The measures taken to curtail the spread of COVID-19 have been drastic, massive and immediate—and very necessary. Within a handful of days, our world has changed radically, and now many of us are far more worried and apprehensive than usual. As racing thoughts, pounding pulses and ever-present fear become our norm, attending to our anxiety is more critical than ever.
To start with, it’s helpful to understand why anxiety evolved in humans in the first place. Broadly, anxiety is a part of our survival instinct and serves as an internal alarm. Essentially, it’s our brain’s way of telling us to take protective measures before a potential threat turns into an immediate one.
The hazards of modern society are largely different from those of our early ancestors, yet our brain’s wiring hasn’t really changed. In our lives today, some anxiety remains normal and even healthy, although in moments of prolonged stress (when the brain doesn’t have the chance to recharge after “alert” mode) it can manifest in detrimental ways. If you’ve been unusually jumpy, agitated, moody, irritable or even lethargic lately, you’re not alone.
That said, constant angst is taxing: fatigue can set in, less-than-ideal behaviors can resurface, our thinking can become clouded. Although every single one of us has a right to worry during this global crisis, we can choose to cope with our anxiety in healthy ways. Here are six tips to help you.
Control What You Can, Let The Rest Go
When anxious, a common response is attempting to control our environment. In the COVID-19 crisis, we’re exerting control by buying extra supplies, disinfecting our homes and washing our hands as often as possible. Taking precautions is absolutely prudent, but with prolonged anxiety in the mix, it’s easy to slip into irrational behaviors without realizing it.
If you find yourself in the supermarket every two days with an overflowing cart, you’re likely panic-buying. It’s okay to stock up to meet your needs (and minimize trips to the store) but hoarding only fuels angst in the long term. It also deprives others of resources at a time when covering the basics is a primary concern for all of us.
Interestingly, anxiety abates the moment we introduce hard facts into our thinking. If you’re worried about running out of food, arm yourself with information. Plan out your meals for the week, calculate everything you’ll need to buy for your recipes, and take a pre-shopping inventory of your kitchen. Make a list of necessary items and bring it to the market. Whatever you do, do not buy twenty bags of dried lentils—you won’t eat them, and they’ll only go to waste.
Avert Anxiety Attacks Using Breath-Work
As anxiety grows, many of us find ourselves thinking catastrophically. Our mind dreams up worst-possible-outcome scenarios and—in the next instant—we feel panic consuming us.
If the room suddenly feels too small or you can’t seem to get enough air into your lungs, focus on a nearby object (a lamp, a book, an apple—whatever) and breathe into the present moment. You can’t control the world around you, but you can control your breathing, and breath-work is a remarkably powerful calming tool.
Let’s practice: take a deep, even, slow breath, inhaling through the nose for a count of three and exhaling through the mouth for a count of four. Say to yourself, “I am here, I am present, I am okay.” Do it again. My guess is that you feel a tad bit more relaxed already. Better, isn’t it?
Quell The Urge to Flee
Depending on the individual, anxiety can present itself almost as a surge of physical energy, and that surge makes you want to “do something.” The “something” a lot of us want to “do” right now is relocate. If you have an intense urge to flee, take a moment to gather your thoughts. As much as you might want to, you can’t just run away.
Think through the logistics: Where would you go? Are you sure it’s safer there? Will you have access to medical care if you need it? Examine it from various angles: By traveling, will you be violating stay-at-home or other public-health mandates? Are you a possible vector who could put others at risk? Consider your personal resources, too: Is the expense of relocating affordable? Even if you’re already telecommuting, would moving mean risking your job?
Identify your own questions; answer them all truthfully. After systematically weighing the pros and cons, you will invariably be more clear-headed.
While some of us respond to anxiety by launching into “do something” mode, others have the opposite reaction. For folks in this group, concentration becomes exceedingly difficult, mental and physical exhaustion creep in and productivity slows to a crawl. While this is a normal manifestation of nervousness, low productivity can affect every part of your day—including your work—causing even more anxiety.
To combat this, reserve a time of day for addressing your most vital to-dos. Make a list and circle your three most important tasks. This list is a contract with yourself—your top three get priority, take care of those immediately. If you get to the other stuff, that’s great, but don’t sweat it. Maybe most importantly, if you’re not getting as much accomplished as usual, forgive yourself: we’re in the middle of a pandemic and the word productive has taken on a new meaning.
Mitigate Information Fatigue
When we’re anxious, many of us experience an insatiable craving for information. Some part of us hopes, if we read the right article or tune into the right station, we’ll learn something—anything—that takes away the fear.
While staying informed is vital in any emergency, the brain can only take in so much information before it starts overloading, which begets more anxiety. It’s essential to keep up with trusted news sources, yes, but it’s also necessary to give yourself a break from the deluge of 24/7 news. Close your laptop, power down your phone/tablet, turn off the TV. Allow yourself time enough to absorb and process.
Tap Into The Mind-Body Connection
From decades of research, we know exercising and burning off energy eases our nerves and clears the mind. Amid social-distancing mandates, you might not be able to work out in your preferred way (going to the gym, playing sports, etc.) but thankfully we have thousands of exercise videos, apps and virtual classes. Yoga, dancing, aerobics—choose what works for you. Embrace the mind-body connection and get yourself moving: you’ll feel better, think more clearly, and probably sleep more soundly too.
As you cope with the changes brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic, remember the feelings you’re experiencing are natural, and that you can choose to cope with them in healthy ways. The more mental health tools you have at your disposal, the better equipped you’ll be to get through this stressful time. A little mindfulness in the midst of uncertainty can make all the difference.
This was written by Erica Boissiere a licensed marriage and family therapist (MFT #84047), specializing in couples therapy and business executives struggling in their work relationships. To view the original article click on the link here.
This article was shared with the Mission Viejo Chamber with the authors permission.