Dealing with anxiety is not at all easy even when everything is “normal” in the world. And it’s far from ‘normal’ these days. The level of difficulty has recently risen significantly.
It’s absolutely natural to feel worried and anxious. But just acknowledging that may not be enough.
So how to deal with anxiety in times of pandemic or any other crisis?
These are unprecedented times. For our generation that is. What’s happening around us might be frightening because it hasn’t happened to us before, and we as a society don’t really know how to act – we learn as we go. We are connected and what happens to one group happens to all of us. On a worldwide scale.
Closed schools and businesses, cancelled flights, empty shelves in the supermarkets and overall chaos. We will all experience the economic consequences of what has started as a health crisis.
At the same time – the medical prognosis seems almost calming. the SARS-cov-2 virus we’re facing (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrom) is nothing like the black plague from the XIV century or the flu pandemic from the 1918 – when it comes to mortality rate. The virus causes COVID-19 which is kind of like pneumonia with potential respiratory problems. It may be almost asymptomatic but it also can be very severe – depending on many factors like age and other coexisting medical conditions. (Cardio-vascular diseases, diabetes but also others that lower your immunity).
Back to anxiety: Crucial things to keep in mind
✔︎ It is natural to experience fear. The situation calls for it. That fear – in moderation – may help us focus, it may help us pay attention to important information, and make more informed decisions.
✔︎ Try and focus on what you can do in these circumstances. How you can take care of yourself and your family, your business.
✔︎ Focus on the facts and put things into perspective. We need to stay informed, but we cannot end up reading news and fake news all day.
✔︎ Distinguish possibility from probability. Again – focus on the facts and they will give you a more adequate outlook than the clickbaity titles we see all over the media.
✔︎ There are institutions we can trust, that deliver knowledge and don’t incite panic. Those would be first of all:
– the Ministries of Health of our respective countries.
You can follow them on social media, or simply visit their websites to get the most current information. But don’t do it 12 times a day. Read the information in moderation – it’s easy to go into the spiral of dramatic news. There are businesses thriving on that, luring you to click that clickbaity title.
First – let’s talk about what anxiety is.
Anxiety is the feeling of worry, unease, nervousness that makes it impossible to think straight – to use our logic and potential, to calm down. Anxiety may be about reminiscing a past event or about something we’re anticipating. We may experience being flooded with emotions. It may be sudden or “slow flowing” (= always present).
When we’re anxious we may experience all sorts of physiological symptoms such as:
What we need in those moments is something that will bring us “back to ourselves”. From the state of worry and racing heart to ‘here and now’ that accounts for the calmer mind. Mind that can then use its logic and operate based on facts and probable scenarios rather than irrational and emotional reactions that freeze us.
Something we can most certainly say about anxiety is that it’s COMMON. Most of us experience it, and some of us suffer from it when it excessively influences our lives.
We actually do need some level of anxiety. Imagine reaching that deadline or going out of bed in the morning to get to work... Obviously, I’m not saying our actions should be fueled by fear, but some of us react to positive motivation, while some only take action when they feel a bit of a push. We’re all different. And the situation we’re currently in is quite unique.
Curiously enough, anxiety is also sort of like a virus. It may “travel”. From person to person – just like that. It’s important how we talk to each other – what our narration is. The way we present what’s going on to our children, the way we behave and follow our governments’ recommendations.
There is a lot to take in right now. Fear and anxiety that so many of us are experiencing now – are not something that’s irrational. This is a unique situation – we have reasons to be alert and follow the news. But again – not ALL the news and not ALL the time.
When is it too much?
So if a little is ok, how much is too much? People usually recognize that something’s wrong when they experience panic attacks when their anxiety makes it impossible for them to function when they can’t focus on their everyday life. These are red flags.
The orange would be everything that’s above your normal reaction level, everything that disturbs your everyday functioning in a noticeable way.
What to do to ease the anxiety* (*THE TIPS)
Here’s a couple of ways you might try that are proven to help. Some of them might be better for you than others. Some may feel too easy. They're not! Try approaching them without judgment, experiment, pick and choose whatever feels good in the moment:
Breathe – to calm the mind. Sound simple – AND IT IS! it’s one of the most effective ways to actually focus your attention on here and now. You may help yourself by counting from 1 to 4. Breathe the air in through the nose 1 – 2 – 3 – 4 and breathe it out with your mouth 1 – 2 – 3 – 4. You may repeat it a couple of times. (Not too many though – so that you don’t hyperventilate.)
Drink water. It will help you stay hydrated – which will lower the irritation and enable you to think more clearly.
Take a walk. In the park, at the beach, around the block. Anywhere you can get some decent air. (Yes. In times of #coronavirus, you should consider your government’s recommendations regarding leaving your house and contacting others. But other than that GO OUT and sink in nature. When you supply oxygen to your brain – you make your brain better use its potential. When you move your body – you experience the beneficial effects endorphins have on your overall well-being. If you’re not a person who enjoys walking – try to become one😉 Or do whatever physical exercise you feel like. Nothing really straining. Something simple enough that will not cause resistance and intensive enough for you to make your mind focus on that activity.
While you’re at it – soak in the sunlight – if only possible. As simple as it sounds – this is one of the ways we can connect with nature – and the warm bright sunlight is all we need for a brief moment of bliss.
Remember to not have an empty stomach. For real. Have you heard of H.A.L.T.? (“Hungry – Angry – Lonely – Tired” combo). When you experience one (or more) of those states – they might trigger your anxiety. You will feel more emotionally labile. So again – when you become more aware of yourself – your needs – you may eventually learn how to avoid at least some of the triggers, at least some of the times. And that’s progress, isn’t it?
A bit counter-intuitive – one might think – but works like a charm. Write down your worst-case scenario AND feelings you may have about it. And either option 1 – go through it when your mood is better (or with someone close to you.) Or option 2 – try to ditch it in some distant corner of your desk or tear it apart without hesitation. Paradoxical but very effective for some.
Outline your day. We often say that anxiety “lives in the quiet”. It means that when we’re stuck at home with hours and hours of time on our hands – that’s when the ruminating thoughts might start. When you simply outline your day, when you plan for you to leave the house, talk to the neighbor, go to the movies, meet up with some friends, do the shopping, prepare dinner – whatever it is that might get you out of the house and get productive will do. (*Again – during the times of CoronaVirus – instead of going out and meeting people – simply focus on scheduling your day around the house and meeting with people online. Utilize video calls and other forms of communication. )
Meditate – if that’s what you feel comfortable with. If you’re not – how about you start again? You can read an article on how to start here. A couple of minutes sitting in a comfortable position. Breathing in and out. Trying not to lose all thoughts but rather to focus on supplying air to all parts of your body. Mindful meditation has been proven time and time again to be an effective tool when dealing with anxiety.
Journal – I can’t stress this one enough. You will be able to calm the racing mind, get it all out there, and possibly get to the root of the problem. It’s like a mini version of auto therapy - or a great addition to the actual one. Read some more about it here.
Take care of your sleep patterns. I know. It’s awesome to go to sleep at 3 am. It really is – been there, done that. When you’re in the middle of this fascinating book, or you’re in the state of flow working. But – keep in mind that depriving your body – your brain – of sleep will have serious consequences. Such as susceptibility to being irritated and increased risk of anxiety.
Engage in art. Either make it – draw, sing, play an instrument – or go out to see it/experience it any other way. (Check some of the online options here)
Don’t stay alone. (*during the pandemic – meet your friends online) Talk to a person you trust – make sure you have a couple of people you feel comfortable talking to. Not to flood them with your anxiety, but simply to touch base. Run some ideas through with them. Do something fun. That’s what friends are for.
Come up with your own list of the things that helped you regain your cool mind in the past (could be as trivial as an episode of ‘Friends’ or 3 songs from that Sting album. Whatever works).
Worry during the day. If you’re one of those people who cannot fall asleep not worrying about anything and everything, don’t try and force it. Just promise yourself you will go back to that in the morning. Literally, try and talk to yourself: “Ok. There’s a lot to think about. And a lot to worry about too. I will gladly do it, I promise – first thing in the morning.” You might be surprised how fast those thoughts could actually disappear. And everything feels so much better in daylight, doesn’t it? That’s what our grannies used to say, and it’s true;)
Think about your favorite relaxation techniques. It might be some visualizations, mindful body sca, ASMR, listening to calming music – whatever works.
Lastly. It’s not always that you will deal with the anxiety by yourself. If you indeed make room for self-care in your life – it’s sometimes doable, but not always. There’s no shame in reaching out for help. There may be time for you to:
See a mental health professional. It is last – but not least. There are situations when it is absolutely necessary to see a mental health professional – to get proper support. Depending on a situation it may be either both – psychotherapy and a pill or sometimes just one of two. And sometimes - there is a third way - some of what I've covered here - and that is mindful meditation, that helps to address anxiety. If you’ve tried a decent amount of ways listed above or maybe some other ways to overcome anxiety and none of them helped – it’s time to see a specialist. When the intensity of your anxiety starts to feel overwhelming to the point you don’t engage in life – psychotherapy and/or medication will make it possible for you to get out of this thick cloud of dark thoughts. Meds and therapy are for people and used wisely will enable you to work through your issues.
WHAT NOT TO DO
Do not watch the news obsessively. Your job is not to become a world’s expert on viruses. It’s just not. Stay informed but focus on other aspects of your life.
A firm and solid NO goes to alcohol and mind-altering substance use. We all know about the substances and all the influence they have on our life, but not many people know that alcohol is actually a strong depressant. So it’s a definite NO – it’s simply not worth it.
It’s so easy to say it, isn’t it, but I’ll risk it – “Try and live your life” seems to be the only option. With precautions – because it is an evolving situation.
✔︎ Pay attention to your health,
✔︎ Take care of yourself and your loved ones.
✔︎ It’s time to slow down,
✔︎ Take care of your day to day business. These are the basics.
✔︎ Support others – you can help elderly neighbors, maybe financially support organizations taking care of homeless, less fortunate people, there are many possibilities.
✔︎ Think about what is possible now that you’re at home for at least 2-3 weeks. Spending quality time with your kids, going through that online course, cleaning the house, reading, going to see all those online museums – that’s just a few.
We need to stay put, but life goes on – just under slightly different circumstances.
Feel free to share this article with someone you know if you feel it may help them calm their minds.