life. We often worry about the wellbeing of our loved ones or we may fear for our own safety too. Sometimes we worry about our financial situations or our work while at other times we are just concerned about our future. These occasional worries are not always bad; in fact, they are somewhat good for our survival. They help us prepare ourselves to deal with life’s challenges. However, worries can sometimes take acute form and become unbearable, excessive, irrational, or even uncontrollable and are accompanied with physical symptoms such as increased palpitation of heart, sweating, and trembling. If you too are experiencing these symptoms, you might be suffering from full blown anxiety disorder. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-IV) recognizes seven primary types of anxiety disorders: phobic disorders of the “specific” or of the “social” type, panic disorder with or without agoraphobia, generalized anxiety disorder (GAD), obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD), and posttraumatic stress disorder (PTSD). GAD is the most common of these anxiety disorders and is characterized by chronic excessive worry about a number of events or activities. The subjective experience of excessive worry in GAD is accompanied by following symptoms:
- Restlessness or feelings of being keyed up or on edge
- a sense of being easily fatigued
- difficulty concentrating or mind going blank
- muscle tension
- sleep disturbance
However, an individual who worries a lot does not necessarily suffer from anxiety disorders. Sometimes having an unhealthy lifestyle can make you feel anxious. Following are some self-help techniques that can help you keep anxiety in check and manage symptoms of anxiety, though these must not be considered a substitute for professional help or treatment:
Exercise/Running: Performing regular exercise and going for jogging or brisk walk has been scientifically proven to help allay anxiety symptoms. Exercise releases chemicals, i.e., endorphins in the brain that can counter symptoms of anxiety and improves mood. It also helps in lowering stress hormone cortisol that is secreted when we are anxious. Several studies have shown overall benefits of exercise on mind and body. Exercising for half an hour four times a week has been recommended for those suffering from anxiety.
Socialize: Meet people you trust and share your thoughts and feelings with them. Isolation and loneliness has been shown to increase the symptoms of anxiety. You can also talk to your trusted friends over phone and share your worries with them. Since anxiety is often based on irrational thoughts, talking to others can bring sense to our unwarranted thoughts. Suppressing and keeping your thoughts to yourself, on the other hand, can make them overwhelming and difficult to deal with. You can join some support group also, where other anxiety patients like you share their thoughts, feelings, progress, etc. Make socializing a part of your daily routine no matter how difficult it sometimes may feel.
Muscular relaxation technique: Try Jacobson’s progressive muscle relaxation technique. Since individuals who experience anxiety symptoms tend to have high arousal, progressive muscle relaxation technique can help release physical tension.
Sleep: Lack of good sleep can aggravate the symptoms. So in order to keep your anxiety symptoms under check, get qualitative 7 – 8 hours of sleep a night.
Deep breathing: Breathing from your gut has been scientifically proven to lower the arousal level of body. Hence, deep breathing exercise can help calm your body and mind. Use deep breathing to relieve immediate symptoms of anxiety like hyperventilation or shortness of breath.
Stay in the present: Anxiety disorders are often future-based, which means, you tend to worry about the things that you feel are going to happen. So in such instances, try to focus on the present. Ask yourself about what is happening at the moment. Mindfulness can help you stay in the moment. Mindfulness is a technique where we are made aware of what is going on around us through our five senses. What do we see, hear, smell, feel, and taste. A regular practice in mindfulness can help you ease anxiety symptoms.
Train your mind: Anxiety is often based on thoughts; therefore, in order to deal with it, one has to work on one’s thoughts. Be accepting to the fact that you cannot actually control everything. Try to do your best instead of striving for perfection. Research studies provide evidence regarding link between perfectionism and mental health disorders like anxiety and depression. Replace negative thoughts with positive ones and try to maintain positive attitude about life.
Challenge your thoughts: Most of the worries and fears in anxiety are irrational and without any base. Identify your apprehensions and challenge each and every single thought that comes to your mind.
Eating healthy: Avoid consuming alcohol and caffeine and focus on eating a well-balanced diet. Eating healthy food helps maintain healthy mind and body. Stay hydrated. It may seem like too simple a remedy but staying hydrated can go a long way in managing anxiety. Whenever you experience anxiety symptoms, drink water as it helps lower the arousal.
Use art as mode of expression: Art therapy has also been found to help relieve anxiety symptoms. Use dance or painting as a mode of giving outlet to your thoughts and feelings. It can also help you take your mind off your worries.
Professional help: If you feel that your anxiety symptoms are interfering with your daily functioning, don’t hesitate to take professional help from a psychiatrist or psychologists or other healthcare provider in your community. Professional treatment mostly includes medications for severe symptoms, along with cognitive behavioral therapy.
Also Read: Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
Also Read: PTSD: Brain Biomarkers May Explain Variance in Symptom Severity
Also Read: Childhood Anxiety Related With Later Alcohol Problems
Also Read: Test Anxiety—Strategies to Overcome
What is Test Anxiety?
It is quite normal for students to feel a little stressed out and nervous before or during an exam, but when this nervousness becomes too much to let a student perform to the best of his or her abilities, it is termed as test anxiety. Test anxiety is a psychological condition which may not only impair learning but may also adversely affect test performance.
Test anxiety may be manifested in a variety of forms and the symptoms may range from mild to severe. Some students, despite experiencing stress and anxiety, do reasonably fine as their symptoms are rather mild. However, there are others whose abilities get seriously impaired because of excessive anxiety which is often also accompanied by panic attacks before or during the exam.
Apparently, test anxiety can make it fairly difficult for a student to focus and recall information that he or she has spent hours learning about. This would, in turn, contribute to even more anxiety and stress making it much more difficult for the student to recollect and write down the answers to the test.
Symptoms of Test Anxiety
The symptoms of test anxiety can be physical, cognitive, behavioral, and emotional:
Physical symptoms: Some of the common physical symptoms include sweating, dry mouth, rapid breathing, headache, racing heartbeat, a sense of shakiness, and even diarrhea. In more severe cases, nausea, shortness of breath, and full-blown panic attack or fainting might also be experienced.
Cognitive and behavioral symptoms: Test anxiety can also lead to behavioural and cognitive symptoms including fidgeting or forthright avoidance of testing situations, negative thinking, and difficulty concentrating on the test. Negative self-talk and racing thoughts are also some of the common cognitive symptoms of test anxiety.
Emotional symptoms: Depression, feeling of helplessness, low self-esteem, frustration, and fear comprise emotional symptoms of test anxiety. Students feel helpless, nervous and frightened to face the exams and report blanking out on answers to the test.
Strategies to Overcome Test Anxiety
Test anxiety is quite an unpleasant and unnerving experience which can adversely affect student’s grades as well as self-confidence. However, there are certain strategies that students can adopt to overcome test anxiety.
Being fully prepared for the test: It is very important for the student to spend adequate time for the preparation of the exam. This basically means starting early in order to have sufficient time to prepare until he or she feels comfortable with the material. Therefore, waiting until the night before should be avoided. If not sure how to effectively manage time for the preparation, the student should ask the teacher or parent for help. Being prepared will be a great confidence-booster, which will reduce test anxiety.
Keeping negative thoughts away: More than anything else, it’s the attitude and approach towards the test or exam that is going to make a difference in the performance. One should always stay positive. A student must not allow himself or herself to be demoralized by negative thoughts like, “I don’t remember anything, I studied,” “I can’t do it.” Rather one should convince one’s mind to believe that one remembers everything that has been learnt and studied. Positive thoughts will keep anxiety at bay and dramatically enhance the performance in the exam.
Getting involved in relaxation activities: Relaxation is as crucial as studies during exam preparation. Activities like deep breathing, mediation, positive self-talk and yoga can help calm the mind and boost the power of concentration and retention. Anxiety and excess energy can also be released by way of aerobic exercise which helps reduce body tension too.
Getting enough sleep: Even during exam days, getting adequate sleep and rest is as essential as preparing for the test. A good night’s sleep will help one concentrate better and boost the memory spontaneously.
Moving on from mistakes: It is okay to make mistakes. One should not remain stuck on mistakes and move on as early as possible to concentrate on what’s coming next. One mustn’t expect oneself to be perfect and so, rather than fretting over the mistakes already committed in a test, one should focus on the upcoming one, needless to say, without taking stress for that too. The next test should always be looked upon as an opportunity to make up for the mistakes committed in the previous test. Doing one’s best is all that matters, one should always remember that.
Keeping oneself full before the exam: One must not go to the exam with an empty stomach. Eating fresh fruits and vegetables helps reduce stress while processed foods, carbonated soft drinks, chocolate, fried or junk food makes one feel lazy and thus, makes it equally important to choose among foods wisely.
Not paying attention to what others are doing: Anxiety may also build up if a student starts noticing others attempting their test. No one knows what the other is scribbling away, so one should stop worrying about that and focus on one’s own performance. To avoid test anxiety, a student should keep attempting his/her test instead of paying attention to what other students are doing.
Trying medication and therapy for severe symptoms: If a student feels that the symptoms are too severe for him/her to manage, he/she should contact the school counselor or a physician. If the stress and anxiety is too severe, anti-anxiety medications or cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT) may be recommended by the physician to alleviate the symptoms.
A new study conducted by Researchers at the University of Warwick has demonstrated that the birth of a child has far-reaching effects on the sleep of new mother and the impact is more prominent during the first three months after birth. The study also revealed that the duration of sleep satisfaction decreases up to 6 years for both mother and father post first childbirth.
A collaboration with the German Institute for Economic Research and the West Virginia University examined sleep in 4,659 parents who had a child between 2008 and 2015 to study long-term effects of pregnancy and childbirth on sleep satisfaction and duration of first-time and experienced mothers and fathers.
Parents were also interviewed yearly to report on their sleep during these years. It was revealed that mothers slept on average 1 hour less than they did before pregnancy in the first 3 months after birth. On the other hand, the duration of fathers’ sleep cut down by approximately 15 minutes. Dr Sakari Lemola from Department of Psychology, University of Warwick says that women tend to experience more sleep disruption after the birth of a child as compared to men which reiterates that it is still mothers who play the role of the primary caregiver in comparison to fathers.
Sleep duration was still about 20 minutes shorter in mothers and 15 minutes shorter in fathers when children grew up and were 4 – 6 years old when compared with their sleep duration before pregnancy.
Besides, first-time parents showed more pronounced sleep effects than experienced parents. The sleep effects were also more marked in breastfeeding mothers rather than in bottle-feeding mothers in the first 6 months after birth. Interestingly, the changes in sleep after childbirth seemed to be immune to factors such as higher household income and psychosocial factors like dual vs. single parenting
According to Dr Lemola, it is possible that increased demands and obligations that accompany parenting lead to shorter sleep and lowered sleep quality even up to 6 years after birth of the first child.
Exam time is here again. This could be very stressful for most children as they work hard for good marks. Many children fear that they will not be able to get best grades and will lose respect of their friends and family and will miss out on career opportunities if they perform badly in exams. In the competitive world of today exam stress or anxiety has become quite common. Our duty as a parent becomes more important when the child is preparing for exams. There are several things that a parent can do to ease the exam pressure and help the child sail through this phase. Here are some tips which parents can follow during exams:
Time management: You as a parent should help your child to manage his or her time effectively and efficiently. Time management becomes even more crucial during exams. Create a time table for each and every activity, like studying, revision, and make sure to include break time in between, meals, and even self-care. During exams, we seldom realize that our children’s brain needs rests too. Many of us, unfortunately, believe that during exams a child must only be studying. This is quite a misconception and creates extra stress and anxiety. Make time table with your child and put it in the study room. You should also make sure that entire exam schedule is known to you and your child especially if the child is very small.
Don’t add to your child’s stress: During exams, parents should make every effort to ease the burden of the child and not add to it. Parents should have realistic expectation from the child. Remember, each child has his or her own abilities. Having expectations that are too high for the child will only make the child feel more stressed and frustrated. The child might think that the task is impossible and might not even try hard enough. Of course, expectations sometimes act as motivators but keeping expectations that are unachievable will only lead to stress and poor performance during exams. Rather, encourage your child that he can do it and show faith in him. This will help them remain calm and composed during exams. Only a calm mind can perform extraordinarily during exams.
Be there for the child: During exams, parents must convey to their child that they are there for him regardless of the grades. Be an emotional support to your child apart from being physically there for the child. Try to understand the emotions the child might be going through. You might have to curtail some of your outings as well. But don’t create an atmosphere of curfew within the house. The child knowing that my parents will always love me irrespective of my grades is a great emotional support.
Take care of your child: This includes taking care of the food and sleep of your child. Make sure the child has his or her food regularly. Make sure the child eats healthy food only. Fresh fruits and juices should be part of the diet of the child normally but during exams it is all the more important that the child eats healthy only and avoids consuming sugar and junk food as they tend to make the child feel sleepy. Fruits and vegetables, on the other hand, keep the mind fresh and active. Also make sure that the child remains hydrated.
Sleep is another very critical aspect during exams. Often parents, and sometimes even the children, feel that they should not sleep much during exams. This is very wrong. Our brain too requires rest and time to consolidate everything learnt, and this is done during sleep. A good night sleep before exams is very important, so make sure your child gets enough sleep.
Take breaks: Encourage your child to take breaks during preparation. This could be a 15 – 20 minute walk in the park, or some play activity, or could be meditation, watching TV, or talking to a friend over phone. Many parents restrict the child from such activities during preparation as they believe that these activities waste time. This is wrong; just like any other electronic device our brain too needs to switch off for a little while to maintain the functioning. Therefore, make sure that your child gets regular breaks in between preparation.
Discuss the exam and move on: Preparing for the exams is not the only stressful part; even the after-exam discussion could be equally dreadful for some children. Not everyone performs exceptionally well in the exams. Don’t dissect the performance of the child; this might negatively affect the performance of the child in the coming exam. Discuss with them but don’t over criticize, and just move on. You can discuss about the mistakes done and how to improve them in the next exam but don’t shout or reprimand the child.
Exam strategy: Discuss with your child and make a strategy about how to attempt the question paper. Suggest techniques to make answer more presentable, which questions should be answered first, how to divide time during exams, etc.
Stationery: It might sound trivial but many times, children sit in the exam and later realize they are not carrying pen or other stationary items and end up wasting time by asking others. You as a parent should make sure that the child has enough pens, pencils, or rubber etc before exam and during all the exams. Make sure that the pencil-box or kit is filled with working stationary items and not with used or empty pens. This might seem like a little thing but it can save a lot of time during exam and help avoid undue anxiety.