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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

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Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice)

Let’s be honest, self-care is a bit like mindfulness – an over-used and almost cringe-worthy, eye-roll of a topic. It’s a commercialized way of describing something that’s actually very simple and vital to living a happy life.

If you’ve ever been told you need to give yourself some self-care, it probably didn’t make you feel super motivated or good about yourself, did it? Because if it gets to the point that someone has to tell you, then it’s pretty obvious that you’re not exactly handling your sh*t.

“I think you should meditate & practice some self-love.”

Rage-inducing comments like this are well-intentioned but ultimately useless. It’s just like telling someone with depression to just “cheer up” or asking a person with broken legs to get up and dance, it’s not gonna happen.

A better way to encourage someone is to build them up and highlight their positives and strengths. Be the example of someone who practices self-care, but most importantly, do not point out their problems.

So, if you’re the person who needs a little love, or if you want to set a good example for someone else, then rest assured you’ll find out how to do this here. No fluff or woo-woo; just some genuinely useful and effective strategies you can start using today.

What is Self-Care?

Firstly, can we instead refer to this as “the relationship you have with yourself”? It’s less cringe and more accurate. Because what we’re really talking about is the act of caring for yourself, as you would for a friend, and asking:

“How are you?”

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And responding with “I’m fine.” is not allowed.

Rate your relationship with yourself from 1 -10 (10 being you probably don’t need any self-care tips!).

If you’re struggling to place a number on it, think about whether you habitually make yourself feel bad, question whether you’re worthy or beat yourself up often.

Or do you cheer yourself on? Do you feel strong and capable, telling yourself “you can do this” instead of “why should I bother”?

Think of it this way:

If you had to repeat your inner dialogue – the words you say to yourself – verbatim as if it were advice to your friends, would you have any friends left?

It’s ok if you wouldn’t or maybe just have a few stragglers. We’ve all taken a beating from ourselves at one point or another. But let’s get this straight: if you haven’t taken the time to listen to your mental chatter, now’s the time my friend.

This isn’t one you can let go, because it is literally the key to your success. Being imprisoned by your negative thoughts and beliefs will lead you to things like anxiety, depression, low confidence, low self-esteem, and a generally unhappy life experience. So yeah, it’s important.

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“Self-talk is the biggest thing. A lot of us have a dialogue that is crap. I use my self-talk to make me better, to make me stronger… Self-talk comes from belief in yourself. If you don’t believe in yourself it won’t work.” – David Goggins, an ultramarathon runner, retired US Navy SEAL, and former US Air Force Tactical Air Control Party member who served in the Iraq War.

“They’re Just Thoughts, How Harmful Can They Be?”

Your brain doesn’t know the difference between a real event and a thought.[1] This is why you can get anxious when you think of public speaking, or when your mouth waters when you think of chewing on a lemon.

If you have negative self-talk with yourself every day, your brain’s neural pathways will genuinely change and mold to this style of thinking, almost like a default setting. Your subconscious mind believes the things you tell it, and if you tell it something for long enough, you’ll form a belief system at a subconscious level that will underpin how you act and react every day.

This is because the brain is malleable – it changes and it adapts.[2] So when we think the same thoughts over and over, these pathways strengthen and become the new normal.

“Neurons that fire together, wire together” – Hebb, D.O.

This is the first and most crucial thing to understand in order to create a good relationship with yourself. You don’t have to “fall in love with yourself,” but you should accept yourself with all of your flaws and create new, positive thought patterns that drive you forward (not hold you back).

How Do I Know What I’m Saying to Myself?

Focusing on self-talk, inner dialogue or mental chatter requires us to shift the focus from the external world to the internal world.

Doing this is hard, but it is possible. Nothing good comes easy, and it’s only hard for most of us because it’s not something we learned at school or from our parents (though it most certainly should be!).

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Here are some ways to start listening.

Start Writing

Get a pen and paper and just write whatever comes to mind. Some prompts: “I wish I could feel less/more...” or “Lately, what’s been annoying me is…” take stock of everything you’re telling yourself every day.

What are the feelings and emotions you’ve been feeling lately? What is stressing you out? What makes you happy?

A therapist can help with these types of things, but you can do this yourself once you practice identifying your thoughts and feelings, becoming more self-aware.

Meditation

If you’re struggling with writing, start with meditation and breathing. Meditation (and something even better, hypnosis) is a way in which we convert our brain waves from Beta to Alpha – meaning we can access the operating system of our mind.[3] In this state, we reduce the effects of stress and cortisol by getting to the “rest and digest” stage.

You don’t have to clear your mind or sit in a weird, uncomfortable pose.

Just get some quiet, get a good soundtrack on Spotify or Youtube, and start by focusing on your breathing. Counting in for 5 and out for 7. You can add in some mantras to say out loud like “release”, and let your mind wander (but bring it back whenever you notice it wandering too far).

“Meditation is not a way of making your mind quiet. It’s a way of entering into the quiet that’s already there, buried under the 50,000 thoughts the average person thinks everyday.” – Deepak Chopra

This gets easier with time. Once you know what your thoughts are saying, you can stop a thought before it signals an emotion.

Remember, it’s our responses to situations, and how we perceive them that can trigger different types of emotions.

What Else Helps?

Start Using Affirmations

Put them up where you’ll see them every day – on your phone or your mirror. Familiarize your brain with it to see positive reinforcement. This, along with journaling, is a great way to start to undo any of the negative neural pathways you’ve been using for too long.

Try these 10 Positive Affirmations for Success that will Change your Life.

Diet and Exercise

We know exercise and eating well is good for us, so start doing that if you’re not. This is the relationship you have with yourself and your body, so reduce processed sugar and carbs, increase healthy fats and vegetables, increase lean protein, and start sweating.

All of these will make you less prone to negative thinking and get your hormones on your side.

Final Thoughts

These strategies are worth your time.

No one can be held accountable for the relationship you hold with yourself other than you. Yes, people can definitely impact the way you see yourself, but that’s only if you permit them to do so.

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Give yourself a talking to, take back the consent you gave others to negatively affect you, and set your intention to build a great relationship with yourself. Not only will the people around you start to notice, but your performance in every aspect of your life will also increase. There’s never been a better time to start than during quarantine!

More Self-Care Tips

Featured photo credit: Samantha Gades via unsplash.com

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More by this author

Daina Worrall

Lawyer, C. Hypnotherapist and RTT Therapist - Personal Development & Mental Health

Overcome Fear and Anxiety with These 4 Mindset Shifts Self Care Tips During Difficult Times (A Therapist’s Advice) How to Cure Depression (Professional Advice from a Therapist) How to Turn Negative Thoughts Into Positive Action Now How to Take Personal Responsibility and Stop Blaming Circumstances

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Published on October 15, 2021

Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

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Does Anxiety Make You Tired And Why?

When you think of anxiety, several scenarios may come to mind: the endless tossing and turning of a restless night, dread over potential future events, pandemic-related overwhelm, or full-blown panic attacks. Even if you’re not diagnosed with an anxiety disorder, you’ve likely experienced anxiety symptoms at some point in your life. In these situations, you might feel a queasiness in your stomach, racing heartbeat, excessive sweating, chest tightness, some tension in your jaw/neck/shoulders, or worrisome thoughts as you prepare for the worst possible scenario. But does anxiety also make you tired?

After experiencing these symptoms, you may indeed feel fatigued. The sensation could fall anywhere on the exhaustion spectrum, from feeling like you just ran a marathon and need to sleep for two days, to just a little worn down and wanting a quick nap to recover.

Below are 7 ways anxiety zaps your energy and how to restore it.

1. Stress Hormone Overload

Anxiety can make you tired via overloading your body with stress hormones. The “fight or flight” response is a key connection between anxiety and fatigue. In fact, this process is made up of three stages: Alarm, Resistance, and Exhaustion. Anxiety triggers our body systems to go into high alert. This is a natural, involuntary reaction that developed in the human brain for survival.

When humans lived with the real, imminent threat of being attacked by a predator, it made sense for our bodies to spring into action without much preparatory thought. Such dangers are rare in modern times, but our brains continue to respond in the same way they did thousands of years ago.

The hormones and chemicals that flood our bodies to prepare us for safety can both affect and be affected by several body systems, and this interaction itself contributes to exhaustion. Adrenaline and cortisol are the two most notable hormones to address here. First, adrenaline is sent out, tensing the muscles and increasing heart rate and blood pressure in preparation to run. Later in the stress response, cortisol is released, enhancing the brain’s use of glucose. This is one of our main fuel sources, so it’s no wonder this contributes to fatigue (see #2).

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You can regulate baseline levels of these stress hormones by regularly practicing yoga, breathwork, meditation, and/or engaging in aerobic exercise.[1] It’s easier to lean into these routines for relief during stress when you’ve already mastered using them during times when you feel calm.

2. Elevated Blood Sugar Levels

Fatigue is one of the most common symptoms of hyperglycemia (high blood sugar), which is shown to be associated with anxiety in diabetic patients.[2] Many people who experience hyperglycemia report feeling tired all the time regardless of their quantity or quality of sleep, nutrition, or exercise.

Although this connection has shown more prevalent and prolonged effects in diabetics, it also occurs with nondiabetics exposed to psychiatric stress.[3] In fact, for all people, the natural stress response elevates blood pressure and heart rate as well as cortisol levels, all of which increase blood sugar levels.[4] This means that anxiety causes a double-hit of exhaustion related to blood sugar fluctuations.

Instead of reaching for comfort foods like chocolate during times of stress, take a calming walk around the block. Gentle movement alone is a great stress reliever that incidentally also helps to regulate blood sugars.[5]

3. Negative Mindset

Anxiety can also make you tired because of repetitive negative thinking (RNT), which is a common symptom of anxiety. RNT involves continuous thoughts via rumination (dwelling on sad or dark thoughts focused on the past) and worry (angst regarding the future). Some researchers argue that having a longtime habit of RNT can harm the brain’s capacity to think, reason, and form memories.[6] While the brain is busy using its energy stores to fuel negative thought patterns, the energy available for these other more productive endeavors is thereby reduced.

Negative thoughts can also disrupt or prevent healthy sleep patterns, keeping our minds racing at night and effectively wreaking havoc on daytime energy. (See #7)

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Reduce these patterns by reframing your feelings over anxious thoughts. Instead of staying stuck on “what if,” focus on what you can do in the here and now. What activity can you engage in for five minutes (or more) that brings you joy? What are you grateful for, no matter what’s going on around you?

4. Digestive Issues

It’s common for people to experience both intestinal and mental issues simultaneously. This suggests a strong connection between the central nervous system and the gastrointestinal (GI) tract, which is known as the gut-brain axis.[7] Simply put, what happens in our digestive tract (and as a result of what we eat) affects the brain and vice versa.

The gut microbiota is a complex population of GI tract microorganisms. When its balance is altered, the body can develop conditions that affect the gut-brain-endocrine relationship. The endocrine system produces and manages adrenaline, for starters. And the gut bacteria’s production of feel-good hormones (serotonin and dopamine—see #5) ties into this relationship as well.

GABA (gamma-aminobutyric acid) receptors are also found in gut bacteria. GABA is a natural brain relaxant that makes us feel good by helping the body to unwind after a stress-induced neurotransmitter release (e.g., cortisol and adrenaline). When GABA activity is low, it leads to anxiety, depression, insomnia, and mood disorders. These are just a few of the manifestations that demonstrate how gut bacteria influences behavior. All of these contribute to feeling both physically and mentally tired.

You can minimize the symptoms of depression and anxiety by keeping your gut microbiota balanced with probiotic-rich fermented foods. Yogurt with live cultures, sauerkraut, kombucha, kefir, kimchi, miso soup, and tempeh are great foods to include in your diet.[8]

5. Depression

Anxiety and depression often go hand in hand. Research continues to indicate a complex relationship between depression and decreased serotonin—a key neurotransmitter for regulating mood and feelings of wellbeing and happiness. Anxiety is also a direct symptom of serotonin deficiency. Serotonin helps with healthy sleep, mood, and digestion.

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Serotonin is produced in the gut, almost exclusively, at an estimated 90 percent. However, a small quantity is also produced in the hypothalamus, an area of the brain that is pivotal for transmitting energy balance signals. This small cone-shaped structure receives and relays signals transmitted via the vagus nerve from the gastrointestinal tract. It has a central role in mediating stress responses, regulating sleep, and establishing circadian rhythms. It senses and responds to a myriad of circulating hormones and nutrients, directly affecting our mood and energy.[9]

Dopamine is another mood-boosting neurochemical that is depleted in depression. It creates feelings of alertness and wakefulness and, when the body is operating normally, is released in higher amounts in the morning (allowing for daytime energy) and lower at night (preparing for healthy sleep). Stress is one factor that can deplete dopamine, thereby leading to depression, sleep disorders, and fatigue.

Studies show that dopamine levels in the brain can be elevated by increasing dietary intake of tyrosine and phenylalanine.[10] Both of these amino acids are naturally found in protein-rich foods like turkey, beef, eggs, dairy, soy, peas, lentils, and beans.

6. Breathing Problems

Breathlessness and anxiety are closely linked, and this is one of the ways anxiety can make you feel tired. Anxiety can lead to shallow breathing, which can cause shortness of breath while feeling breathless can exacerbate anxiety.[11] It’s a vicious cycle that often leads people to take rapid and shallow breaths, breathing into their upper chest and shoulders.

This type of breathing minimizes oxygen intake and usability. Despite comprising only two percent of the body, our brains consume 20 percent of the body’s oxygen supply. Oxygen is fuel for both mental and physical tasks. When breathing patterns compromise healthy oxygen levels, this can cause considerable fatigue.[12]

End the anxiety-fatigue cycle with focused breathing exercises. It’s important to practice this regularly while you’re not experiencing anxiety or stress, as this will help you to be prepared should a moment of breathless anxiety hit unexpectedly.

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There are several different styles of breathing exercises. There’s an easy one to try, called “Resonant Breathing.” Simply breathe in slowly through your nose as you count to five, then exhale for a count of five. Repeat this for a few minutes. It’s helpful to bring your awareness to any tension, deliberately relaxing your neck, shoulders, and jaw in particular.

7. Sleep Issues

Most of the elements we’ve already discussed inherently tie into sleep issues, which is often the reason why anxiety can make you feel tired. But it’s important to note that this is not always a directly linear cause-and-effect process. Much of it is cyclic. If we don’t get enough quality sleep, we increase our risk of excessive cortisol production, elevated blood pressure and blood sugar levels, depressed mood and mindset disorders, and dysregulation of appetite/craving hormones that affect our digestive health.

Sleep is obviously the number one antidote to feeling tired as a result of anxiety. But at the same time, many of these elements—including anxiety itself—lead to less-than-restorative sleep. We can improve our energy levels by addressing each element discussed here, as well as taking a proactive approach to our sleep health.

One simple habit to help recalibrate your circadian rhythm for healthy sleep patterns is to get outside in the morning. Sunlight exposure in the early hours of the day regulates melatonin production, helping us to feel sleepy at night.

You Don’t Have to Live Your Life Anxious and Exhausted

Times of extreme stress, like driving in heavy traffic or nerve-wracking situations like public speaking, can easily induce an anxiety response. Even “normal” everyday stressors, like feeling overwhelmed with work and home responsibilities, can build up to anxious feelings over time.

Our bodies’ response to stress and anxiety affects many of its functions in complex ways. When we unravel the interconnections of these processes, we can see how each part plays an intrinsic role in contributing to fatigue. By addressing each element individually, we can make simple lifestyle changes that resolve anxiety and diminish the ways it makes us tired as a result.

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More Tips on Coping With Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Joice Kelly via unsplash.com

Reference

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