Keep calm and carry on with CBD: WFH anxiety
Anastasiia Myronenko is a Medical Physicist actively practicing in one of the leading cancer centers in Kyiv, Ukraine. She received her master’s degree in Medical Physics at Karazin Kharkiv National University and completed Biological Physics internship at GSI Helmholtz Centre for Heavy Ion Research, Germany. Anastasiia Myronenko specializes in radiation therapy and is a fellow of Ukrainian Association of Medical Physicists.
Since the coronavirus pandemic, it has been a while now that uncertainty reigns the world, and the news about the consequences of this scourge seem endless. The current situation cannot but affect the mental state of people, especially those who suffer from various mental disorders. How to protect your psyche? How to "stay calm and carry on?"
According to Harvard studies in 2019, one in five Americans over 18, and one in three teenagers (13-18 years of age), reported having a chronic anxiety disorder. The World Health Organization (WHO) also agreed that such estimates make anxiety the most common mental health disorder worldwide. Furthermore, such mental disorders increase a person's risk for other, more serious psychiatric disorders like depression and contribute to diabetes and cardiovascular problems.
Nicky Lidberg of AnxietyUK, a UK-based anxiety association, explains that fear of losing control of a situation and not coping with it is the leading cause of some mental disorders and, in particular, anxiety disorders. "Anxiety begins when a person does not know what to expect, worries about the future, and thinks that something is about to happen,” he says.
From the ancient Greek, "anxiety" is translated as "subconscious horror" caused by real or perceived danger. Fear of the unknown is a natural brain reaction. A defense mechanism that mobilised our ancestors in front of the unknown and helped to stay alive if it posed a danger. Anxiety, fueled by fear, is the basis of the instinct of self-preservation, the scheme of action that has remained unchanged since the time of the forefathers of humankind.
Despite the uncertainty, the COVID-19 pandemic forced people to raise a massive variety of questions, and there are still no answers.
- What will happen next?
- How can I work from home?
- Will I lose my job? Should I start looking for another one?
- Will I still get paid? Will it be enough to make a living?
Let's look at the statistics:
A recent report by Blind, which is a US-based anonymous professional network with 3.2 million verified users, stated that:
- 52.9 percent of respondents across organisations such as Google, Facebook, Amazon, Apple, LinkedIn, and Walmart were facing loneliness WFH and in the age of social distancing.
- Close to 56.4 percent of employees complained about "feeling of anxiety during WFH and social distancing." 53 percent of those said they were experiencing mental health issues, being desperate for help.
A survey by the Centre for Monitoring Indian Economics revealed that India's unemployment rate could have risen to more than 20 percent as the economy lost jobs after the 21-day nationwide lockdown in the last week of March.
In 2015 Julianne Holt-Lunstand, a Brigham Young University psychologist and neuroscientist, published an article in The New Yorker, showing that loneliness is a possible reason which increases the rate of early death by 26 percent. Also, it was stated that social isolation led to an increased rate of mortality by 29 percent, and living alone can take this up by 32 percent.
Easy steps you can follow to calm down your anxiety
Practice Digital Detox
- Limit the time you spend reading and viewing information that does not affect you positively. Check the news only at certain times.
- Given a large number of fakes in the media space, only read the information from trusted sources, such as government websites and national health websites.
- If you find yourself in self-isolation, follow your routine, but try to make each day different. Do things that your hands never got around to, read a book that you couldn't get your hands on. It is better to spend the time you spend on the Internet talking with your family, learning a foreign language, reading or finally, learn how to cook a new dish. Such activities will help your psyche to relax and "clear" and allow you to process information more calmly and efficiently. As a result, two weeks in isolation can be quite productive.
Be in the “now”
- Do not panic. Stop and take a deep breath.
- Disturbance and anxiety is a projection of yourself into the future. If there are real reasons that threaten you or loved ones' health, think about how you can minimize or eliminate them. But if this fear is triggered simply by reading the news, try to let it go and focus on what's going on in the here and now.
- Try to convince yourself that the thoughts and feelings that you experience now are momentary. You assess the situation in a subjective manner. Tell yourself that the anxiety will soon pass, do not let it "win" and allow your condition to develop.
- Focus on the moment, because right now, this very minute, everything is fine. Don't compare your performance and your life during this pandemic with your performance before you had to work from home. It's not a fair comparison, anyways.
Write down what worries you
Following a journal or diary will help to transfer anxiety to another plane (on paper) and calm down a little. Besides, anxiety affects sleep. As you know, lack of sleep weakens the immune system and makes you more vulnerable to diseases.
Talk about your feelings
Social distancing and quarantine have already gone against our very nature as people have to be in contact with each other. Talk to family and friends about what worries you, or see a psychologist. There is no shame in feeling fear and anxiety. Moreover, it is natural to worry about the health and life of your own and your family’s.
A conversation with loved ones or a specialist will help you look at the situation from another angle and help to calm down. There are various psychological therapies specifically designed to train a person on how to behave under different stressful conditions, like CBT (Cognitive Behavioral Therapy), ACT (Acceptance and Commitment Therapy), psychoanalysis, and even spiritual practices. Knowing what to do can arm you with valuable tools to help yourself (and closed ones) in better understanding and empowering you to make necessary changes.
Develop a plan B
Develop and write down a worst-case scenario plan for different cases: epidemics and movement restrictions, illness of colleagues or people with whom you were in contact, or if you or your loved one gets ill, etc. Describing in detail your actions in each case will give you a sense of control and understanding that you can handle any situation.
Concentrate on the positive
Our brain reacts more sharply to adverse events. Also, it tends to make bad things out of the unknown. Therefore, it seems to us that there is more negative than positive around. And the infospace enhances this feeling. Research results have shown that to neutralise the impact of one negative event, an average of three positive events is needed. That is, to calm down, you have to read three times more positive news.
You will say that they are not easy to find. In this case, reduce the amount of negativity, and this task will be much easier. It is a powerful spiritual practice that will help you to be aware of your reactions to events and calm down the part of your brain, responsible for emotions.
- Being engaged in exercise distracts you from things you are anxious about.
- Physical activities reduce muscle tension, lowering the body's contribution to anxiety
- An increase in your heart rate changes brain chemistry, speeding up the metabolism, hence, elevating the release of critical anti-anxiety neurochemicals, such as serotonin, gamma-aminobutyric acid (GABA), brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), and endocannabinoids.
A journal Anxiety-Depression recently made a meta-analysis which found that people with anxiety disorders who reported high-level physical activity were better protected against developing anxiety symptoms than those who reported low physical activity.
"Working - do not disturb."
- First, limit your workday to 9 to 5. Make sure that you don't overwork and get enough sleep, nutrition, and rest.
- Structure your day as much as you can — start work, each lunch, and end work at the same time. Even rituals like taking a morning shower and dressing up in a work cloth will set you up to the right working mood. Making your day similar to what you had before in the office is a great way to be on the track of ordinary life and not fall over into uncertainty.
- Organise your "office space." We all know that the home atmosphere can be very distracting, but try to organize your own space with a chair and a desk only for work. Pretending to be at the office helps to get into a better work mindset and get started faster.
- At 5 o'clock, tidy up your workspace, remember where you left off, and finish your working day with a feeling of relief.
- Working online requires adaptation to new computer systems. Instead of saving everything on your desktop, spend some time and effort to design computer files that will allow you to find what you need quickly.
- Since your home schedule is more flexible, now is not the time to skip a 5-minute meditation, 15 minutes of yoga, a healthy snack, or a walk around the block because you're feeling exhausted. Don't forget to give yourself a break and update your daily schedule with good self-care practices to alleviate procrastination, anxiety, depression, and irritability.
- We are social beings, and without in-person interaction, many of us feel isolated and depressed. Suggest your co-workers join you for a quick Zoom session to say, "good morning," and a quick recap of the latest news.
Benefits of working from home
Although now it seems to any of us that sudden changes may only challenge you and make your life more difficult, look at this from a different angle. WFH has a lot of advantages:
- Added flexibility to your new working schedule will allow you to spend more time on family duties and enjoy the company of your children and loved ones.
- You don't have to be on the constant edge of missing out your work deadlines because now you can manage your own time and work when you are most productive and efficient.
- You don't have to fight your way in the road traffic any more. Besides, fewer cars on the road mean fewer levels of car emissions, especially if you live in the distant suburbs, which added to congestion and emissions even more.
- You can finally enjoy a home-cooked meal without having to rush out to pick up an order, fight for the microwave to reheat your leftovers at the end of the day.
CBD: A snake oil or real anxiety cure?
We have already spoken about easy steps that can be made to get back on your routine track. However, there are cases when anxiety is too much to handle, and usual advice does not help. Then CBD is your choice.
CBD, also known as cannabidiol, is one of the hundred compounds extracted from the cannabis plant. There are various other constituents, like THC (tetrahydrocannabinol), terpenes, flavonoids, fatty acids, but, as research shows, CBD has the most significant number of therapeutic uses. Another advantage of the CBD is the lack of psychoactive properties (unlike THC), which are responsible for "euphoric" feelings.
Important to note that the term cannabis describes all genus of this plant (Sativa, Indica, and Ruderalis). Cannabis is differentiated into two main categories - marijuana, which contains more than 0.2% THC, and hemp has less than 0.2% THC. So as you can imagine, only less than 0.2% THC is considered to be legal in many parts of the world. However, note that the legal status of cannabis and cannabis-derived products across the world is as diverse as any other governmental regulations that may vary from one country to another.
In a double-blind study from 2019, 37 Japanese teenagers with a social anxiety disorder (SAD) received 300mg of CBD oil or a placebo every day for four weeks. The teens were assessed with surveys used to diagnose and measure SAD symptoms. CBD's anti-anxiety properties reduced symptoms aligned with the disorder, providing relief comparable to Paroxetine, a drug commonly used to treat the condition.
How CBD works
After consumption, CBD interacts with CB1 and CB2 receptors on the membrane surface of cells throughout our brain, central and peripheral nervous systems. So our body has an endocannabinoid system, which regulates the intake of endocannabinoids. The endocannabinoid system is responsible for creating homeostasis (equilibrium) within the body; hence, it is imperative that we can maintain it throughout the stress and challenges that come with being stuck at home. Cannabidiol may alter serotonin signals, which play an essential role in your mental health.
Even though CBD and THC have a very similar chemical structure, they affect our bodies in various ways. CB1, which is the primary ECS receptor in the brain, is activated only by THC. CBD barely binds to it. In fact, CBD interferes with the CB1 receptor, preventing THC from binding and activating this receptor. That's why the THC: CBD ratio is so vital for influencing the effects of cannabis products. So if THC brings you a well-known "high" effect, CBD is the one that "puts you back down on earth," reducing the euphoria.
CBD and serotonin level
In this article, it was briefly mentioned that CBD influences serotonin levels. But why serotonin is essential, and what is the relation to WFH? Easy!
Serotonin is a unique protein (neurotransmitter) that plays an important role in mood, pain, and depression regulation. Whenever you feel happy, remember that serotonin is one of those guys who makes you smile.
Studies by D.De Gregorio in 2019 showed that CBD directly binds to serotonin (5-HT)1A receptor, possessing analgesic and anxiolytic effects. In vivo studies in rats showed that repeated treatment with CBD (5 mg/kg/day, subcutaneously for seven days) increased 5-HT firing by exciting serotonin receptors. A week's treatment has already increased serotonin activity( by increasing its level) and reduced anxiety-like behavior.
CBD binds to a wide variety of receptors, which makes it a critical therapeutic agent. A promising 2015 literature review showed that there is evidence that CBD is not only useful in social anxiety disorder, but generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, and posttraumatic stress disorder. Most of the known studies came mainly from animal models, but still, more research will be necessary before we can think seriously about human applications.
How to consume CBD?
Understanding the pros and cons of the ingestion methods can help you determine which form of consumption best suits your needs. Traditionally cannabinoids were consumed as flower buds of cannabis. However, now, with advantages in science and personalized oriented customer service, smoking became just one of the options.
Oils and tinctures
It is probably the easiest and most quick way to consume CBD. With the help of a dropper, you can easily measure the intake. The cannabinoid quickly enters the bloodstream when ingested sublingually. The result can appear in 10 minutes and last for three to four hours.
CBD vape oils
Inhaled vaporized CBD oil through a vaping pen. Be cautious about buying any vape oils, especially CBD ones. Oils should be purchased only from legal state-licensed cannabis stores.
CBD oils with scents from essential oils like lavender, eucalyptus, peppermint, and other herbal oils can help create a calm and soothing space. Who said working from home can't feel like your dream spa experience?
Edibles (chocolate, gummies) and drinks
CBD can be added to almost any type of food, making it easy for your gastrointestinal tract to digest it. CBD gummies are available in different flavors, forms and exclude the need for dosing. Plus, you can add CBD supplements to your food and beverages, which can enhance your productivity and focus, helping you achieve flow and do your best work possible.
CBD Dosing for Anxiety
Some underlying factors that you should consider when devising a CBD dose include:
- Concentration of CBD
- The severity of your stress
CBD concentration varies between different products and is generally estimated as milligrams (mg) per container/bottle. So start low and go slow. Although FDA approved CBD as a safe product, even when taken at high dosage (300-600mg); nonetheless, it's preferable to start with a low dose and increase it incrementally, observing how you feel as you go. Pay attention to any subtle changes in your body. If you are still unsure, consult a specialist or a doctor, such as Dr. Dustin Sulak, a cannabis medicine expert at Healer.com. He offers educational resources for freshers, where you can find all the necessary information.
Your unique body chemistry also affects your CBD response. Various reasons like genetic predisposition or a particular lifestyle, allow some people to metabolize medicines faster than others. If you know that you are one of those who metabolize medication quickly, you may benefit from a higher dose. As most scientists and clinicians will readily admit, there is no universally recommended dosage for CBD. To date, there haven't been any large-scale clinical trials to inform dosage guidelines.
Possible side effects of CBD
- Sleepiness and relaxation;
- Low blood pressure;
- Mouth dryness;
- Alterations in appetite or weight.
If you are currently taking any medications, consult your doctor about possible CBD interaction .
Bear in mind that, CBD is not allowed for:
- Persons under 18;
- Pregnant and breastfeeding women;
- People with diagnosed heavy paranoia and schizophrenia (cannabis containing products may only worsen the condition).
In conclusion, to say that the COVID-19 brought a great challenge not only to the whole economic and political systems, but to every citizen in particular, would be an understatement. However, it is our choice and our responsibility for the ways we face the struggles in our life. Besides practical bits of advice on how to stay calm and carry on working from home, CBD may offer you extra help in coping with anxiety and adaptation to new life conditions. Remember, working from home does not have to be miserable. With a little CBD-inspired creativity, your remote work routine can be a positive and healthy experience.