Coping with Anxiety During Trying Times

by Steven Borrero

Your anxiety might be sky-high right now and you’re not alone. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting our everyday lives in different ways and things are changing at such a rapid pace that it’s impossible to know what to expect next.

Whether your kids are out of school indefinitely, or you’re not sure how your small business is going to survive, managing anxiety is key to making the best decisions possible for you and your family. Here are several strategies that can help you keep anxiety in check as you manage the coronavirus pandemic.

1. Create a schedule

Your daily routine might be disrupted in many different ways. Whether you’re working from home, or can’t go to the gym, the lack of structure in the face of uncertainty can cause you to feel even more anxious.

Every night, sit down and create a schedule for the following day. Identify what you can do during each hour of the day — including things like exercise, cooking meals, reaching out to friends and family, cleaning the house, and working. Incorporate healthy activities into your day, and try to keep a similar daily routine in the process.

2. Limit the time you spend consuming media about the coronavirus pandemic

Don’t leave the TV on in the background so you can stay informed, and don’t flip through social media randomly. Consuming too much media will keep your anxiety sky-high.

Studies show that watching the news can cause anxiety spikes (even during the best of times). Worse than this, your anxiety is likely to stay elevated for a while after you stop watching the news. Can you imagine what it does right now when you’re listening to reports of “death tolls” every few minutes? It’s likely to keep your anxiety stuck in a perpetual heightened state, which is never good for you.

While it’s important to stay up-to-date, consuming media all day isn’t necessary (or healthy). Decide when you want to get the latest news — perhaps in the morning and again in the evening. Then, resist the urge to read articles and watch news throughout the rest of the day.

3. Choose what media you consume carefully

Research shows that the type of media you consume affects your well-being. It may even influence how likely you are to keep yourself safe. A 2009 study that examined how Australian and Swedish media outlets each reported on the H1N1 influenza pandemic found that both outlets reported accurately on the risk of contracting the illness. Swedish outlets, however, focused their reports on how viewers could reduce their risk of getting sick, while Australian media chose to report mostly on public agency missteps during the coronavirus pandemic.

Before the outbreak, both countries had similar vaccination rates. After the outbreak, the vaccination rate was 60% in Sweden and 18% in Australia.

So be proactive about which news programs you choose to watch as well as who you follow on social media. Look for media that reports on concrete, healthy actions you can take — rather than ones that report on all the things going wrong. This may help you feel better, and it could motivate you to take more positive action steps.

4. Exercise

With so many gyms being closed and warnings to practice social distancing, it may be harder to find time and space to work out. But physical activity can greatly reduce anxiety.

And while any type of exercise might help you feel better, some studies have found that strength training is especially effective in reducing anxiety.

If you’ve got some dumbbells, use them. If not, use your body weight or some resistance bands. Doing so can build both your physical and mental muscles.

5. Label your emotions

Putting a name to your emotions can take a lot of the sting out of them. A study conducted by researchers at UCLA found that labeling feelings reduce the intensity of them.

Take a minute or two to check in with yourself several times each day. How are you feeling? Anxious? Overwhelmed? Frustrated? Sad? Confused? Whatever you’re feeling is OK. Acknowledging rather than fighting your feelings can help you move forward.

6. Balance your emotions with logic

It’s normal to experience intense feelings right now. And these emotions lead to a lot of unhelpful and even catastrophic thoughts that can fuel your anxiety.

It’s important to balance our emotions with logic. Take a look at the facts. And when you start thinking the world is ending or you can’t get through this, remind yourself that pandemics end, economies rebound, and people survive.

7. Argue the opposite

When you find yourself thinking things like, “The coronavirus is going to wipe out my business,” or, “I’m never going to get through this,” then argue the opposite.

Remind yourself that there’s also a chance that things will turn out better in the end or that you’re going to emerge from this stronger than ever. The goal of arguing the opposite isn’t to convince yourself that everything is perfect or that amazing things are going to happen.

Instead, it’s about helping you see that your catastrophic predictions aren’t destined to happen. There’s a chance that things might go well or turn out better than you’re imagining. Develop a more realistic middle-ground outlook, rather than a doom and gloom outlook, so you can start to feel better.

8. Maintain social support

Fortunately, our electronic devices allow us to stay easily connected even while we’re social distancing. And while video chatting doesn’t provide all the same emotional benefits of face-to-face human contact, electronic means of communication do allow you to maintain social support.

If you don’t have close friends or family members to reach out to during this time, find people you can talk to. Look for forums, social media groups, or others who want to connect. Talking to other people about what you’re going through can reduce your anxiety. Just make sure you’re talking about strategies that help you feel better and not making catastrophic predictions that fuel your anxiety.

9. Focus on the things you can control

The more you focus on things you can’t control, such as how much the coronavirus is spreading or business closings that will affect your day-to-day life, the more anxious you will feel.

Focus on things you can control, like steps you can take to keep yourself safe, how you will spend your time, and how you will manage your money. Gaining a sense of control over something can help you gain inner peace.

10. Externalize your anxiety

Narrative therapy is a common form of treatment that is a simple but effective way to get some fast relief. It involves externalizing your anxiety so you can recognize how it affects you and how you can fight it.

Rather than say, “I’m feeling awful,” remind yourself, “Anxiety tries to make me feel awful.” Acknowledge how your anxiety causes you to think things that aren’t true like, “Anxiety tries to convince me I can’t handle one more thing going wrong!” Recognize how it tries to get you to behave in a way that keeps you stuck in a perpetual state of anxiety such as, “Anxiety tries to make me pace in circles rather than get something productive done.”

Viewing anxiety as an external force can help you find ways to combat it. You may decide you can best fight anxiety with sleep and exercise. Or you might decide anxiety doesn’t like it when you practice yoga. You can even turn it into a game of sorts where you practice different strategies to learn what helps you best fight off the anxiety.

11. Schedule time to worry

It may sound ridiculous on the surface. If you worry a lot, why on earth would you schedule a time to worry? Well, researchers have found that scheduling time to worry is a great way to limit the amount of time you spend ruminating and making catastrophic predictions.

Set aside a certain time-frame to worry, and put it in your schedule. Perhaps you decide to worry from 7:00 p.m. to 7:15 p.m. every day. If you catch yourself worrying outside of this time frame, then remind yourself that it’s not time to worry right now.

Then, when your worrying time hits, sit down and worry as much as you can during this timeframe. When the time is up, move onto something else. With practice, you’ll likely find it’s an effective way to keep your worries contained.

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