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Tips for Managing Anxiety [Podcast]

Posted August 24, 2020 by Leslie Zaynor

Listen to this episode of the Healthy Vitals Podcast.

Dr. Leslie Zaynor discusses tips for managing anxiety.


Scott Webb (Vyverman) (Host):   Staying mentally and physically well during the pandemic is important for all of us. Here with me today to discuss anxiety and strategies for staying well is Dr. Leslie Zaynor. She’s a clinical psychologist with Summa Health. This is Healthy Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. So Dr. Zaynor, thank you so much for being on today. We’ve got a lot to cover. I want to start with setting the table here a little bit. How do you define anxiety? What are some of the root causes for people? Do you find that anxiety levels are higher right now specifically due to COVID-19?

Leslie Zaynor, PhD (Guest):   Generally we define anxiety as excessive worry or a feeling or tension or being on edge or nervous, feeling like you can't control those kinds of thoughts and feelings. There can be physical components to it like muscle tension or nausea and then there can be emotional and cognitive kind of components like your thinking processes and just that general feeling of dread. People can have panic attacks as part of their anxiety. Those are discreet episodes where you feel like you're having trouble breathing or your heart is pounding. You feel a really strong sense like you need to escape, or the walls are closing in. People can have other physical manifestations of their anxiety as well in addition to their specific phobias—fear of heights, fear of spiders, different things like that too. Yes, we do see an increase in anxiety. I don’t have specific numbers to give you, but I'm seeing more patients who are coming in who maybe had preexisting anxiety before the pandemic. So now all of the changes are ramping up in their feelings, or they're worried specifically about the pandemic and about what the implications are for themselves and their families.

Host:   Let’s talk about ways to deal with anxiety, to treat anxiety. I know most people naturally gravitate towards what we might call distractions, whether it’s watching TV—I'm definitely guilty of that—reading, video games, doing things where the goal is to get your mind off your worries. Those have some degree of effectiveness, right?

Dr. Zaynor:   Yes, they do. Like you said, they get your mind off of what you’ve been worrying about. For a lot of people, that’s enough. Then the rest of the evening they're good, doesn’t bother them again. When that’s not enough for you, there are other things that people can do. One of the first things like deep breathing or progressive muscle relaxation, any kind of meditation. Those can be really effective because it helps bring your heart rate down, it helps bring your breathing rate down. So you just feel calmer. It also really encourages people to focus on here and now and get themselves out of those sort of what if and catastrophizing kind of worries. So that’s another reason why it’s really effective. The key with those kinds of techniques though is you really have to practice at other times when you're calm. Learning to relax your mind and your body is a skill. So the more you practice it, the better you get at it, the more effective it’s going to be at other times.

Host:   So doctor, something I wanted to ask you about is what exactly is self talk? I'm not that familiar wit that term. I think I understand it, but I’d like to have you explain that.

Dr. Zaynor
:   It’s just evaluating what’s happening, telling ourselves things. Sometimes it’s helpful things, encouraging things. Sometimes it’s not so helpful. For some people it might be more critical, it might be more worrisome. A lot of people say, “Oh I always think about the worst case scenario.” If you have anxiety, that’s not surprisingly going to increase your anxiety to be thinking about what’s the worst thing that can happen here. So another strategy for controlling anxiety is to pay attention to what you're telling yourself about situations. Because, again, if you're thinking about the worst case scenario or you're saying, “Well what if this happens, what if that happens,” then your anxiety is going to increase. What we find is that a lot of times people really are pretty out of proportion in their thinking when their anxiety is high. So it’s a better strategy to pay attention and to try to remind yourself to say things that are more moderate, more in proportion to the situation. So like wearing masks now with the pandemic. We’re all having to wear masks. It’s uncomfortable. It’s inconvenient. At the same time, it’s still doable. We might not like it but it’s doable. So using terms like uncomfortable, inconvenient, frustrating. That’s going to keep your emotions in proportion to the situation.

Host:   So doctor, let’s talk about creative endeavors and how they can be helpful too. Things like drawing, coloring, woodworking, gardening, singing, or playing an instrument. Those are more than just a distraction, right?

Dr. Zaynor:   Oh yeah. These are things that can give you an outlet for your feelings. They can help you express your feelings. They can help remind you of your abilities and competencies, which we tend to forget. When we’re in a heighted emotional state, we tend to forget positives about ourselves. So going back to some of those things can remind us. Then at the end you have a finished product that you can really be proud of. So it tends to be a little more helpful than just your typical distraction like watching TV.

Host:  Right. Because in the end, all we’ve done is just binged on a TV show when we watch Netflix or Hulu. Here we actually have something, as you say, and we can point to it and say, “See what I made? I made this thing. It’s really cool.” That’s a great suggestion. Let’s talk about maintaining our social connections. One of the things I've had an issue with during this time—the so-called new normal—is the term social distancing. I think what we should have called it from the start was maybe physical distancing because we don’t want to be socially distant. We want to maintain those social connections, right? I mean obviously safely, of course, but maintaining our social connections is so important.  

Dr. Zaynor: 
 Yeah, you're absolutely right Scott. Getting support from other people, reminding ourselves that we’re all in this together. It’s key to helping to maintain good emotional health. The other side of that too is giving support. There's a saying, and I'm probably not going to get it right, but when you give a gift, two people benefit. The one who gets the gift and the one who gives the gift, right? So we feel better when we do something good for somebody else. When you give support to other people then you benefit as well. It’s just another reason to try to keep your connections whether it’s from a distance in person or over the telephone, Zoom or whatever the other electronics are, or even just writing a letter. Old fashioned letter writing and sending cards. People really get a thrill out of that too. So sticking with that is very important.

   You know one of the things my mom and I have been doing—even though she’s nearby, we haven’t seen each other as much over the last few months—is we’ve been playing Scrabble over our phones at night. So she texted me last night and said, “Are you up for a game?” Sure. Something we did when I was a kid, we played physical Scrabble at the table. Now we’re playing online Scrabble on our phones. It does help us stay together. It does maintain that social connection with family, which is such a simple silly thing but really effective because last night I ended my night playing Scrabble with my mom as I often did as a kid which was really a neat thing. So let’s talk about the advice we would all get from our primary care physicians. The basic things that we can all do right now to stay physically and mentally well, or as well as we can. That would be eating well, getting enough sleep, trying to get some exercise every day. Those things are important as well, right?

Dr. Zaynor:   Oh yeah. These are the building blocks for good physical and emotional health. I know they're not very flashy and it’s kind of like yeah, yeah, yeah. I've heard that before, but they really are very important to try to maintain yourself physically. I guess I’d also add to what you said try not to drink too much alcohol or too much caffeine because that’s not good for you either. Like I said, they're just the building blocks of staying well. Right now during the pandemic, we need to keep our bodies as physically healthy as we can as well as our emotions as healthy as we can.

Host:   Yeah, that’s so right. You’ve given us some great suggestions today on how to stay physically and mentally well. As we wrap up here today doctor, what else do we need to tell people about getting ahold of you, services that are offered there, anything else we can tell them today.

Dr. Zaynor:   Well, yeah thanks for that question Scott because I think if people are feeling that these ideas are not sufficient for them, if they're feeling overwhelmed, if anxiety or other emotional concerns are interfering with their responsibilities or their relationships it’s important that they do reach out for help. At Summa we have a wide variety of services. We have counselling or psychotherapy, we have psychiatry services, as well as some other services that can be helpful for emotional concerns. So if somebody wants to get connected, the thing that they can do is they can call the behavioral health department at St. Thomas. The phone number there is 330-379-8190. They would collect some basic information and get somebody connected with appropriate services.

Host:   Doctor, I wanted to ask you about telehealth and telemedicine. Has that come up yet in dealing with people’s emotions and anxiety? Is that something that you guys are doing?

Dr. Zaynor: 
 Yes. We are doing quite a lot of telehealth at Summa. I've found it very effective. Patients have found it convenient. It’s not hard to do at all. It’s very easy. It does require a smartphone, but we’re offering that to all of our psychotherapy patients unless there’s a critical issue and we feel like we need to see them in the office. So it is an option for people.

Host:   That’s great to hear. I mentioned earlier about the new normal if you will. Telehealth and telemedicine, video visits, things like that has been sort of inching along over the years. Now out of necessity because of COVID-19 it’s become the thing in medicine. I really hope that it sticks. There’s a lot of good reasons—not just COVID-19—why people can connect remotely, digitally whether it’s Zoom or a video visit on their phone or however providers are doing that. What a great option for people and just hoping that insurance companies and everybody plays ball so that this is something that can stick. I'm sure you are too.

Dr. Zaynor:   Yes, I agree. I feel it’s been very helpful for our patients. We have people who maybe they have limited transportation options for instance. This gives them another way to access services that wasn’t available before.

Host:   Absolutely. Well Dr. Zaynor, so great having you on today. We covered a lot of ground. We’ve talked about mental and physical wellness and lots of suggestions on how to deal with anxiety and how anxiety levels might be a little bit higher right now during COVID-19, but we have some strategies, things we can do, ways that people can reach out and seek treatment. So awesome having you on and stay well. For more information or to book an appointment, visit If you found this podcast helpful and informative, please share it on your social channels and check out the full podcast library for topics of interest to you. This is Health Vitals, a podcast from Summa Health. I'm Scott Webb. Stay well and we’ll talk again next time.

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