Managing Anxiety Amid Chaos & Crisis

Here is the first in a series of tips for managing anxiety as well as boundaries and roles while our society develops new ways of living to curb the spread of Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19). Remember that anxiety makes us vulnerable to physical disease so please see what works for you to transform that energy into something beneficial. May these inspire you to come up with the best way of navigating through this crisis to the other side. 

~Yours always in good health! Best wishes, Renu

Control Your Environment

  • Stay informed, but do not obsess over the news. The quest for certainty brings its opposite, increasing anxiety. Spend only a certain amount of time each day on the news, freeing yourself the rest of the time. 
  • Take the precautions and measures to protect yourself that feel right to you—you do not need to justify this nor does it need to be “rational.” While not everyone has to self-quarantine for example, lessening in-person contact and controlling more of your environment can reduce fear.
  • If you are prone to anxiety or panic attacks, remember your coping skills: use deep relaxation breathing techniques, rub the top of your thighs, verbalize concrete facts to bring yourself back to the present moment and the core of your body. Remind yourself that you are safe. Connect with a loved one. 

Create New Rituals & Routines

  • Develop new morning and evening routines to structure your day, holding as close to your old schedule as possible.
    • For example, if you worked out at the gym at 8 am every morning, consider if you can do so at home or outside socially distanced.
    • Adjust your bedtime and rising time to your new normal, but be consistent as much as possible each day.
  • Meal plan for the week so you know what you have and what you might need to prepare. 
    • Many delivery services for groceries and restaurants are providing no-contact drop-offs.  
    • Grocery stores have promised to stay open and the supply chain is being amped up so you will be able to obtain food. Are there any types of foods you would like to try? Recipes you’d like to make? 

Increase Connection

  • Social distancing does not mean isolation. Isolating can be extremely harmful, so use the tools available. Connect with others via video, phone calls, texting, email, and social media on a regular basis. 
    • Use video—seeing someone increases the amount of oxytocin, the love hormone that protects us from the impact of stress.
    • Have meals or happy hours together via video as if you were in person.
    • Connect over social media with loved ones, but be careful not to overexpose yourself to those who are anxious as that could increase your negative feelings. 
    • Don’t just connect one-on-one, keep up with your groups. Friend groups can convene virtually from multiple locations, meanwhile organized groups such as spiritual and religious organizations are conducting remote events and gatherings. 
  • Make sure you are in touch with loved ones, esp. the elderly or chronically ill. Since they have been asked to self-isolate, help them make arrangements to gain any needed assistance if you are unable to provide it yourself. 

Engage in Effective Mental Health Strategies

  • Seek or stay in therapy, and ask for more sessions if needed! Now isn’t the time to hold back, esp. when symptoms can ratchet up.
  • Teletherapy is very effective, according to both research and my clinical experience. Here are tips on making teletherapy most effective.
  • Drill down into your fears and concerns, then work to turn them into problems you can solve if possible. 
    • For example, if you realize some of your anxiety is related to the fear you haven’t lived a meaningful life, then figure out what that would look like and how you could make small changes toward realizing this. 
    • If you feel the urge to make major changes now, it may be an impulsive reaction to the crisis. Do research, meditate, and talk to others so decisions are well thought out. 

Develop Distractions That Work For You

  • Consider how you can use the increased time at home. Make lemonade of your sour lemons, focusing on what you can control and what you can actually do. 
  • Most people have difficulty in the evenings after work when they would go out. Develop new activities that will help you reduce anxiety. 
  • When undergoing any activity near others, use the precautions given by the experts: Remain 6 feet from others, wear facial coverings, and use disinfectant on your hands as well as phones. 
    • If you do not feel symptomatic, go for regular walks/jogs/runs by yourself or with another to breathe fresh air.
    • If you’re not up to going for a walk, go onto your balcony or patio, or open a window. The sunny world may beckon, so let it in somehow!
    • Is there a language you’ve always wanted to learn, a closet that really needs to be organized, or can you get ahead and finish taxes (which will eventually be due)? 
    • Our bodies need oxygen and movement. As one client said, he’s going to become “prison strong!” Yoga and other exercises can be done at home. Pranayama yoga simply involves breathwork. 
    • Meditation, journaling, and praying are three key activities proven to reduce anxiety and alleviate boredom and loneliness. Add motivating (but reasonable) intentions to your day for an extra boost. 
    • Listen and dance to music, sing, play board games, play video/Internet games with others. 
    • Engage in online dating or make new friends. Most dating apps now have best friend matches.
    • Do comforting things. Take a hot bath, use essential oils or aromatherapy, hug yourself (put your arms across your chest and squeeze).
    • If you don’t have a bucket list, create one! Do you have regrets about not doing something or going somewhere? Research where you want to go and what you want to do once restrictions are lifted and it feels safe to travel outside your home.