Tips on How to Handle Anxiety During this Pandemic
In light of what’s going on worldwide right now, life can feel out of control and many of us could use a few simple strategies to cope with our rising anxiety.
Watching the news, feeling the rising fear, seeing people hoarding necessities and the increasing worry we have for the health of our loved ones are all anxiety triggers, even for the most zen among us.
Fear and anxiety are personal. Your anxiety may be rising for reasons totally different from mine, but for each of us, the struggle is real and can be overwhelming.
Let’s not judge each other but instead find ways to be compassionate, to calm ourselves and offer whatever help, comfort and reassurance we can to others.
“Nothing can bring you peace but yourself.” – Ralph Waldo Emerson
Here are 13 strategies that can help you handle the anxiety you may be feeling at this time
1. Stop, breathe, refocus.
Catching yourself as your anxiety is escalating is super important and the most important tip of all. Noticing when your mind is creating future outcomes that are not based on reality is the red flag to stop yourself. Take a few deep slow breaths. And help yourself refocus on more productive thoughts.
2. Take (sensible) action.
If you know you need to have 90 days of medication for yourself or your loved one in order to feel calmer, then figure out how to get it so you can get a better handle on your anxiety. If you can’t destress without knowing your mom has a month’s supply of Ensure in her pantry, then find a way to get it. Talk to friends who may each be able to buy a six pack for your while they are already out doing their own shopping, or try ordering online, or call a senior center for ideas and resources. Go online to connect with someone else who may be having the same challenge. You are smart, capable and creative – you have been through difficult challenges before. You can take actions and you will figure this out.
3. Move your body.
Sitting and stewing at your desk, on your couch, in the car, wherever… is unhealthy. It creates stress and anxiety that taxes your heart, circulation, immune system and mind. Find ways to move your body while keeping a safe distance from groups. Go online and find a workout video, take a walk, dust off the treadmill you’ve been using as a clothing rack in the basement. Stretch, breathe, step outside and feel the sunshine on your skin. Taking care of your body with exercise is part of staying well and being better able to handle a crisis.
4. Increase closeness (while still social distancing).
Call, text, skype loved ones a little more than usual. I have two kids who are over 1,000 miles away from me during this pandemic. I can instantly raise my blood pressure, give myself a panic-induced stomachache, and get myself in a frenzy worrying about them during this pandemic. I know this about myself (and maybe this is you too). So, I’ve verbalized to them that I may need a little extra contact with them during this time in order to stay calm. I explained to them that although they think it’s ridiculous to worry (ah… youth!), I need a few extra texts or phone calls here and there to reassure myself that they are indeed, ok. Reach out to your loved ones and friends if you need more frequent reassurance right now.
If you’re feeling anxious, it’s helpful to keep things as simple as possible. Do the simple stuff you already know helps to calm and ground you. Get enough sleep, exercise, read (not news), listen to music, go outdoors, walk your dog, bake, do yoga, whatever it is. Build those simple calming grounding activities into your day. While the rest of life seems completely off right now, you have those simple things that feel familiar to keep you feeling like you do have some control over things.
6. Limit caffeine.
Lord knows I looooove my coffee, but one caffeinated cup per day is plenty for me during stressful times. More than one cup of caffeine beverages per day can amplify anxiety symptoms like rapid heartbeat, restlessness and agitation and make it harder to relax and/or sleep for many people.
7. Help someone.
Remember you’re not alone. Millions of people around the world are facing this crisis and the ever-evolving change to their “normal” lives. There are people in a much worse situation than you and I. Think about how to help someone. What can you do? Call, send a letter, drop off extra food or supplies, make a donation… Thinking about helping someone else and taking actions to offer assistance is a surefire anxiety reducer.
8. Limit news.
Set a time limit for exposure to the news. Twice a day for 20 minutes, at maximum, is enough to stay informed on what is going on locally and globally, and to remain informed about what you need to know. Overexposure to television, cable, web-based or print news can raise anxiety in those of us who are sensitive, and especially to anyone who has a high level of empathy.
And be sure your news source is fact-based. Facebook and group chats are nice to stay in touch friends but should not be a primary source of news. Check the latest health and safety news from local government and/or local health department websites, along with the CDC or World Health Organization.
9. Get mindful.
Mindfulness is the new mother’s little helper. It’s an anti-anxiety helper (that is free and with no side effects!).
“A simple mindful awareness practice can reduce anxiety as much as 57 percent.” – nytimes.com, Judson A. Brewer
There are loads of books, resources and apps for learning more about mindfulness and as well as many helpful mindset tools. Try a free app to ease you into making mindfulness a daily habit. I’ve used Calm, Headspace, Oak and most recently I’m loving Insight Timer. Even without an app, just a few minutes of closing your eyes, breathing deeply and inviting calm and peace into your mind can lower your stress and anxiety level.
You are doing your best. We simply cannot control everything. If you are doing your best to follow the health guidelines, to take care of your mental and physical health, to stay calm and be reassuring to children and aging parents, then you are doing ok. Commit to catching yourself when you’re overthinking. This too shall pass.
11. Make a plan.
If you absolutely can’t stop your mind from racing down the lane of never-ending what-if’s… but what if he gets sick, but what if I can’t get food to my elderly mom, but what if we don’t have toilet paper, but what if whatever… then it can be calming to make a plan. It might be a drastic, apocalyptic type of last resort plan, but it may help you better handle your anxiety if you think, write or talk through such a plan.
Example: If we truly have no toilet paper, what will we do? We will use old newspapers, we will gather dead leaves, we will cut up old sheets, we will use napkins, we will wash our butts with the garden hose. For those of us who just can’t help but get ourselves worked up (aka a little crazy), making an actual plan, no matter how wild or improbable it may be, works to settle and distract a frenzied brain, and can be a last-resort anxiety-diffuser. More than likely, we will never have to put the plan into action, but just having it at as a last resort can be reassuring and let our brains move on to something else!
12. Press fast forward.
This pandemic will end. Historically, we know they always do. Soothe rising panic by thinking ahead to the future when all will be calm. When we will look back at this experience as part of our journey, perhaps even as a painful difficult lesson. Think of the exciting plans you would like to make for future travel, hobbies, work, finances, learning, family time, renovations, fitness goals.
What small habits could you begin now (even though you’re housebound or otherwise impacted by the pandemic) that would compound over the next few months to make a significant step toward one or more of your goals? Get creative my fierce and intelligent friend! Any positive daily action you can muster right now, no matter how tiny, will help lower your anxiety.
13. Keep it light.
If you are anxiety prone, this might not be the right time to binge watch Stranger Things or American Horror Story. Maybe not the best time to read creepy dark or sad books either. Know yourself! Skip The Walking Dead and keep it light. Watch stand-up comedy, read an inspirational novel about a heroine who overcomes incredible challenges, or google a few jokes to tell your kids at the dinner table instead of festering on gloom and negativity.
Remind yourself that worry and anxiety solve absolutely nothing except to make us feel worse.
“The greatest weapon against stress is our ability to choose one thought over another.” – William James
This week, I won’t end with “cheers” because I don’t want to trivialize how serious this pandemic is to our individual and collective health as well as to our financial stability as we move through the coming weeks.
I do, however, want to strongly encourage you to implement strategies like the ones above that will help you better handle the current situation by keeping your mind on your side and reducing anxiety.
We will get through this. Sending you virtual (germ-free) anti-anxiety hugs. – Marlene
P.S. If you specifically struggle with health anxiety, I came across helpful resources online at ADAA (Anxiety and Depression Association of America) while I was researching for this blog post.
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