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.
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.