Coronavirus/COVID-19 has impacted the world and your daily life. Here are ideas to find your calm- and still do what you need to:
Acknowledging the impact and variable anxiety levels caused by the coronavirus/COVID-19 that our society and world feels now is crucial. Crucial to remaining level-headed, emotionally-psychologically well, and inspiring introspection during uncertain times. Pandemic and health warnings come new to most of us and immediately become very personal:
- worries about how your family and children will be affected;
- stress taking work or university online;
- health and travel concerns about aging or ailing parents;
- life events changed or canceled;
- fears of isolation or preparedness
Here are ways you can support your mental health and wellbeing:
Consider the below recommendations based on the most recent health and safety recommendations from the CDC and the WHO, as well as your national and state governmental regulations. This article will not be updated daily to reflect all of these changing recommendations. Please use your discretion also based on personal health and ability levels.
1 PRACTICE MANAGING YOUR ANXIETY AND THE UNKNOWN
New or elevated levels of personal anxiety spike during events with uncertain outcomes and timelines. If you are experiencing any of the following, consider the recommendations below:
- racing thoughts; tight chest; panic symptoms; perseverating/unending thoughts about preparing or how a COVID-affected situation will pan out; inability to calm or rest without anxiety
It is very difficult for the human brain to work without a “guarantee” of an outcome. Despite everyday of our lives not having any real guarantees, our minds still like to pretend we can control and plan enough to make sure things come out our way. Situations like a mass cultural crisis particularly cause most people’s minds to cycle in “plan-prepare-plan again-worry-panic-plan more.”
How to manage the anxiety:
- Notice and label thoughts as either “worry thoughts,” “planning thoughts,” “prepping thoughts,” or “panic thoughts” letting them go rather than jumping on the anxiety train that can lead to minutes of wasted thinking. Anxious-mind planning is different than regulated-mind planfulness. Try to only plan or prepare when you are in a calmer state. Breathe deeply three full rounds of breath, bringing your attention back to your breath each time an unhelpful thought takes your attention away from the present.
- Distance yourself from conversations with a panicked tone. Anxiety can feel contagious. Note to yourself when a chat with someone (family, co-worker, etc) has passed from a regulated, rational discussion to unhelpful, and politely say you need to change the subject to take a break from the topic.
- Listen to guided meditations, ideally before you’re stressed. Some favorite meditations of mine are here with Tara Brach and also a coronavirus-specific meditation from the also illustrious Jack Kornfield.
- Keep your thoughts on what is OK: Who in your life is healthy, what you have done that is helping, and try bringing in optimism.
- Try laughing. In fact, try laughing about something other than coronavirus! Place your mind somewhere else.
Know your specific anxiety behaviors:
When stress heightens for you, what automatic behaviors typically arise? Common habit numbing behaviors the body does in attempts to self-soothe and reduce stress or to numb away feelings could include:
– overeating, or restrict your food intake (mindlessly eating carbs or sugar, or eating very little in hopes to regain control)
– drinking more alcohol or smoking more marijuana than typical: consuming either when alone and/or consuming more than your typically would
– compulsively checking the news or social media, past the point of helpfully informative
– critiquing, bickering or arguing with your partner or family out of dysregulated emotions that come out as irritation or anger
– ignoring connection by not answering calls or texts
– seeking constant reassurance or comforting from trusted others much more than is typical and in an anxious way
– nervous habits like biting nails or cuticles, scratching or pacing
– self-harm like cutting, burning or head-banging
All of these behaviors, when not judged and treated with compassion and care to do something different, can serve you as signals that maybe you are not doing ok and should seek extra support, such as friends, family, or a therapist.
2 SEEK CONNECTION IN SAFE WAYS
Suddenly moving your job or schooling online, and especially the ideas of social distancing and self-quarantine, can be gravely isolating experiences. Working remotely without your colleagues due to COVID-19 or being forced away from your university campus community, can all feel distancing from daily interaction and connection.
So construct new ways for you and colleagues to stay in more (virtual) contact– consider video or phone calls when an email would do, because if you could stop by their office before, your sudden disconnection of that could benefit from hearing supportive peoples’ voices.
Stay in touch with friends from school or friends in general by checking in on health and lifestyle changes, while also talking about regular life topics, and if it is advisable to still get together safely in person one-on-one or in small groups, of course keeping in mind guidance from the CDC and the WHO.
3 TAKE BREAKS
Typically in mass national or global upset, peoples’ minds want to consume news constantly– again, trying to regain a sense of control. While staying informed is vastly important especially in this time of new health concerns, obsessing over news media, online platforms, or social media increases anxiety unnecessarily and can perpetuate false claims (namely social media and non-reputable sources).
Ask yourself honestly if the amount or type of media you’re taking in is causing significant increase in your anxiety, and/or you feel like you cannot or should not stop consuming. Find the balance that keeps you informed yet helps maintain some semblance of calm. Consider reducing time on platforms that are not vetted news or health outlets. Try only looking at the news once a day and cap your time if needed by setting a timer of say 5-10 minutes. Get really wild and consider looking at social media only once a day for about 5 minutes; there can be support to be found there, yet the inundating topic might not help your mental health.
4 PROCESS FEARS AND GRIEF
A pandemic is monumental and affects daily life and some people’s physical health, and should thusly be taken very seriously– especially regarding ways to help prevent its spread. Naturally then it can trigger deeper fears in anyone about health, death, loss, and fears of uncertainty. Whether concerned about yourself, your parents, your child, or your world, deep fears that might generally live in the shadows come into light.
If worried about certain people in your life due to immunocompromising conditions or advanced age, etc, talk with them about your concerns and hopes for how they can best care for themselves. Anxiety can say to avoid these talks but having them can help address existing needs.
Your small business is hit hard by coronavirus; you might be laid off or furloughed; you lost a lot in the stock market. If your job and/or financial landscapes are changed–turned upside down– and you’re unsure when things will recover. This is a loss. Grieve. Seek support. Remember that you have weathered difficulty before. Write down any and all the supports you have (personal, professional, familial, financial, mentorship, a divine, patience, intelligence, the ability to build and rebuild).
The wedding you’ve planned for a year; the conference you help build from scratch; your perfect almost-a-break vacation. If something important in your life was postponed or canceled, grieve it. This is a loss. Seek support. Remember you have weathered difficulty before. Write down any and all the supports you have (personal, friends, family, kind vendors, understanding travel companies, personal strengths).
And of course when the stress of coronavirus exceeds your coping or you want a third-party ear, consider talking to a licensed psychotherapist about anxiety or deeper fears. In the Denver area? Read more about Brittany Bouffard, LCSW, and reach out to schedule a complimentary phone introduction at BouffardPsychotherapy@gmail.com. #inthistogether
Consider these recommendations based on the most recent health and safety recommendations from the CDC and the WHO, as well as your national and state governmental regulations. This article will not be updated daily to reflect all of these changing recommendations. Please use your discretion also based on personal health and ability levels.