I am sure that everyone has some form of anxiety, and in these times with the Coronavirus, I am sure that these levels are higher. Uncertainty elevates anxiety and we are definitely living in uncertain times. Every conversation that we have, or social media platform that we visit, is filled with statistics of people that have contracted the disease or have died from the disease. News festers on our insecurities and fears. How many news reports are of people that have recovered?
Anxiety is such a general term that it is hard to actually figure out what the most common type is. Even if you can’t pinpoint the type of anxiety you suffer from, it is safe to say that the current pandemic is not helping it. Most of us “non-essential” (which also carries a negative connotation) are in an uncomfortable state of lockdown. All gatherings have been cancelled, and the level of uncertainty is overwhelming.
Being physically isolated and having a lot more time to think may be even more distressing. These are unprecedented times, and there is no cure for the heightened inevitable anxiety, however, there are smart approaches in dealing with the overall sense of helplessness. If we are confined at home, dealing with waves of anxiety, we can learn from the experts on how to circumvent these waves.
First, you need to know that you are not alone, and it’s okay to have anxiety. In the book, the The Art of War, Sun Tzu wrote, “If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.”
Instead of ignoring your anxiety and letting it build up and take over, the first step is to recognize what it is when it happens. Take note of the anxiety as soon as you feel the heart palpitations, and the spinning of your brain, tell yourself- “oh, its just my anxiety”
When you can recognize the feeling of anxiety, it takes the emotion out of it and puts you back in control. This helps you deal with the overwhelming and vague threat, now you know what you are dealing with, taking the uncertainty out of the equation.
Once it is recognizable, we can investigate the source of it. Anxiety is an emotional response to an anticipated future threat. While there is a lot of panic around the idea of the coronavirus itself, we can typically become more specific about what we are truly apprehensive about (Minden, 2020)
Some of us might be responding to concrete concerns such as job loss, lack of social contact, or scarcity of supplies. Others may be overwhelmed by future-oriented concerns about the anxiety itself.
Examples of this are :
“I am emotionally distressed and cannot function”
or I don’t know what will happen, but I can’t stop thinking about how awful things will be.
When there is perspective on what anxiety is, it is easier to discover new industrious behaviours to relate to it. When we normalize anxiety, there is some comfort that comes with knowing that others feel similarly, and it’s okay to have those challenging but authentic feelings.
To mitigate these feelings, try writing down what you are worried about to try to get to the root -cause. While you are writing, what may have looked like and overwhelming constellation of issues will suddenly come into focus and be narrowed down to a set of realistic concerns. By doing this, it will make it easier to problem solve, eliminate obstacles and be more tolerant of the things you cannot predict or change.
When we can pinpoint the root causes of our anxiety, the more manageable the anxiety becomes.
Once you have identified the shapes of your anxiety, it is time to create an attack plan. Although we do not run towards things we fear, there are long term benefits to take concrete steps to improve your situation, even when it feels more important to put them off until you are in a better emotional position to cope.
Sit with your emotions, and allow any feelings to take place alongside whatever actionable steps you are taking. Acts such as picking up groceries or medical needs, Face-timing with a friend or reading up on well-sourced news- despite its ability to provoke anxiety initially, can prove worthy challenges that will lead to a greater sense of personal control in the long run.
This is particularly true if you are in one of the populations that is deemed most vulnerable to the virus, such as the older adults and those with underlying health conditions.
You can take steps to mitigate risks, avoid large crowds, hand washing and sanitizing in shared living spaces; it can create a sense of purpose in a time that can feel aimless and overwhelming.
Be honest with yourself about the things that are harming your mental health. This may mean you may I have to avoid certain situations that can worsen your circumstances. This could mean avoiding the onslaught of opinions on social media, the rising death tolls in news stories, or texts from friends and family members that my trigger anxious thoughts.
The reality of sheltering in place is stressful for some. The idea of crowding into close quarters or being unable to relieve stress through normal interaction may be contributing to your anxiety. It is essential to establish solid boundaries with yourself and tune into whatever your mind is telling you.
If you happen to be sharing a living situation where they have a different perspective of the severity of the situation, try to meet their approach with empathy while also being firm with your own needs. This could even mean disengaging from someone’s rant and not getting into an argument about it. This could mean agreeing to disagree if required to keep the peace.
Ultimately, anxiety is an inevitable part of life. No matter how hard you try to “hack” anxiety, it is still likely to seep in around the edges. Anxiety
Ultimately anxiety is an unavoidable part of life, there is no hack to anxiety. It isn’t something to be conquered but something to acknowledge and control.
Being mindful about your breathing helps switch off the neural circuitry that anxiety accelerates, leading to an overall feeling of calm. In a burst of panic, count your breaths. One slow inhale through the nose, and one long exhale through the mouth- then repeat. Being mindful of each one to gradually slow down your heart rate.
Try to keep yourself in the now, the present. We know that anxiety is based on uncertainty and fear of the future, what MIGHT happen next. Run your finger from your forehead straight back to the top of your head. When you focus your attention to the midline of the cortex, it naturally quiets stress about the future and the past, and tends to bring you into circuits on the other side of the brain that support present moment mindfulness and a sense of wellbeing.
Research supports the idea that crossing the midline has calming effects, it is why activities that require careful, precise hand movements such as crocheting and knitting are recommended possible anxiety relief methods.
Another way is remembering a memory of strength in your own life, where you used your own moxie. These somatic memories of being strong and determined, remind yourself that if you can get through that, you can get through this, too.
There are helpful apps like Calm, Headspace and BrainFM that offer guided meditations, algorithmically generated playlists, and mindfulness exercises, all free at least the first couple of sessions.
It should also be noted that not all anxiety can be self managed- which is why mental health professionals exist. If the worrying, sleeplessness, feelings of being out of control or constant panic attacks exists, or if you are using alcohol or drugs to cope or have other mental health concerns, have your doctor refer you to a mental health professional.
We are being tested, all of us, at this time and we will get to the other side, and when we do, we will ask, how OUR conduct was at this time, including how we treated other people.
“All we can do each day is the best we can do, but we can do the best we can each day” (Hanson, 2018)
Hanson, R; 2018, Resilient: How to Grow an Unshakable Core of Calm, Strength, and Happiness, Danvers, MA Harmony
Minden J, 2020. Shoe Your Anxiety Who’s Boss: A Three Step CBT Program to Help you Reduce Anxious Thought and Worry, New Harbour Publications.