We’re not even past the first quarter of 2020 and we’re dealing with the coronavirus pandemic, United States declaring a national emergency, travel bans, school shutdowns, stock market fluctuations, no toilet paper, and cancellation of large gatherings. It is easy and understandable to feel vulnerable, helpless, and anxious. You are not alone in these feelings.
Everything is canceled and put on hold–except, perhaps, our anxiety about this situation spiraling out of control.
What is anxiety? Anxiety, in its simplest form, is your body’s response to stress or a perceived stressor. For example, a cough a few months ago did not really faze people, but a cough today now leads people to immediately assume the worst. The only difference is our interpretation of the event. These interpretations can sometimes expose us to unhelpful, or inappropriate, levels of anxiety.
Anxiety has a huge survival value; it allows us to prepare ourselves and protect ourselves against threats. It essentially ramps our body up for performance. Our body is designed to detect possible danger and act accordingly–resulting in fight, flight, or freeze. The problem is that anxiety can go from helpful to harmful very quickly. A little anxiety before a big presentation may allow you to focus your resources toward your goal of a job well done. Your body’s natural stress response during a threatening event may help you evade actual danger. However, experiencing this feeling of panic at an otherwise normal time is not helpful for your ability to function.
If I was to offer a little help in regard to managing anxiety during this time, I’d recommend you pay attention to your own thoughts and behaviors. What is your anxiety, or stress response, doing for you? Is it helpful, leading you to engage in active problem solving or creative coping? Or is it unhelpful, leading you to feel shutdown?
The most important thing, from a psychological perspective, is to accept that this is a season where some anxiety is normal and appropriate. HEAR THIS: IT IS OKAY TO BE ANXIOUS, SCARED, AND VULNERABLE during this time. However, take some time to check in with yourself regularly, as well as your loved ones. Stress in doses can allow us to be vigilant and proactive, but it doesn’t need to rule our lives. Here are some tips I want to offer from a mental health perspective:
- BE INTENTIONAL WITH MEDIA CONSUMPTION. It is not uncommon to catastrophize during periods of crisis and to flood ourselves with nonstop news coverage of the situation. Take stock of how much is helpful versus how much is preventing you from living in the present.
- HELP YOURSELF FEEL SAFE. Much work dealing with anxiety, and even the physiological responses of someone that’s been through trauma, has to do with helping the person feel safe. This is different from knowing we are safe. An anxious body does not feel safe, regardless of what the facts are. Focus on your breath while breathing deeply, identify your surroundings, ground yourself in the present, etc.
- LOVE THOSE AROUND YOU. With all this talk of “social distancing,” we still need each other more than ever. Check on your friends, family, and loved ones, and lead by example in sharing how you are feeling. The power of kindness, generosity, and selflessness cannot be underestimated.
- DECIDE YOUR COURSE OF ACTION. I firmly believe in the power of agency (feeling in control) as a way to fight against anxiety. There are many voices out there saying how we should react to this situation. Listen to them with a critical ear, digest the information, and then make a decision you are comfortable with. While some are temporarily isolating themselves completely, others may not believe that is best for their mental health or overall wellbeing.
Furthermore, if you are interested in starting therapy services but feel anxious about in-person sessions because of COVID-19, I offer telehealth appointments through a secure, HIPAA-compliant platform that is easy to use.