Although medical professionals are still discovering new reasons for depression and anxiety to this day, we know that a tiny portion in the brain called the amygdala, stores emotional and threatening thoughts and memories from our early childhood to present day.
There are neurotransmitters throughout the entire body that send signals to the brain, alerting you instantaneously of real or perceived danger. Anxiety is made up of both psychological and physical symptoms. The psychological part creates the nervousness, fear and worry, while the physical aspect produces sweating, rapid heart palpitations, a rise in blood pressure, nausea and shortness of breath.
When anxiety disorders are left untreated or undertreated, several areas of the brain like the hippocampus (regulates emotions) and the prefrontal cortex (decision making, planning abilities) shrink causing long-term damage.
We spoke to Regina Rhoades, LCSW (Licensed Clinical Social Worker), Mental Health Therapist and Clinical Manager at Bayfront Health Intensive Outpatient Program.
Q: What calming techniques can patients do to reduce stress and anxiety?
A: Everyone encounters anxiety and stress at one time or another. You cannot change all the things that cause you anxiety or stress, but you can learn how to better cope with them.
Some effective coping skills that you can use for calming and relaxation when you are experiencing stress and anxiety are…
1. Deep Breathing Exercises
A breathing exercise can be as simple as taking a series of even, slow inhale and exhale breaths whenever you feel anxious or stressed. You can use the exercises listed below in combination with deep breathing to most effectively reduce stress.
Get in a comfortable position, with your eyes open or closed
• Inhale for four seconds through the nose
• Exhale slowly through the mouth, for four to eight seconds
2. Practice Mindfulness
Our minds are sometimes overwhelmed with whirling thoughts and the emotions they evoke (Picture a snow globe after it is shaken). One very effective way of calming the mind is to practice Mindfulness which is
defined as: “Paying attention to something, in a particular way, on purpose, in the present moment, non-judgmentally.” (Kabat-Zinn, 2003) Mindfulness can be thought of as a rest from the busy activity of the mind. This can improve mental clarity and reduce stress and anxiety.
3. Use Guided Imagery
A simple yet effective way to manage stress. While deep breathing, a person imagines visual pathways and outcomes related to the cause of stress and anxiety. Guided Imagery exercises engage all the senses in a focused period of imagination. This powerful mind-body tool helps to connect the conscious and unconscious mind, and helps the mind direct the body toward positive, desirable responses.
4. Incorporate Progressive Muscle Relaxation
This involves tensing and relaxing, in succession, 16 different muscle groups of the body. A person will tense while inhaling, and then relax while exhaling.
5. Do Yoga
By reducing perceived stress and anxiety, yoga decreases physiological arousal – for example, reducing the heart rate, lowering blood pressure, and easing respiration. Some Yoga postures help release tension and negativity from the body system.
6. Practice Self-Awareness & Process Emotions
Identify thoughts and emotions as they arise instead of ignoring them or numbing them. Allow emotions to run their course. Emotions are temporary and do not define who we are. They can guide us to a resolution of inner conflict.
7. Practice Self-Compassion
Self-compassion entails being warm and understanding toward ourselves when we suffer, fail, or feel inadequate. Let go of perfectionism and comparison. Love yourself.
8. Spend Time With Your Dog
According to research, dogs can be much more than simply a trusting buddy. The evidence proving the physical benefits of living with a canine companion have been well documented, and vary from improved cardiovascular health and increased physical activity to lower cholesterol and decreased blood pressure.
9. Talk to a Friend or Ask for Help
One of the most effective ways to reduce stress and anxiety is to talk with someone. Your social network is one of your best tools for handling stress.
10. Grounding Exercises
Grounding is used for “healthy detachment” from extreme emotional pain. This involves using all your senses to describe your environment in detail. It can be done anywhere, anytime, and no one knows your doing it.
Q: When should a person seek professional help?
A: Basically, a person should seek professional help from a mental health professional when he/she feels overwhelmed by their stress or strong emotions and/or when they are turning to unhealthy coping techniques in order to manage.
One of the biggest indicators that it is time to seek professional help is when a person is self-medicating. Self-medicating means turning to prescription drugs, illegal drugs, or alcohol in order to decrease stress, numb emotions, or to sleep. Many times, addiction begins with self-medication.
Other indicators that might suggest you need to seek professional services from a mental health therapist and/or psychiatrist include:
• Diminished interest in and enjoyment of activities that you previously loved.
• You have suffered something traumatic and you can’t stop thinking about it.
• Everything you feel is extremely intense.
• A family member or friend has told you they are concerned about you or you are experiencing relationship strain.
• If you are increasingly feeling worthless, hopeless, or having inappropriate guilt.
• If you are beginning to have thoughts of self-harm or suicide.
Bayfront Health Punta Gorda Behavioral Health Services offers multiple levels of treatment options. Their professionals take a problem-solving approach to utilize your strengths and to help encourage you to reach success.
Bayfront Health Medical Group: Experience the benefits of therapeutic services, medication management and in-house counseling. 941-833-1750.
Medical Detoxification: A voluntary, individualized inpatient program for those wanting to take the first step on their road to recovery from alcohol and/or drug addiction. Offering all private rooms and bathrooms for comfort and privacy. 941-637-3120.
Intensive Outpatient Program (IOP): A short-term, group-
based program specifically designed for individuals seeking additional support in their recovery from mental health issues and/or addictions. 941-637-3143.
Riverside Behavioral Center: A 52-bed adult psychiatric center that provides hospitalization with a broad and comprehensive range of treatment options. 941-637-2474.