We’re all navigating uncertain and challenging times. Schools are closed and parents are balancing working from home, childcare, and homeschooling their kids in assignments on unfamiliar digital platforms and in subjects that are outside of their areas of strength nor comfort.
With social distancing practices in place, physical and social interaction is limited or non-existent.
Millions of adults are now facing job loss or employment insecurity. Small businesses are suffering and so is the economy.
Financial stress can exacerbate feelings of anxiety and helplessness, and such economic insecurity can place adults at risk for increased mental and emotional distress.
Such abrupt changes can feel unsettling. During times of chaos and uncertainty, such as the current COVID-19 outbreak, fear and anxiety are often amplified.
Below are strategies that can help you navigate stress and worry amid global uncertainty.
Recognize Common Reactions
The world as we know it is rapidly changing. Anxiety, fear, restlessness, difficulty concentrating, and increased irritability are all common reactions to sudden and profound changes. When worry is excessive, we can feel it in our bodies too. You might experience physical signs of anxiety that include muscle tension or pain, stomach and/or headaches. Life disruptions can mimic feelings of loss, and can affect us both mentally and physically. However, it is important to note that anxious feelings is normal for everyone and occasional bouts of anxiety does not meet criteria for an anxiety disorder.
Limit Media Exposure
In times of crisis information is invaluable. It can also be overwhelming. With rapidly shifting news cycles, there will be more questions and not very many new answers. Media coverage during a crisis can increase feelings of anxiety. Limit media exposure as much as possible—and be mindful of your sources of information. Be sure to seek reputable and expert-sourced sites such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and World Health Organization (WHO).
Whether you are working from home or not working at all, try to set a routine. We are facing so much that isn’t normal, it’s important to maintain some sense of normalcy. Set a regular time for waking up, getting dressed, eating your meals, and going to bed. Maintaining normal routines creates a sense of safety, which is especially important during times of uncertainty.
Do Something Fun
When struggling with anxiety and worry, we can easily lose sight of the activities that once brought us enjoyment. If you are spending most of your time working indoors, it is easy to feel sad and isolated—even if others are around. Plan to engage in activities that once brought some degree of pleasure: listen to music, dance, watch a comedy special or cook your favorite food. Prioritizing fun activities is valuable during uncertain times because it can fuel laughter, which generally decreases stress.
If you have kids at home, understand that children take their cues from the important adults in their lives and depend on those adults to help them navigate their own emotions. As uncertain as things are, enjoy this time with your family. Reading and watching videos together are great temporary escapes from life’s worries. Netflix has a treasure trove of entertaining movies and documentaries available for the entire family.
Be sure to include activities that engage your mind as well as your body. Get outside when possible. Physical activity is beneficial because it helps to lower stress and calm anxious minds.
While we understand the importance of it right now, social distancing separates us from our usual (and vital) support networks. This is problematic because we are all created to be in relationship. It’s important to balance the need for sensible precautions with the very real need for connection.
Social separation can increase your risk for loneliness. During times of uncertainty, it’s even more critical to stay connected in order to reduce some of the stress and anxiety that social distancing creates.
While we can’t socially engage in much of the same ways as we previously had, it’s important to explore creative ways to stay connected. We are now able to access a wide range of virtual events via livestreaming: virtual martial arts, yoga, virtual learning summits, and a virtual DJ dance party with 1 million of your closest friends.
Practice Worry Postponement
We as humans have the unique ability to think about future events. We can anticipate problems, and concerns, and work toward solutions to address what lies ahead. When it comes to vision casting and goal achievement, thinking ahead can be useful. However, constantly playing out the “what-ifs” of any given situation often leads to feelings of apprehension, worry, and stress. Excessive worry causes us to play out worse case scenarios and leads us to believe that we will be unable to cope.
With sheltering at home, it may be challenging to keep loneliness and excessive worry at bay. It’s important to guard not only your physical health, but also your mental health during this time.
One strategy involves postponing your worry. Worry is insistent and can make you feel that the threat is occurring right now. Practice postponing your worry. You can do this by deliberately setting aside time in your day to allow yourself time to just…yep, worry. It can be set for anytime, but try to start with 15 minutes at the end of each day. During the designated time, ask yourself if the problem is something you can actually do something about. If not, let the worry go and focus on something that is within your control. It may seem awkward at first but it does work.
When we are under stress, the body goes in survival mode and produces stress hormones that over time can contribute to the development of stress-related illnesses such as chronic high blood pressure and cardiac problems. In addition to sleep and eating immune boosting foods, gratitude supports our immune health and helps to cultivate an overall sense of wellness.
In times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice helps you to notice and more easily connect to acts of kindness, feelings of joy, and moments of contentment. Ward off negative thought spirals by avoiding “what-ifs” and inserting gratitude.
If you start to feel anxiety creep in, practice this relaxation tip: Find a quiet space where you can be alone for at least 20 minutes. Turn down the lights if you like. Turn off your phone and/or computer and give yourself permission to relax. While sitting or lying down with your eyes closed, and while focusing on your breathing, take several slow deep, rhythmic breaths. Begin to reflect on a list of things for which you are grateful. Research shows that relaxing the body will relax the mind. Adding the gratitude list provides an added benefit. The more you practice relaxing your anxious mind, the more effective it becomes.
Engage in Purposeful Distractions
Find purpose by leveraging the opportunities that this novel disruption offers. Consider serving those have been particularly impacted by this crisis. Offer assistance to elderly or high-risk neighbors with picking up and delivering groceries. Volunteer to bring food to healthcare workers who are on the front lines of healing others. The lessons learned by being of service to others is invaluable.
Choose to fix your mind on creative pursuits. Engaging in creative activities eases anxiety because it gives you something enjoyable to focus on while distracting you from anything negative you might be experiencing. Learn to play a musical instrument, begin that book you’ve wanted to write, or reproduce that cool thing you found on Pinterest. Even if you do not initially succeed, there’s time to try again.
We are in an unsettling time. The uncertainty about what lies ahead can fuel anxiety. Be patient with yourself. Reach out to others. Stay calm and stay safe. This too shall pass.
Author Bio: Chinwé Williams, PhD is a Board-Certified and Licensed Professional Counselor (LPC) in the state of Georgia. She has served as a counselor educator, supervisor, and an executive coach. Her expertise lies in the areas of trauma recovery, enhancing resilience, and wellness. She has taught at Georgia State University, University of Central Florida, and Rollins College. Dr. Chinwé currently speaks and writes in the areas of stress and anxiety management and wellness.