What can we do to help with anxiety?

Shawn Mendes performing In My Blood. © 2018 Island Records, a division of UMG Recordings, Inc.

“I’m looking through my phone again, feeling anxious

Afraid to be alone again, I hate this

I’m trying to find a way to chill, can’t breathe, oh

Is there somebody who could…

Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in“

I’m sure you recognized the lyrics from Shawn Mendes’ song In My Blood.

Shawn shares in a Billboard interview how this song reflects his experience dealing with anxiety. “I’m really proud of it,” he says. “…this is my first time breaking into something that’s more serious and more about me…The concept of this song is about how it feels [when] you’re about to give up, and then you don’t,” he continues. “That’s the whole payoff in the chorus section…It’s about something that I think everybody goes through and it’s something that I think people don’t talk about often, especially in music.”

Anxiety is a global problem and I appreciate how Shawn Mendes opens up, making this a legitimate problem to deal with.

In the lyrics he sings “afraid to be alone again”, and his instinct is to reach and check his phone. Let me fast forward and say: It will not help. On the contrary, it will make things worst. When we are stress or anxious, human connection can help us ease the level of anxiety; as for technology…not so much. Instead of peace of mind, we will feel more isolated and alone. Just like in the song, “Help me, it’s like the walls are caving in”.

Before we can help, we need to understand the WHY

People become anxious for so many reasons — most of them are related to stress. Stress at work, school, different financial predicament, or like in the song — personal relationship. Interesting enough, I discovered that even low oxygen levels in high-altitude areas can add to anxiety symptoms.

(Sidebar — when I was climbing Mount Fuji, there were no anxiety on my end due to lack of oxygen, just a breathtaking view)

Me at the top of Mt Fuji — No anxiety there but definitely lack of oxygen

Constant visits to social media apps will contribute to the level of anxiety one may feel.

“Afraid to be alone again” but yet “looking through my phone” won’t help.

Picture this: You just broke up with your boyfriend/girlfriend. Now you open Instagram. Scrolling down through your feed: you see food — we can deal with that; cute puppies — admit it, that cheered you up a bit; and then all the photos of you friend’s celebration of their 1 year anniversary — all of a sudden the happiness is gone. Your friends are happily together and you are not, you are happy for them, but still… Now you get why this will emphasize the loneliness and will not ease the pain?!

Anxiety and our brain

Two hormones play a role with stress, Oxytocin and Cortisol.

Cortisol is a stress hormone, released by the adrenal glands. It is important for helping our bodies deal with stressful situations, as our brain triggers its release in response to many different kinds of stress. However, when cortisol levels are too high for too long, this hormone can hurt you more than it helps.

Oxytocin on the other hand, is a hormone and a neurotransmitter that is involved in childbirth and breastfeeding. It is also associated with empathy, trust, sexual activity, and relationship-building. Why do I mention it? Because Oxytocin may also have benefits as a treatment for a number of conditions, including depressionanxiety.

Now that you know about the two, you should try and balance them when you feel anxious.

The trick is to do things that will release oxytocin and lower our cortisollevels.

How can we get these under control?

For starters, balance the time you spend on social media vs other activities. But you already knew that, right?!

You can also make sure to exercise, practice mindfulness, yoga, have a good night sleep, laugh, or listen to music. You can also volunteer. Volunteer?! Yes, volunteer.

I recently came across a study on the benefits of volunteering, done by the Department of Social and Behavioral Sciences at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health. Guess what was one of the benefits? Yep, reduce anxiety.

“What surprised us was that this association persisted even after we controlled for a wide range of other factors including baseline health, health behaviors, social integration, stress, and personality traits like conscientiousness and neuroticism.” said Eric Kim, a research fellow.

Volunteering helps counteract the effects of stress, anger, and (drum rolls please….) anxiety. The research was showing that the social contact aspect of helping and working with others can have a profound effect on our overall psychological well-being. We all know that nothing relieves stress better than a meaningful connection with people as opposed to social media. Volunteering helps facilitates that human interaction.

Volunteer, it may help you more than others

Going back to Shawn’s song, he felt lost — volunteering provides a sense of purpose. So instead of feeling as “the walls are caving in”, change the scenery — one way is by volunteering. Depending where you volunteer, this will help you put your problems in prospective. I’m not saying it will solve everything, but it will give your life purpose and meaning. I volunteer at a place that promotes CPR training. I also help bring choking prevention classes to 5th graders (because a 9 years old can save a life). I can tell you from my experience, every time I leave the classroom I feel amazing. Nothing beats that feeling, and I urge you to give it a try.

Now go make human connection & volunteer, help reduce anxiety and stress!