Imagine anxiety is like a pot of water on the stove. We have a baseline level of water but stress-inducing situations each add a little more. Something happens at work and the water level rises. We encounter difficulties at home and in our relationships and the water rises again. It’s constantly simmering then suddenly that one more thing makes the pot boil over.
May is Mental Health Awareness Month and it’s coming at a time where our pots are all a bit more full than usual. The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in change and disruption, leading many to wonder if it’s time to have a conversation about the stress, anxiety and depression stemming from these unprecedented times. Especially via virtual visits, Tryon doctors are hearing an increased number of questions and concerns about mental health, inspiring the May 19 Facebook Live conversation Tryon Talks – Mental Wellness in a Pandemic.
Whether you’re someone who is prone to high levels of anxiety or you’re experiencing troubling feelings that are completely outside your normal, there are a few signs to tune into.
Four Ways Your Body is Telling You It’s Stressed
A certain level of anxiety is natural for everyone and can actually help us be successful in life. Without a little anxiety, we wouldn’t arrive on time for our meetings or dress nicely for that job interview. Our baseline level of anxiety exists for a reason but when stressors are added and it begins to boil over, our bodies have ways of reacting that tell us we’re overwhelmed.
- Difficulty Sleeping – When we go to bed, we’re suddenly alone with our own thoughts and an anxious mind has a hard time shutting those off. It can be difficult to go to sleep or, when you wake up in the middle of the night, it’s impossible to go back to sleep.
- Increased Irritability – Having less patience than normal can be a sign of increased anxiety. You may find yourself having a shorter fuse at work or snapping too quickly at your partner or children.
- Inability to Concentrate – When we’re overly anxious and stressed, our minds have less capacity for concentration, making work difficult and leaving us feeling less productive.
- A Racing Heart – Anxiety produces physical symptoms as well, which can be as intense as a panic attack or simply flushing and heart palpitations.
You may identify these symptoms yourself but often those who know us best may be the first to notice. All these are signs a conversation with your doctor could be beneficial, but there are many options to reduce stress at home.
Focusing on sleep hygiene, eating a healthy diet and exercising are all important steps to improved mental wellness. Meditation and deep breathing exercises can be another tool in your box that can be reached for during difficult times.
Cutting Through Confusion – Reach Out to Your Primary Care Doctor
Once we become aware of our own symptoms of stress, anxiety and depression, the next step can be confusing. People have often heard of doctors, therapists, psychiatrists and psychologists, but it can be difficult to make sense of who to contact. Your primary care physician is the best first call and, in many cases, the only doctor patients need to see for their mental health.
Mental health is a key component of our overall well-being so primary care physicians are used to and comfortable treating a variety of issues and symptoms. This is also beneficial because your primary care doctor knows you best and can take any other ongoing medical conditions into consideration, treating the whole you. Even if your situation includes seeing an additional expert, your primary physician can help lay the groundwork.
When preparing for a conversation about mental health with your doctor, it’s important to think about how you might want to pursue a solution while staying open-minded. Medication and therapy are the most common lines of treatment, which can be pursued individually or in tandem. Being prepared to talk about what has led you to seek help and what your preferences are will help your doctor determine next steps, but try to leave preconceived notions behind. Unlike taking medication to reduce blood pressure, for example, patients often have misgivings about medication for their anxiety, but your physician can address questions and concerns and guide you through options.
Virtual Visits Offer Options for Care During Social Distancing
While the current pandemic can cause stress that may need to be addressed by a physician, coming to an office for a visit may induce an entirely new set of anxious feelings, as we focus on social distancing to reduce risk of exposure to COVID-19. Traditionally, mental health providers have been on the forefront of telehealth utilizing virtual visits to connect with patients.
Today, virtual visits are more accessible than ever before as Tryon Medical Partners has expanded available hours and insurance companies cover virtual appointments just as they would an in-office visit.
Whether you’re typically prone to anxiety or are feeling things that are out of the norm for you, know that you’re not alone in feeling stress and don’t have to address it alone, either. We’re all living through disruption, and stepping outside our comfort zones produces feelings of anxiety in our minds and bodies. Join me and my Tryon colleagues May 19 on Facebook Live, Tryon Talks – Mental Wellness in a Pandemic, and don’t hesitate to talk one-on-one with a doctor today.