Managing Anxiety During COVID

Hello everyone! Hope you are all doing well as we near the end of this stressful year. I’ve been meaning to make this post for some time but with life and work it never really materialized. However, with the winter season coming and more people getting sick (even with the vaccine on the horizon), I still wanted to post this in the hopes it helps anyone dealing with anxiety – either related to COVID or just anxiety for other various reasons.

First, it’s important to understand what is anxiety. We hear that term often and it is sometimes used interchangeably with feeling stressed. Anxiety (in a nutshell) is being in a state of intense, excessive, and persistent worry and fear. We all experience anxiety on one level or another on a daily basis, but it becomes “anxiety” when that fear and worry become so unmanageable that it hinders you from even doing the most basic of daily tasks. Anxiety is often your body’s response to a situation in a fight-or-flight mode, and symptoms can range from the mild to extreme, including:

  • Fatigue
  • Excessive worry, fear, and/or feelings of impending doom
  • Insomnia
  • Nausea
  • Heart palpitations
  • Trembling
  • Lack of concentration
  • Hypervigilance, irritability, and/or restlessness
  • Changes in eating habits
  • Escalation in social anxiety

Typically we tend to look for individuals with risk factors that make them more susceptible to experiencing anxiety (or any other mental disorder). However, it can be safe to say that if you are a human living in 2020, anxiety is something that you’ve experienced at least once at some point this year, whether due to COVID or other life factors you or your family have gone through.

So how to we work on managing that anxiety when we’re feeling like things are outside our control and so much going on around us? Below are some tips and ideas to utilize, some of which you may already be doing to help you get through stressful times.

  • BE GENTLE ON YOURSELF!
    • This is a stressful time for a lot of people, so IT’S OK to feel stressed!
    • Acknowledge what you are feeling and think of ways to manage that stress, maybe even thinking back to what already provides you calmness and comfort.
    • Be aware of negative thoughts and don’t give them too much power over you – let the worries go.
  • HAVE A PLAN
    • Anxiety can sometimes make us feel powerless, so having a plan helps to get back that sense of control.
    • Find alternative solutions to going to traditional urgent care or the emergency room.
    • Plan for the unexpected injuries or illnesses
    • Recognize the symptoms of COVID:
      • Equip yourself with facts through trusted sources (i.e. CDC & WHO)
      • DO NOT react to physical symptoms right away – sometimes a cough is just a cough! We are in cold and flu season so sometimes the simplest explanation is the most likely situation. And DON’T scan your body looking for more symptoms
    • Have a plan for you and your family if you need to isolate or quarantine
      • Write down specific worries you have about how coronavirus may disrupt your life – take a break if you start feeling overwhelmed
      • Make a list of all the possible solutions you can think of – don’t get hung up on perfect options
      • Focus on concrete things you can problem solve or change instead of circumstances beyond your control
      • Draw a plan of action, set it aside, and RESIST the urge to go back to it unless you need it or your circumstances significantly change
  • FOCUS ON WHAT YOU CAN CONTROL
    • Start with making simple plans (i.e. dinner, virtual classes, exercise routines)
    • Follow CDC safety guidelines (i.e. masks, hand washing, sanitizing, social distancing, etc.)
    • Create manageable daily routines
  • STAY CONNECTED
    • Social distancing DOES NOT mean social isolation
    • Connect with family & friends via Zoom, Facetime, Skype, Messenger, or any other video chatting app you like
    • DON’T let coronavirus dominate every conversation! Instead make those video sessions fun:
      • Read a book together or share/talk about recent books read
      • Virtual Happy Hour
      • Process how everyone is feeling and coping
      • Tell jokes, open-mic, karaoke, trivia, etc.
      • Share stories or updates
      • Celebrate a happy occasion or mark a milestone
  • TAKE A BREAK FROM NEWS & SOCIAL MEDIA
    • DON’T have the news channel on 24/7! This can greatly heighten anxiety and stress. Instead listen to daily briefing of news summaries to know of any important updates.
    • Spend more time focusing on yourself and your family, and do more enjoyable things either with the family or by yourself
      • Read a book
      • Catch up on movies or shows
      • Take virtual tours of museums around the world or attend a virtual concert
      • Listen to music and/or dance
    • Designate time to unplug – especially before going to sleep
    • Focus on trusted sources of information (i.e. CDC, WHO)
    • Be careful what you share on social media and don’t spread misinformation – verify the source of the article/information if and when possible
  • TAKE CARE OF YOUR BODY
    • Spend time in nature – bike, walk, garden or do yard work
    • Find creative ways to exercise – online video classes, fun challenges, dance-offs, yoga, Pilates, etc.
    • Practice hobbies & activities you enjoy – or take up new ones you’ve been meaning to try!
      • Draw, paint, organize, bake, cook, etc.
    • Incorporate meditation and/or breathing exercises into your day
      • Focus on the present moment
      • Various downloadable apps to your phone are available if you’re new to meditation or just enjoy having guided prompts – i.e. Calm, Breath, Headspace
      • Go-to simple breathing exercise:
        • Get comfortable
        • Relax your jaw and drop your shoulders
        • Breathe deeply and evenly and count your breaths (inhale 1, exhale 2, inhale 3 – start over when you get to 10)
        • When your mind wanders, bring your focus back to your breathing
    • Start journaling (i.e. gratitude journaling), setting daily affirmations, and focusing on positives
    • Get enough sleep – implement a relaxing bedtime routine and stick to a consistent schedule – lack of sleep increases anxiety and makes it hard to focus your mind
    • Maintain a daily routine/schedule – helps maintain a sense of normalcy even if you are working from home or kids doing their school online
      • Keep your schedule the same pre-COVID as much as possible whether for the times you do your work/school, take your meals, or go to sleep
    • Eat as healthy as you can – it’s easy to fall back on unhealthy food options when feeling anxious and stressed.
      • Think of simple ways to eat healthy – meal prep ahead of time when possible
      • Include fruit and vegetables in every meal
      • Drink plenty of water
      • Snack mindfully
      • Remember that it’s not about perfection but doing what you can to nourish your body
    • Avoid self-medication, smoking, and excessive alcohol or drug use
      • Anxiety and stress can make it very easy to overdo it when it comes to self-medicating, smoking, drinking, or using drugs
      • Contact SAMHSA’s National Helpline for substance abuse programs in your area
        • 1-800-662-HELP (4357) or TTY 1-800-487-4889
    • Practice kindness to others
      • Reach out to those in need (i.e. pick up groceries or medication refills)
      • Leave a care package for family, friends, or neighbors on their doorstep
      • Call and check up on your neighbors or loved ones
      • Donate to food banks (i.e. food or cash) or to local churches any non-pantry items or supplies
        • With winter coming on, go through your closets and donate coats, scarves, gloves, etc.
      • Be a calming influence on others
        • Helps them gain perspective
        • Being a positive and uplifting source
        • Refer them to reputable sources
      • Try virtual therapy via telehealth
        • With COVID, teletherapy and telemedicine have come to the forefront to continue providing individuals with much needed services to help them cope and process their stress, worries, and anxieties.
        • Teletherapy is reimbursed by most insurance companies (check with your insurance provider).
        • Easily accessible from your home and gives you a safe space to talk about your feelings, worries, and thoughts.

For additional resources, you can also check out Anxiety & Depression Association of America‘s Coronavirus Corner for links to helpful expert tips and resources to manage anxiety.

For immediate crisis help you can also check out the following options:

  • Call 911
  • Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663
  • National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) for English, 1-888628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
  • National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
  • National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4ACHILD (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
  • National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE(4673) or online chat
  • The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116
  • Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK(8255) or text 8388255 or crisis chat

If you’ve made it through this long article to this point THANK YOU!!! I hope you found this information to be helpful to you or to someone that you think would benefit from some of the ways to cope with anxiety during these trying times.

Remember…wash your hands, wear your mask, keep social distance, and stay safe!

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