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  • Writer's pictureDr. Winifred Lender

Managing Anxiety During the COVID-19 Crisis

COVID-19 has caused a great deal of anxiety for everyone. Much of the anxiety stems from pervasive uncertainty, including not knowing how the pandemic will affect us, who will become ill, how the economy will be impacted, and how to plan for the future. In addition, COVID-19 has caused a significant disruption in our daily schedules, made us sever direct contact with groups of people we feel connected to, and has exposed us to an immense flow of negative information, all of which triggers feelings of fear and anxiety.

It is important to normalize the anxiety you are feeling and recognize it is adaptive to be anxious now. Feeling anxiety motivates us to be vigilant about our health and to engage in protective behaviors. However, while it is normal to be anxious given the circumstances, too much anxiety can be counterproductive. Excessive worry can cause us to ruminate on only then negatives around us, fail to observe the positives around us, be paralyzed from moving forward, and feel helpless.

It is essential to remember that while much is uncertain, you can decrease anxiety by exerting control over the areas of your life where you do have control. There are behavioral and cognitive activities you can engage in each day to help manage your stress. These techniques can help anchor you during this turbulent and unpredictable time. Read below and consider adopting some of these tools today, along with those recommended by the CDC and your local city or county, to stay healthy and emotionally balanced during this crisis.

Behavioral Tools:

Limit the amount of COVID-19 information you consume- Consider chunking your checking about the virus to two times a day for a limited period of time, such as 10-minutes per interval. Remember that having too much information can be overwhelming and create more stress.

Set time limits around when you consume COVID-19 information- Plan to check for information early in the evening and do not check again until after your set wake up time. While there is a temptation to check right before bed and in the middle of the night if you awaken, this checking can interfere with your sleep pattern and create worries that are incompatible with sleep.

Be thoughtful about the sources you use for COVID-19 information-When you do check information, go to reliable sources such as the CDC, WHO, or your county or city health department website.

Retain your normal sleep-wake cycle-Maintain a consistent sleep and wake up schedule, even if your daily schedule has changed. This normalcy will help bolster your energy for the day.

Focus on a relaxing bedtime routine- As the crisis has increased daily stress, you should consider giving yourself more time to wind down prior to bed. This may include taking extra time to listen to take a bath, listen to relaxing music, read a book, or engage in visualization or meditation.

Engage in daily physical activity -Physical activity leads to a release of endorphins and this decreases stress and muscle tension. Consider changes to any existing exercise routine that may be needed to keep social distancing, such as exercising outside or at home to avoid groups of people.

Focus on eating healthy and mindful eating- When you eat, focus on eating slowly and enjoying the food. Recognize mealtimes as a time to be present and relaxed. Do not look at COVID-19 information or watch or listen to the news while you eat.

Schedule social contacts– Even though you must engage in social distancing, maintaining social contacts is key to supporting your ability to manage your stress level. Consider scheduling calls or video chats as you would in-person meetings. Plan to meet virtually with a friend for lunch or for a walk.

Engage in deep breathing– When we become stressed our breathing often becomes shallow. Deep breathing is a powerful tool to refocus our attention on our breath and decrease anxiety.

Engage in progressive muscle relaxation – Take some time each day to rest and relax each of your muscle groups which can become very tense during chronic stress.

Try to have fun- Read a comic strip, play with your dog, do a puzzle, throw a frisbee around, dance to music, or watch a funny movie. Remember that laughing is a wonderful antidote for stress relief.

Cognitive Tools:

Be vigilant about attacking faulty thinking - Ruminating on the worst-case scenario or catastrophizing saps your energy and leaves you feeling irritable, helpless, and depressed.

Focus on flexible thought patterns– Challenge yourself to find the benefits of some of the precautions you are taking. For example, try to reframe isolation as a time to pursue different interests you didn't have time for previously or as an opportunity to explore different hobbies.

Practice self-compassion- This is a time to be extra kind to yourself. Look for ways to be your “best friend.” Ask yourself how you would talk to yourself if you were your best friend. Be patient with yourself as you develop new routines and novel ways of thinking about the situation.

Practice daily affirmations- Try to start the day with affirmations about the day ahead that feel real and true to you. This will help to balance the barrage of negative news you may be exposed to during the day. For example, you can affirm that you are taking precautions to help protect yourself, you are able to talk to those you love each day, you are able to enjoy nature each day, and you have many people that care for you.

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