It’s no secret that being forced to stay home would peak our collective stress levels at any time. But when we add a deadly virus that is out there and spreading to the most vulnerable among us, living life as normal as possible seems impossible. If you already suffer from generalized anxiety, then you may either be hiding in your bed shutting out the world or glued to the TV soaking in every new development of the pandemic. If prolonged anxiety is not something you normally deal with, you may be paralyzed in fear of the unknown. Here are three tips that I have come to realize as most effective when dealing with stress in general and how it could apply to the current COVID-19 pandemic.
1.) Limit exposure to the anxiety provoking stimuli.
This may seem obvious, but consistently I see people living with anxiety who seek out the event or thought that is causing that anxiety. I get it, every new channel has an infection count posted on their screen day and night. Every other social media post is about the abject fear of infection or conspiracy theories of the origin. You are now inundated with emails regarding the virus from every company you have ever done business with. I should be clear, getting some information about a potentially dangerous situation to ensure your safety is a good idea, but spending every free moment consuming something is causing you emotional and psychological harm is not. Take a break from the news and from social media if they have become triggering events for anxiety. Continue on to the next two ways of dealing with COVID-Stress for ways to limit exposure.
2.) Stay connected and “close” to people you care about.
Our body’s natural reaction to stress has a way of making us feel totally alone in our fear, apprehension, and frustration. The more you can remind yourself that you are not in this alone, the more able you can look at circumstances in context and find support from loved ones. COVID19 has led to social distancing and that means you are hunkered down in your home with possibly only the people you live with (hopefully you like them) or worse; alone. Though this certainly makes personal connections with others more difficult, the wonders of technology allow us to be anywhere, with anyone in the world. This is not the time to limit your screen time if you can video chat with family across the country or even across the street. And if you’re working from home opt into video conferencing vs phone meetings. Seeing and interacting with others will move the needle a little bit from world apocalypse and towards normalcy in your mind. You will feel less anxious about the present and future as you can have daily reminders that those you love are in this with you and doing ok through it.
3.) Learn or start a new hobby/task.
Prolonged anxiety can become a vicious cycle that begins with a stressful situation, leading to a maladaptive stress response, leading to reinforcement of the stressful situation. To break this cycle, jump in the middle and do something different. Something new can rewire your brain’s habit of response. What would really make this powerful is doing something that excites you. Since you’re stuck at home anyway (other than healthcare and law enforcement personnel) you might as well use the time to do something new and exciting for you. It could be learning to bake, repair a car, learn to dance, exercise; filling this time with activities you actually enjoy will focus your energy and cognitive functioning on something other than the wall to wall media coverage of the virus. If you suffer from generalized anxiety a novel task or hobby (something totally new to you) will require enough of your attention and focus to forget about the irrational anxiety provoking thoughts that have been camped out in your head.
Affirmations are a great way to combat irrational thinking and negative self-talk. All day through your anxiety you are communicating to yourself that something unpleasant will happen. Counteract those thoughts with a positive, healing message to tip the cognitive scales in a positive direction.
“I am happy, healthy, and safe.”
“I am taking the necessary precautions to remain healthy.”
“These measures are only temporary, and life will continue after the virus is defeated.”
Follow the professional advice from the CDC and take the standard medical precautions outlined. You are happy, healthy, and safe.