“Unprecedented.” “Uncharted territory.” “No clear rules.” “Constantly changing.” These are just a few of the words and phrases being used to describe our life right now as we face the COVID-19 pandemic. Not knowing what is going to happen and having so many things out of our control are key contributors to anxiety, so it is no wonder that many of us are feeling increasingly worried, unsure, out of sorts, and/or scared. Knowing that clear answers and solutions will likely not come to us as quickly as we would like, what can we do to stay calm, manage our worries, and cope with the unknown as well as possible? Our best bet may be turning to a few tried and true anxiety coping techniques:
- Control what you can! We can’t control what is going to happen with the virus in our community, but there are still plenty of things we can control in our daily life. Just a few of the things we can control include eating well, getting enough sleep, staying connected to loved ones (virtually if need be), and, of course, washing our hands.
- Manage exposure to news about COVID-19. Of course it is important to be aware about what is happening and what is being recommended with regard to COVID-19 but spending too much time watching, reading, and focusing on the pandemic and its implications can take a toll on us emotionally. Taking regular breaks from media exposure gives us time to breathe, think clearly, and get perspective. One way to do this might be to set up a plan for limiting your media exposure about COVID-19 to 1 hour in the morning and 1 hour at night.
- Engage in “feel-good” activities. During your media breaks, spend time engaging in activities that promote happiness, feelings of productivity, connection, and/or calmness. Examples of such activities include finally getting those to-do list items checked off, playing cards or board games, reading a book, watching a comedy show or movie, and/or exercising. It is harder for “worry thoughts” to disrupt us when we are engaging in activities that feel good.
- Breathe. Worry often leads our bodies to feel more stressed and tense, and often we don’t even realize that we are not breathing as fully as we need to. Take breaks to focus on breathing. Slowly breathe in and out for 10 seconds. Then another 10 if you need to. Slowing and steadying our breath can help us feel more relaxed and calm, which thereby reduces worry.
- “Unload” the worry. Rather than carrying the worry internally, find ways to unload it. Exactly how we each prefer to unload our worries varies, but some suggestions include: journal writing, talking with friends and family, exercising vigorously, and doing meditation.
Engaging in the above 5 tips for reducing anxiety can go a long way toward helping us get through this challenging time. One last tip for coping with worries…let’s remind ourselves of the old adage, “this too shall pass.” Reassuring ourselves that we will get through this scary time is a powerful tool for managing our worries.
Kelly Theis, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist