Today I painted my nails two different colors.
I’m sure some of you are thinking “Girl, what’s the big deal? I paint my nails ten different colors each week!”
But when you are like me, you get comfortable with being comfortable. You don’t stray too much over the lines. You avoid change.
You order the same meals at the same restaurants.
You watch the same tv shows over and over again.
You wear the same clothes week after week — often buying the same shirts and pants in different colors and sometimes in the same colors because you know you like them.
You look for the predictable, the routine, the ordinary — especially in the midst of a pandemic. Those ordinary things became a lifeline for me this year.
As the world outside me swirled into chaos over the last several months, I leaned into the things I could control and the things I could predict. I responded to the daily uncertainty of our lives by choosing to live my life in comfort, a space that sometimes felt like control.
But today I leaned a bit out of my comfort zone. I embraced something unpredictable and different.
I chose change.
Yes, today I remembered that even though it’s safe and cozy sometimes to live inside the lines, sometimes the things that make us feel secure are actually the things that hold us back from living life to its fullest.
So, to those of you out there coping like me — by choosing order, predictability, and ordinary — today might be a good day to stray just a bit outside the lines.
I can’t promise that you won’t regret it but I can promise that it’s an important exercise.
Just the word itself causes many people’s chests to tighten, pulses to quicken, minds to start racing, and their breath to feel more shallow.
It’s not fun.
If you are one of the many people that experience anxiety on a daily basis, you are not alone. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, nearly 20% of the US population struggles with a diagnosis of anxiety. That means that 1 out of every 5 people deals with some level of anxiety. At least you are in good company, right?
Add in a pandemic that requires parents across the country to suddenly home-school their children for the rest of the school year while simultaneously having to either work from home, continue to work their normal jobs as essential employees, or struggle with hours being cut, I’m guessing that the 20% number is more like 75% theses days.
How do we manage the anxiety during a global pandemic?
How can we somehow find ways to control the crushing anxiety when we are quarantined in our own homes and forced to live a version of life much different than the one we had built for ourselves?
How can we prevent the anxiety from becoming a very unwelcome house guest with whom we must spend our lock down?
Here are 9 quick strategies to help you regain a sense of control over your anxiety, despite living in the midst of a global pandemic:
1. Let Go of Perfection
Now is not the time to put pressure on yourself to learn a new language, start a new workout routine, begin that great diet program to “finally” lose the extra body weight, get your house in tip top shape, or become the perfect spouse, employee, or parent.
Now is about surviving and getting through this rough time.
So much of what we are collectively feeling right now is grief. Would you expect perfection, increased motivation, improved concentration, and a chipper mood if a loved one just died? I hope not — because you’d be grieving.
You are grieving now too — think about the things you have lost. Are you missing face to face time with friends, dinners out with your partner, lunches with your colleagues, commutes to your job, watching your children play sports, or attending a group fitness class? If so, you are grieving.
Is your To Do list not getting completed each day? Then the problem is with your list — not with you! You are expecting too much of your grieving self right now.
Reset your expectations right now.
There will be time to expect more of yourself but that time is not now.
2. Rethink Social Media
For many of us, social media has been a bit of a lifeline during quarantine. It has allowed us to connect with our friends, coordinate birthday drive-by parades, laugh at funny tik toks from people that probably shouldn’t be tik tocking (is that a word??), and vent about our feelings. It has kept many of us quite grounded at times.
But, social media has always been a potentially dark place. It is where keyboard warriors go to vent their own emotions and frustrations. It’s where name-calling is worse than any school yard could possibly be. It’s where misinformation spreads like wildfire. It’s also a place where people don’t often change other people’s points of views. Used incorrectly, it can be a place of wasted emotional energy.
If your social media friends, groups, pages, or followed sites are causing increased anxiety from you or are making your own blood boil, hide them, unfollow them, snooze them, or even delete them. There is no sense getting into a conversation about it, alerting them to it, or trying to tough it out. Just delete and move on for now.
Clear your social media so that it can be filled with people and stories that make you feel good — or at least don’t make you feel worse.
3. Make Room For Self Care
When in quarantine, so many of the things that filled our tanks and made us feel good are now off limits. Although it may feel like you don’t need self care because life has maybe slowed down for you, because of everything going on and the heaviness that surrounds every day, self care is actually more important now than ever.
What can you do for yourself? Look at your schedule and block out some time for just you. Go for a walk alone — even if your dogs and your children look at you with sad puppy dog eyes. Get in your car and go for a drive alone. Go sit in your car in a parking lot, roll your windows down, and read a book or listen to a podcast or play some music. Take a nap. Pour yourself a glass of that fancy wine you’ve been saving for a special occasion and watch your favorite movie. You may need to get creative but find a way to take care of yourself each day.
There is no right or wrong way to self -care — it’s just important that you carve out the time and do something for yourself.
4. Say No
After spending so much time in quarantine, many of us have gotten very good at connecting with friends and family virtually. But, what many people are beginning to experience is technology fatigue. There are only so many virtual cocktail parties, group video chats, and Zoom bingo’s we can have before we start to crave some time away from the computer and phone.
It’s ok to turn down some of those many invitations you are receiving from professional colleagues, friends, and family. It’s perfectly acceptable to take some time and NOT connect. In a weird way, many people are socializing MORE now than before the quarantine. Would you be going out this many nights a week or seeing friends in person as often as you are connecting virtually with them?
It’s ok to cut back a bit — even if it’s just for a few days.
5. Get Moving
Physical activity can really help break up long days in quarantine. If you live in an area of the country where even walking or running outside now requires a mask and parks are closed, your best options for getting moving may now require some added creativity and planning.
Maybe you could take an early morning walk around your neighborhood, apartment complex parking lot, or even do laps up and down your own driveway. Or, perhaps your best option to get moving may be inside your own home. With lots of gyms, fitness studios, and online programs finding a way to stay relevant and profitable while not able to operate their physical space, there are many free and reduced options to try online. Have you always wanted to try a Barre, Pound, Zumba, BodyPump, Kickboxing, or any other workout program? You probably can find a way to try them all within the comfort of your own home now. Imagine — no one can see you trip or stumble or struggle with any of the moves!
Choose one way to get moving for at least 10 minutes each day and note how you feel after you have done it.
What do you do when anxiety hits you full force and you can’t catch your breath? Being able to get control of your breathing again is key.
One of my favorite breathing techniques to recommend is one called Square Breathing. Think of this as breathing in a square. There are five steps to square breathing:
1. Inhale for a count of 4.
2. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
3. Exhale for a count of 4.
4. Hold your breath for a count of 4.
5. Repeat steps 1–4.
The Square Breathing technique takes some practicing. You don’t want your counts to be so fast that you hyperventilate. You also don’t want them to be so slow that you almost pass out. It’s best to practice this when not feeling anxious so that you know how to do it when you need it.
Take a few minutes each day to practice being aware of your breathing. It’s amazing what a few good deep breaths can do for our minds and bodies.
7. Point Out the Positive
It is really easy to become overwhelmed by negative information during a global pandemic. But, I promise you, there are positive things out there too — you just may need to look a little harder to find them.
Try to find and read at least one positive, funny, or hopeful news story each day. Try to watch a tv show or movie or read part of a book each week that focuses on a funny, hopeful, or lighthearted story line.
In addition to seeking out the positive, you can choose to BE the positive. Before you share that negative post or meme on your social media page or with your housemates, stop and think about whether it’s worth it. Would it be better to share something funny or bright right now? How would it feel to make someone else smile or laugh right now?
It’s amazing to see what can happen once we start searching for and leaning into the positives and leaning away from the negatives.
8. Focus On Your Thoughts
There is a thing that many of us with anxiety do — it’s called catastrophizing. When we catastrophize, we think about the worst possible thing and worry about it happening to us or our loved ones. We wonder how we would respond and how we can be prepared for the bad thing so that we are never caught off guard.
Become aware of your thought patterns and when you catch yourself starting to fall down the rabbit hole of “what if,” pull yourself back to reality. Ask yourself what value this line of thinking is providing right now. Ask yourself how likely the things you are worried about happening actually are right now. If that’s not enough to stop your catastrophizing, start a “worry journal” and write down your worried thoughts there. Give yourself a limit on how long you can spend reading and writing in your worry journal and make sure you give yourself equal time to write about and think about the positive things in your life, the things you can still have hope about, and the things you look forward to doing in the future.
We don’t have to let our thoughts control us. We can climb into our own brains and begin to take control of our thoughts.
9. Consider Counseling
Even thought many counselors (myself included) have moved their practices to an online format during the pandemic, now is still a good time to begin counseling for the first time. Although meeting a therapist for the first time via video or phone chat may be awkward, it can be a great opportunity to vent, unload, and have someone completely there for YOU for 45 minutes each week. They can also help you explore specific strategies to help manage the anxiety you are feeling now.
How great would it feel to have someone there for you every week, holding supportive space for you, and helping you to develop new strategies for coping? All without having to leave your home!
Although this pandemic and resulting quarantine time may leave you feeling very alone within your own home, remember that you are not alone. There are many people out there who struggle with anxiety even when there isn’t a pandemic. So, don’t be afraid to talk about your feelings with your friends and family — it is very likely that some of them are feeling the very same way.
Anxiety is nothing to be ashamed of and it is not something that has to control you. With practice, you can learn how to turn down those anxious thoughts and have greater enjoyment in your life, even when you life is completely turned upside down from a pandemic.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I start yet another day at my kitchen table, the place where I now can be found trying my hardest to balance the responsibilities of working from home with parenting two children and attempting to serve as their substitute teacher. Any given morning now finds me tackling clinical documentation and billing for my private therapy practice while helping my 14 year old muddle his way through assignments for 8 different subjects in a now completely digital learning environment while also debating the usefulness of responding to a journal prompt about an abandoned fort with my 5th grader.
Each day begins the same in this new Groundhog Day version of life and as I sit down at the kitchen table, I am keenly aware of the fact that I have less than 90 minutes to get at least some “school time” in for my kids before I completely ditch them and lock myself in my home office for 8 back to back psychotherapy sessions. Sure, I’ll pop out for the 10–15 minutes I have between sessions to refill my water glass, throw some food at my boys, put dogs out for a bathroom break, break up whatever dispute has started between the boys, and maybe even find time for a restroom break myself. Then it’s right back to work — headphones in, camera on, therapeutic space live and on the air.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I hold space for patient after patient who is working on the front lines of the COVID19 crisis. ICU nurses, doctors, and social workers all recounting horrible tales of what they are seeing day after day to me in our sessions. Suddenly my practice has become one filled with trauma work as I help my clients find hope, practice self care, and manage their intense fears of the virus.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I sit virtually with new moms who were already struggling with postpartum anxiety and depression and now have lost many of the lifelines we helped them to establish in our work together before the virus changed our world.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as my email and voicemail inboxes swell with former clients who are reaching out for support in light of what the virus has done to their lives.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I attempt to support patients who finally had achieved pregnancy after years of loss and failed IUD cycles and yet now have to attend doctor’s appointments alone and fear that if things get worse they may even have to deliver their babies without their partner present.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as patient after patient shares their fears about what will happen to them now that they have been laid off or furloughed or are no longer feasibly able to retire in a few months as their funds took too big of a hit.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as friends around me face grief, loss, and challenges completely unrelated to COVID19 — things like the sudden deaths of loved ones, health issues, and relationships coming to an end.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I begin to realize that I feel completely and wholly inadequate — utterly only mediocre in all aspects of my life now.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I wonder how I can possibly be the therapist my clients need when one of my ears is always listening to make sure my boys aren’t calling me to help them with something.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I question how I can be the parent my boys need when every day finds me shut up in my office with instructions for them to only bother me if there’s an emergency.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I worry about how I can be the wife my husband needs when he is continuing to manage a 24 hour/day medical service from home 2–3 days/week and then covering at least two 12–14 hour shifts each week. We are two ships passing in the night and when we finally do get to see each other we both are too emotionally spent to even acknowledge each other’s presence.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I try my best to reach out to my friends and family to offer them support and remind them that they are loved but I find my energy at the end of the day is almost completely nonexistent.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I lie awake in bed each night staring at the ceiling, wondering what will happen to us if one of us catches the virus or if my husband loses his job or if the weight of not being able to play sports and see their friends finally catches up with my boys.
“I’m one of the lucky ones,” I remind myself as I realize yet again that if I am struggling this much, imagine how much more painful life is right now for others.
“I’m one of the lucky ones and it is still ok to not feel ok right now,” I remind myself. Regardless of our individual circumstances, life right now is hard and is not at all like it used to be. Even if you, like me, are one of the lucky ones in all of this, it’s still ok to admit that our situation sucks right now. It’s ok to feel your feelings and wish that things were better for all of us, even for yourself. It’s ok to remind yourself that even though you may be lucky, you still can be hurting.
Thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic, many people throughout the country and around the world are finding themselves rather suddenly working from the confines of their own home. If you are someone who has grown accustomed to commuting to and from your office each day, working alongside others, and being away from home for 9+ hours each day, these changes are big.
Gone are your long, social, chatty daily rides on the train to and from work where you often get to sit with that nice lady from that big finance firm and that kind gentleman from that non-profit education program.
Gone is the hustle and bustle of the subway station after work as you dart quickly through the crowd to catch your standing room only train ride home.
Gone are the opportunities to stand at your coworker’s desk and catch them up on the latest drama with the other soccer moms or the newest item on your cousin’s baby shower registry.
Gone are the lunches in the break room where you belly laugh with your coworkers for 20 minutes each day and commiserate about the latest work directives.
Gone are your hour long car rides alone where you can listen to whatever you want on the radio, whether you are blasting 80’s rock tunes or singling along to 90’s ballads.
Things are going to look very different for a while now. Your work week filled with other people, lots of noise, and hustle and bustle is now a long 5 days filled with very little physical contact with other humans, a lot of silence, and a whole lot of stillness.
At first, these changes might be a nice break from your busy work life but, after a little bit of time, you may find that you are getting antsy and would give almost anything to go back to the way it used to be pre-COVID-19. Despite the challenges of these times, though, if you follow these 10 strategies for transitioning to working from home, you just may find some joy in this new temporary normal.
1. Establish Working Hours
One of the biggest challenges when working from home is that there are suddenly no clear boundaries between work hours and non-work hours. Decide what time your work day will start and what time your work day will end. If you were a commuter, you’ve now gained some extra non-work time at home at both the beginning and end of the day. What can you fill it with that will be fun, relaxing or restorative instead of just filling it with more work? Resist the pressure to start work early or “stay” late.
2. Keep Your Morning Routine
It’s tempting to plan to stay in your pajamas all day (or at least your pajama bottoms if you have some video conference calls). But, resist the urge and instead continue to spend time getting yourself ready for work each morning. Take your shower, make your bed, do your hair, put on your makeup, and wear something that you wouldn’t wear at home on a Saturday morning. Doing so will help your brain to understand that there is a difference between work hours and non-work hours.
3. Set Up Your Work Space
Select an area of your home where you will be comfortable setting up your work space. You may even choose to select multiple areas and move your “office” throughout the day. Be creative. Feel free to order a few things online or re-purpose some wall hangings, art, or pictures from other areas of your home. As the weather gets nicer is there an area outside where you can do some work? Make your work space inviting and personalized.
4. Take Breaks Alone
When you “arrive” to work each day, take a look at your schedule and decide when you will take some breaks and then use those breaks to do something for yourself. Take a quick walk outside. Have a cup of tea in another room. Download a meditation app and do a 5 minute meditation. Read a few pages of a book. It doesn’t really matter what you do as long as it isn’t work or household chores and is something that allows you to relax for just a few minutes.
5. Spend Time With Your Children
If you are one of the vast number of parents who now have children home for weeks and months at a time, you are probably feeling the pull between attending to your work tasks and attending to your children’s needs. Plot out time each day to be with your children where you are not focusing on their at-home learning. Plan to eat lunch with them or take “coffee” breaks with them. Take the dog on a walk with them. Throw the baseball around with them. Be with them and enjoy this once in a lifetime chance to be at home together.
6. Check In With Your Partner
These times are going to put a strain on many relationships. Couples who are used to not seeing each other all day everyday may be in for a bit of a shock with just how much they will be seeing of each other’s faces soon. Or, maybe one member of the couple is an essential employee and can’t be working from home, leaving the other member of the partnership to be feeling a bit more of the responsibility of having to work from home while caring for kids. Maybe this new set up will leave you feeling a financial strain. Chances are, no matter what the circumstances, this is going to be stressful for many couples. Talk with each other about it and find out what you each will need in order to feel supported during this time. Have a little “staff meeting” with each other at the start of each work week and at the end of each work week where you check in about what worked and what could have gone better. Communication is key!
7. Feel Your Feelings
We are living through a time quite unlike anything many of us have ever experienced. No matter how stressful your job, your commute, or your relationships with coworkers may be, having it all change so suddenly can feel traumatic at times. Don’t be surprised if you find yourself feeling anxious, angry, sad, and/or numb. Allow yourself to cry, shout into the shower water, punch a pillow, or just sit and feel nothing. There is a lot of grief in what we are currently experiencing and the only way to deal with grief is to feel it.
8. Reach Out
With limited social gatherings, it is going to be very easy to find yourself feeling isolated and lonely very quickly. Make it a point to reach out to friends via text, Facetime, social apps, and even the good old telephone. Schedule group chats with your friends where you can check in together a little bit without being physically near each other. Maintaining friendships and connections may take a little more effort these days. It’s worth it!
9. Focus On Your Health
It is really tempting with gyms closing and our lives turning inward for a while to open up that bag of chips and throw our diets and exercise plans out the window. The reality is that we need to do the opposite right now. Make a plan for your meals and for at home workouts. Commit to your plan with a friend or your partner and check in regularly. After all, what boosts our immune system more than taking care of our bodies with good nutrition and healthy fitness habits?
10. Change Your Social Media
Many people’s inclination right now might be to limit your use of social media but I think we NEED social media right now. We need to feel connected to each other, part of something bigger. Lean into social media but do it in a completely different way. Hide, snooze, and ignore a whole lot of people for the next 30 days. If you are feeling deeply triggered, irritated, hurt, or angered by someone’s posts, get them off your feed for the time being. There’s no space for that right now. Fill your feed with lightness. Hide the news — you can find it when you need it. Post fun photos. Ask engaging questions. Talk about books, movies, and television. Share helpful tips. Post recipe reviews. Share at home workouts. Social media can be an important lifeline to each other right now if we use it in the right way.
These days ahead of us are going to feel strange, challenging, and sometimes even painful. But, if we are mindful and deliberate in how we approach this time in our life, we just might find that these days could be ones filled with memories, laughter, and a renewed connection to ourselves and the people we love.
Everywhere we look right now we hear and see the same few words over and over again.
For many of us, this constant news cycle can be overwhelming, tapping into our already somewhat heightened levels of anxiety. For those of us that are parents, we have an added layer of concern: how do we explain the current state of affairs to our children and provide them some sense of reassurance?
While there is no magic elixir, magic wand, or secret rule book, there are a few key strategies that just might help us to decrease our children’s current worries and restore a sense of hope.
1. Be Honest
As with most things, children know more than we think they do and they crave honest information. As much as I want to shelter my children from hearing about the potential bad things that could happen, now that they are in school and in sports, this is simply not a reliable option. They can potentially overhear information from an adult or directly from another child in a number of locations. When parents make the decision to provide their children with honest information, there is better control over what and how specific information is shared with their children.
2. Watch What You Say
On the flip side, be mindful about what you say around children, not just around your own children, but when you are out in public. You don’t want to be that person who exposes another child to information their parents had not yet shared.
3. Consider Development
Children’s emotional and cognitive capacities develop significantly throughout their childhood. Before sharing details with them, take their developmental stage into consideration. A 12 year old will want and need more specific and detailed information than a 7 year old may need. Avoid going into too much detail or overwhelming them with details. Let them guide you on how much information they need.
4. Be a Role Model
Let’s face it, children learn a lot from watching their parents: the good, the bad and the ugly. Show your children that feelings like anger and frustration are normal. If you are angry, name it. Be sure to not only show your child that it is normal to feel emotions but also demonstrate acceptable ways for them to express those emotions. Avoid holding it all in and expressing it only when the children are not around. Let them in on the realness of feelings. You will be providing them a solid model for how to handle and manage life’s biggest challenges to come.
5. Reassure. Reassure. Reassure.
Children need to feel safe and the adults in their lives are the ones who are tasked with that monumental responsibility. I am not advocating for you to tell your children that nothing bad will happen to them or near them ever as that would be a lie. You cannot predict the future. You can, however, point out that good stuff happens far more often than the bad stuff. Remind children of all the people and systems in place to keep them safe and all the healthy people around them. Reassure them that you would never knowingly put them in a dangerous situations. Highlight safety measures that are in place in they express fear over attending a certain event. Repeat as many times as necessary. When you think you’ve said it all enough, say it one more time.
6. Limit Media
Television news, social media accounts and newspapers now provide non-stop, around the clock coverage of the virus outbreak. Pictures, video, audio clips; it’s all out there and it can quickly become too much for children. Be mindful of what children may be exposed to and consider whether it is necessary. I recall hearing accounts from 9/11 that many children interpreted the frequent replay of the plane hitting the tower as multiple planes hitting multiple buildings day after day. Even if you think your children aren’t watching the news with you or don’t see the headlines on the newspaper, think about what they may overhear from the next room or what they may see when the newspaper is left casually on a kitchen table.
7. Create an Open Dialogue
Children need time to process things. It is not unusual for children to need days or even weeks to develop questions or be able to express their thoughts on difficult topics. Send your child the message that you can always find time to talk with them. Many parents have success by carving out time each night around bedtime for an opportunity for children to share their experiences, thoughts, feelings and ask questions. Some parents schedule weekly one-on-one parent/child dates at a coffee shop or fast food restaurant to connect. These conversations tend to be better received when they focus on one child at a time, rather than as a family dialogue with multiple children of various developmental stages.
8. Point Out the Positive
Despite what we see on a daily basis, there are lots and lots of great things that happen locally, nationally and internationally. Seek out the good stuff and share it often with your children. Local newspapers can often be a more positive source of news, particularly for children. Highlighting the positives can also go a long way to helping children feel safe. No amount of the good stuff is too much!
9. Monitor Behavioral Changes
Keep a watchful eye on your child’s behavior. Changes in sleeping and eating patterns may indicate that your child is having a hard time processing some events and information. Changes such as suddenly wetting the bed again or asking to sleep in your bed could be a normal response to stressful information. Be careful not to shame your child about changes like these. Rather, give them some time, continue to provide reassurance and keep a watchful eye. If you are concerned, reach out for support. Your child’s school, their pediatrician and local child therapists are all great resources.
Mental Health & Wellness
Now, more than ever, we all need a little support to help get us through the rough spots. With all the pressures of life, it can be a challenge to find time to not only take care of yourself but also to truly understand who you even are anymore.