During stressful and uncertain times, people often look to news channels and other media outlets for guidance and information. Staying informed and up to date is extremely important and can provide a sense of control and normalcy in a chaotic time of our present lives. However, the situation with COVID-19 is a little different, in that no one has experienced a global pandemic before. Therefore, the narrative that is communicated in the media is filled with fear, uncertainty, and sometimes downright chaos. Many of us are stuck at home and filling the time with watching the news or scrolling through the internet which results in a constant onslaught of messages and images that are cause for concern. Constantly watching the news can lead to rumination – a process of thinking about the same thoughts over and over without a solution – which can lead to increased anxiety and depression.
It is important to remember that it is very natural to feel anxious and distressed during this time; this is uncharted territory and you are not alone in feeling stressed, confused, and scared. A big source of comfort for me, personally, is knowing that the leading researchers and doctors of the world are tirelessly working on a vaccine; I feel lucky that this is at least happening during a time of advanced medical and research capability and am grateful for the healthcare professionals that are on the frontlines!
Here are a few helpful tips and strategies that you can implement to make the anxiety more manageable:
Accept the situation: Acceptance is a powerful tool that you can use to take control of your emotions. We have all experienced a big loss of control in other areas of our lives and practicing acceptance allows us to regain it in other ways.
Know your limits: This is a helpful strategy for everyone, but especially if you are already significantly anxious. Try to implement a set time during the day to watch the news, read articles, or use social media related to the Coronavirus. This could be done by utilizing several 15 minute blocks throughout the day where you “allow” yourself to check in, or an hour in the morning or evening where you can get up to date on the current state of affairs. Blocking off time allows you to stay updated on the situation while limiting rumination.
Practice mindfulness: There are many ways to practice mindfulness and it all centers around being in the “here and now”. Being present and limiting our thoughts from wandering to the uncertainty of the future is another way to regain some control and feel grounded. This can be done by simply giving your full, undivided attention in a conversation with someone, doing yoga, engaging in deep breathing, or playing a board game. Whatever it is that you decide to do, just try to be fully there. If your thoughts wander, gently notice this and pull them back to the present. This is easier said than done, but practice makes perfect!
Watch something funny: The adage “laughter is the best medicine” has a lot of merit. Research has shown that laughter activates areas in our brain which lead to the release of chemicals, responsible for good mood (Yim, 2016). Therefore, even if you are in no mood to laugh, watching a funny movie or a comedy sketch can improve your mood and well-being.
Create a gratitude journal: During this difficult time, it can be hard to remember that most of us have things to be thankful for. It can be something very small (e.g., you had a delicious cookie) or big (health, family, support). Setting aside a few minutes every day to write down 2-3 things that you are grateful for can be an effective way to reduce anxiety and lift spirits. If you are struggling to think of things to be grateful for, you are not alone! Instead, think of some things that you were grateful for in other times of your life or that you hope to be grateful for in the future. Bonus tip: this is a great activity to do as a whole family or have each family member write their own and share with each other at the beginning or end of each day!
Author: Alexis Trakhtorchuk, doctoral extern, SMart Center
Carmody, J., Baer, R.A. Relationships between mindfulness practice and levels of mindfulness, medical and psychological symptoms and well-being in a mindfulness-based stress reduction program. J Behav Med 31, 23–33 (2008). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10865-007- 9130-7
Hayes S.C., Strosahl K.D., Bunting K., Twohig M., Wilson K.G. (2004) What Is Acceptance and Commitment Therapy?. In: Hayes S.C., Strosahl K.D. (eds) A Practical Guide to Acceptance and Commitment Therapy. Springer, Boston, MA