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5 steps to help handle increased anxiety

“When it gets to be too much, too severe, our bodies can react in a negative way and it can kind of take over our lives.”

ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. — The pandemic has had widespread health impacts, including an increase in anxiety.

Dr. Jeffery Lester of Internal Medicine for Tampa General Medical Group says he’s been having more conversations with patients about COVID-19 worries and managing their mental health.

“A little bit of stress is healthy to get you going, to get you motivated, to get you to overcome a problem or to think about things differently. Some degree of stress is healthy and fine,” says Dr. Lester. 

However, he goes onto explain when that increases from small stress to anxiety, the worry can be debilitating.

“When it gets to be too much, too severe, our bodies can react in a negative way and it can kind of takeover our lives,” he said.

Signs of anxiety include elevated heart and breathing rates, along with difficulty concentrating. Dr. Lester says some people feel like the walls are closing in on them. 

He breaks down five initial steps to take if you’re experiencing those issues for the first time, to help manage the symptoms. 

First, he says to start by writing down what’s bothering you. 

“Writing your thoughts down to why you’re stressed and why you’re angry and why you’re upset and things that bother you, that can be very therapeutic,” explains Dr. Lester. 

Second, try talking out your worries with a confidant. 

“Somebody that you trust, somebody with hopefully a good sense of things to give you good. It could be a family member, could be a good friend, it could be a clergy,” he says.

Dr. Lester continues with a third step, which is getting more sleep. 

Focusing on rest can help provide the energy to tackle the issues many are facing. 

“If we’re not sleeping well, then we’re not going to be able to handle stress as well and anxiety as well.” 

The fourth step is taking a time out. 

“Walking is a good exercise, also things like meditation or relaxation breathing, those are all things that can help,” he says.

Dr. Lester says to find a method that works for you and when the anxiety builds, take a break to recharge. 

The fifth step he offers is turning to helpful books for advice. 

“Some people, they read a self-help book, the right book, and it really changes their whole perspective on things and they can really handle things a lot better,” explains Dr. Lester. 

He also suggests leaning on family and loved ones for support, to take some of the weight off your plate. 

“Say look, I need about a half-hour of quiet time and downtime and maybe asking a spouse or somebody else in the house to take over the kids or take over a certain stressor for a while, so you can have a couple hours a week, or maybe a half-hour a day, where you can kind of do your thing separately. That can really help.” 

If you’re attempting to address anxiety with those options but it continues to impact your day, it’s time to seek professional help.

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