You feel the change in your body. Your heart starts pounding, your breathing gets quicker, you feel flushed or sweaty, your head is light, your stomach is in knots, or your muscles tighten. These are some of the things our bodies do after releasing adrenaline in response to stress or danger, and it’s what helps us get through a situation.

For some people though, anxiety builds into a constant feeling of apprehension and worry. Anxiety often accompanies depression, and it’s a common experience for women living with HIV.

Symptoms

  • worrying excessively and uncontrollably about daily life
  • worrying about public embarrassment
  • having trouble focusing or sleeping because of worries
  • avoiding stressful situations
  • reliving everyday moments or traumas over and over
  • compulsively hand washing, cleaning, or rechecking things
  • having panic attacks

Coping and Treatment

Here are some ideas for dealing with anxiety.

  • Talk with someone you trust. This might be a close family member, friend, support worker, or therapist.
  • Get a good night’s sleep. Work on going to bed and getting up at the same hours every day. Consistency can help you get a quality sleep, which makes all the difference.
  • Reduce your use of stimulants. Anxiety symptoms can be made worse by stimulants such as caffeine and nicotine, which are found in products such as coffee, soda, chocolate, and cigarettes.
  • Practise calm breathing. Slow breaths can help us relax. Try inhaling through the nose for three or four seconds, holding your breath for one or two, then exhaling through the mouth for three or four seconds. Pause before repeating.
  • Practise bodily relaxation. Try tensing different muscles, holding for a few seconds, and then letting go.
  • Work on accepting that mistakes are part of life. You can try your best, but remember that nobody is perfect. Mistakes help us learn and grow as individuals.
  • Exercise. Physical activity can boost your energy level and stimulate chemicals in your body that lift your mood. You don’t even need to do anything vigorous. Try going for a walk, taking a swim, or doing some gentle yoga.
  • Get into nature. Time spent with trees, bodies of water, and animals can put you in a different frame of mind.
  • Consider therapy. Some women check in with their therapist when they feel a bout of depression coming on. Others find that they need regular sessions. Some kinds of therapy, such as cognitive behavioural therapy, have proven useful for treating depression in studies. Remember that if you don’t feel comfortable with one therapist or type of therapy, there are others you can try.
  • Speak with your doctor about medication. Some women with anxiety respond best to antidepressants in combination with other coping strategies. Because medications can interact with antiretroviral treatment, be sure to speak with your doctor before starting anything new. Even herbal remedies such as St. John’s wort can interact with antiretroviral drugs.