By Lauren Berger, MSW, RSW
The topic on everyone’s lips around the world is Coronavirus and, if you’re like me, you might be finding it all a tad overwhelming. Widespread health care scares can induce anxiety symptoms in the most chilled out people, so those who regularly experience anxiety may not be feeling so hot right now. If you’re feeling overwhelmed or helpless, know that you’re not alone. I’ve got some strategies that can help you breathe a little easier while we move through this funky time. Keep reading for my top tips on reducing anxiety amidst COVID-19 (Coronavirus).
1. Remember: You are not powerless
The idea that you’re definitely going to contract COVID-19 (or have your business or social life suffer as a result of quarantines) no matter what you do is incredibly defeating. While curling into a ball and waiting for the world to end may seem like all that’s left to do, it’s not. There are ways to take control that help minimize your risk, and therefore minimize your anxiety to healthy levels. The simplest measures can be the most empowering. The advice agreed upon by most health care professionals right now is to wash your hands well and avoid touching your face. This is a concrete action you can take, and that makes you more powerful. Avoiding touching others in business settings (bub bye, cold fish hand shake) or social settings (see ya, uncomfortable cheek kiss) seems very wise now. How to get around these social norms? Use your words. Again, this is a way to exercise your power and feel in control. Here’s your script: “Hello, it’s such a pleasure to meet you! Please excuse me for not shaking hands today, but I think we’re all trying to avoid extra touching right now.” This is direct and to-the-point, and I bet you that the other person will feel just as relieved as you. Picking up a few extra canned or frozen goods when at the grocery store helps feeling prepared in case of a quarantine situation. Preparedness leads to empowerment, as it reminds us there is a plan in place. Planning ahead relieves anxiety symptoms, especially if you use your self-talk (your inner dialogue) to remind yourself of your plan.
2. Turn off the news.
Ah, the media. While we depend on media to, you know, give us the news, it’s not a secret that media outlets have a way of catastrophizing everything. While COVID-19 is not something to be taken lightly, many agree that the extent to which the news may be causing fear is heightened. Regardless, there is a difference between being informed and being bombarded. Checking in on the updates twice a day seems very reasonable. Checking Twitter every 15 minutes is not. This just keeps the issue top of mind when your brainpower is likely better spent on other tasks, such as your work, your hobbies, and keeping up with you friends and family. If you find the conversation is frequently turning to Coronavirus as a substitute for small talk or gossip, feel free to direct the conversation away (again, this puts you in a position of power over what you’re consuming and therefore puts you in control of your mental health). This also applies to social media. Take more tech breaks in your day to reduce exposure to the bombardment.
3. Let’s get physical.
Your body is more than just a willing host for a virus. It is a crazy awesome machine with systems in place to help you stave off illness, stay mentally healthy, and thrive. Tap into these resources! My personal fave is to engage in deep breathing. This is a quick and effective way to calm the mind and body by reminding us to relax and release excess tension. Focus on inhaling for a count of 4 and exhaling for a count of 6. Feel your belly expand as your lungs fill with fresh air. Feel your belly contract slightly as it expels old air and energy. Try this for about a minute and notice how you feel. Now that you’ve set the stage for calmness, connect with a physical exercise that you enjoy. Dance, hike, lift, or yoga pose your way to some relieving endorphins. Show yourself how strong and powerful your body is.
4. Clear out the clutter.
When panic seeps in, logic goes out the window. If your mind is feeling cluttered with overexposure and anxiety is riding high, just pause for a moment. Take a breath. Imagine your mind is like an Etch-A-Sketch. Now give your head a good shake, and imagine that Etch-A-Sketch is now completely clear – a clean slate. With another deep breath, remind yourself that you are a person who is capable of handling tough things. Find a mantra that serves you during this time and reminds you that you are in charge of your thoughts. My suggestions? “Precaution over panic.” “I am safe.” “My mind and body are strong.” This brings us back to my first point of reminding ourselves that we are not powerless here. Whenever thoughts seem overwhelming, remember that they are just thoughts – they are not truths. Bust out the Etch-A-Sketch imagery as necessary to clear your mind so you can replace the clutter with simple, soothing words instead.
5. Be social – safely.
As the recommendations have been changing daily regarding being in public places, we can quickly become isolated. While some physical isolation may be prudent now, we’re fortunate to be in an age when technology can keep us connected. Humans are inherently social creatures, so finding alternatives to the usual get-togethers is crucial. Phone a friend. Text. FaceTime. Take funny videos and send them to your friends and family. Frequently check in on those more likely to feel isolated and lonely, such as elderly grandparents. Not only will this help keep up your morale, but it will give you the same positive feeling as doing a good deed. Remember: even if physical isolation is needed, we do not need to shut down communication. Engaging in your relationships safely reduce lower depression symptoms and can even boost immunity (bonus!).
6. Find the positives.
They are there. A great way to remember that there are good things in your life is to record them in a gratitude journal or list them to yourself at the end of the day. These positives may include anything that makes you feel good, such as a favourite new song on the radio, holding a plank for 60 seconds, feeling accomplished in a work task, getting laughs after telling a good joke… if it brings a smile to your face, then it was a positive in your day; and it had nothing to do with Coronavirus.
While concern is natural and our daily routines may temporarily change, consider how you’re handling your mental health. My rule of thumb? Consider if your thoughts and actions are helpful or unhelpful. By categorizing them this way, you’ll be able to find what works for you. If you’re really struggling to cope, reach out to your mental health professionals. I personally am offering online counselling to provide people with support and individualized psychological solutions to make it through this time feeling strong. Try out my top tips and notice how empowered and mentally strong you feel.
**Disclaimer: The advice in this article is for informational purposes only and does not replace the diagnosis/treatment of a licensed medical or mental health professional.**
Lauren Berger is a Registered Social Worker Psychotherapist providing counselling and psychotherapy at IHI. Check her out at www.laurenberger.ca, drop her a line at firstname.lastname@example.org, follow her on Twitter: @LaurenBergerMSW, or sneak a peek at her Instagram: laurenberger_msw.