Fear, Anxiety, and Stress: Waking Up to an Increasingly Scary World

Close-up photo of person lying in bed resting face on hands looking to the side, not wanting to get upRecently there have been at least three widely reported mass killings in the U.S., one in northern California, one in a park in New York City, and another in a church in Texas. I am afraid there may be more between the time of writing and when this gets published.

Lately I wake up feeling scared to get out of bed because I’m worried what the new day will bring. I have no problem falling asleep at night—I wind down slowly and avoid watching or listening to the news—and I have no problem waking up, either. Luckily for me, I naturally wake up around 6 a.m., a good time to begin my day.

But I often don’t want to begin the day. As soon as I open my eyes, I feel afraid. Like today—right away, I felt fear in my stomach. I know why I’m scared; I mean, who wouldn’t be? Exact figures vary depending on which source you use, but the U.S. averages multiple mass killings each month, and they happen all over—country and city, indoors and outside, wherever people congregate. Any of us could be among the next victims. For many Americans, no place feels safe anymore.

Semiautomatic weapons are in style, seemingly the killing machines of choice. I’m not going to use this space to write about the wisdom of gun control laws or to push for more thorough background checks wherever guns are sold. Clearly, I’m in favor of such legislation, but it’s up to all citizens to make their voices heard and it’s up to our elected officials to act accordingly.

I’m here to write about mental health because I know I can help people, myself included. Folks seem increasingly stressed by reports of violence across the country, and long-term stress is associated with the following:

Clearly, it’s important to find ways to cope in scary times. I’m happy to share my routine:

  1. I admit to myself that I’m scared. Pushing my feelings underground doesn’t do anything but give those emotions a place to fester and get back at me sometime later when I’m not expecting it. Denying your feelings may have physical and emotional repercussions. Don’t lie to yourself, and don’t lie to your kids, either—they’ll likely know you’re lying, and that will affect their ability to trust you. If your kiddo is with you and asks what’s wrong, a simple explanation such as, “I feel yucky,” or “I am sad that people were hurt,” or “I am angry” can be comforting. Don’t load them up with gory details.
  2. Once I allow myself to feel my fear, I concentrate on my breath. At first, my breath is fast and shallow. This kind of breathing falls right in line with the fight, flight, or freeze response associated with anxiety. Concentration on the breath helps people get grounded, and long, slow breaths help anxiety dissipate. This also applies to kiddos.
  3. What’s the method? I lie on my back—one hand on my heart, the other on my belly. First, I simply feel myself breathe. Kids typically like doing this too; some learn it in school. (Maybe they can teach you!)
  4. After a few minutes, I purposely begin to take long, slow, deep breaths. This kind of breathing awakens the parasympathetic nervous system and reduces anxiety, lowers blood pressure, and slows the heart rate.
  5. If I have the time, I relax further by tensing and releasing my arms, legs, and torso.
  6. When I feel calm, I mentally check myself for leftover areas of tension. I then relax any I may find. This is known as a body scan.
  7. I wrap up this routine by stretching my back, legs, and arms, and I do some twists before I get out of bed.
  8. Last of all, I think about the people I love and feel gratitude. Having kiddos or cozy adults around can make for great cuddle time.

If you’re struggling with fear, anxiety, and stress—regardless of whether current events are the driving force—seeking the support of a therapist can be invaluable.

Reference:

Chronic stress puts your health at risk. (2016, April 21). Retrieved from https://www.mayoclinic.org/healthy-lifestyle/stress-management/in-depth/stress/art-20046037

© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Lynn Somerstein, PhD, NCPsyA, C-IAYT, therapist in New York City, New York

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Vin

    Vin

    November 18th, 2017 at 10:37 PM

    Thanks for this article, I totally related to it. I wake up full of anxiety and frightened to turn on the news. Luckily I practice similar breathing techniques and they really do help. Of course having a therapist again would be great, but my medical coverage is still not in order, thanks to 45! So it’s one day at a time for me, trying to focus on the positive and eliminate the negative.

  • Lynn Somerstein

    Lynn Somerstein

    November 19th, 2017 at 1:55 PM

    Good work Vin, sounds like you know how to take care. But don’t give up on a therapist too soon– many therapists have a sliding scale. Training institutes also have lower fees for people who want to work with therapists in training.
    Take care,
    Lynn

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