It is a very anxiety-provoking time right now with all of the uncertainty regarding COVID-19. People from all around the world are worried about loved ones (individuals who are either older or immunocompromised) getting sick, financial stress, feeling socially isolated and distant from everyone, and not knowing where to turn. Even though this is a very rare time in our lives and many, if not all, of us have never faced this type of world-wide fear, there are ways to cope with this anxiety. My name is Jenna Blum and I am a doctoral student at the SMart Center. I have worked at this center for years and one of the best feelings in the world is being able to help children/teens and adults from all around the world minimize their anxiety levels by adding simple coping skills into their everyday life. I am here today to share that many of the strategies that are learned could still be maintained in a home environment while quarantined.
1. It is important to stay connected with friends, family, co-workers, and social life.
With many people now working from home, it is very easy to feel stuck inside. People wake up every day following the same routine without connecting with anyone in the outside world. As of right now, gyms, schools, restaurants, and nonessential businesses are all closed for the unforeseeable future, which brings up a lot of fear and anxiety. Social distancing may be essential to slow the spread of the disease, but we are allowed to stay connected virtually. Staying connected will lessen anxiety because it will minimize the feeling of isolation and loneliness. Just because we might be physically isolated, doesn’t mean we have to be socially isolated. Being quarantined is a great opportunity to catch up with family and friends.
- Set a time to FaceTime with relatives, friends, or people that you want to catch up with. This will heighten your emotional connection and minimize your sense of isolation.
- Call a friend while you’re walking around the neighborhood. This will allow you to work on both your physical and mental health simultaneously.
2. Focus on what you can control, rather than what you can’t
It is very easy to focus on all of the negatives that are currently surrounding us. Many of us don’t know how long it will be until we can go back to work, travel, physically spend time with our loved ones, and continue with our everyday lives. Remember that your feelings are valid and normal at this tough time and many others are feeling the same way. Focusing on what we CAN’T control will only create more anxiety. Instead, it is important to focus on what we CAN control. Think about the question, “what are things in your life where you feel in control and how does it feel that you are capable of controlling it?” In a time of panic, questions like these will keep a person in reality. Instead of catastrophizing about constantly feeling out of control, thinking about the things in our lives that we still have control over will ensure that everything will remain okay. Everything that is going on in life is only temporary, so it is important to find the comfort in knowing that everyone in the world is going through this uncertainty together. That being said, when the world is being hard on us, it may be easy to place that anger on ourselves. Instead of beating yourself up, give yourself a break! Remind yourself that you are doing the best you can, and if you believe you aren’t, then keep fighting. Being appreciative for the simple pleasures will lessen your anxiety and fear. Be present and remember to only focus on today, rather than thinking too long-term. After all, every day is a new day and you don’t know what tomorrow may bring.
- Spend a few minutes every day journaling your feelings. I recommend doing this right when you wake up or go to sleep. What is the first thing on your mind vs. what is the last thing on your mind? Journaling allows you to explore internal thoughts that are buried within. Additionally, it may bring up some of the hidden anxiety that you’re feeling.
- Make a list of things you have control over (i.e. “I can control my physical health because I can choose how much I exercise throughout the day”).
3. Keep your daily routines consistent
During this time, it is very easy to change your daily routines. Maybe you find yourself waking up later because you don’t have to go into work or maybe you aren’t working out because your gym is closed. Whatever this transition has been, there has been an adjustment to your daily routine. Even though it is impossible to mirror your exact routine, keeping it as consistent as possible is important. Taking that consistency out of your life may cause more anxiety, stress, and a feeling of out of control. Something as simple as waking up at the same time, doing an at-home work out, or even having the same cup of coffee every morning may soothe your anxiety and remind yourself that you are going to be okay. Consistency, predictability, and structure create the best outcome!
- Use an agenda book to write down five tasks that you want to accomplish each day. This will hold yourself accountable and maintain structure.
- Make sure that you’re managing your old routine. Set your alarm every morning at the same time to create consistency.
- For families, make a daily and weekly calendar for chores!
4. Be cautious of your media exposure
Even though it is crucial to stay informed, the constant talk about the virus on the news or social media may be overwhelming. When consuming media, make sure that you are looking at reputable sources. Sticking to one source rather than multiple can be less stressful and overwhelming. Watching the COVID-19 cases and deaths rise can be scary. It is important to remember that for most people, the risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 is very low. Many people will experience mild symptoms, and some may be asymptomatic. However, it is still important to take the recommended precautions to protect the vulnerable populations.
- If you feel overwhelmed by the media, find something healthy to do (i.e. cook, go for a walk, call a friend, meditate, etc.). These healthy coping skills will maintain positivity.
- Set specific times to turn on the news or scroll through social media. This will ensure that you have other priorities throughout your day.
5. Remember that a little bit of anxiety is a good thing
Don’t beat yourself up, having a little bit of anxiety is very healthy. Without it, people are not able to cope with life stressors. I know that these emotions may feel unpleasant, but it’s natural and normal. Panic may cause our thinking to be irrational and impulsive. This causes new problems to arise and negativity overloads our thoughts. When you find yourself panicking, you should practice grounding techniques. Think about the five senses and the present moment. Meditation and breathing techniques are also beneficial. Remind yourself to be productive and knowledgeable on what is going on, but to remain calm and rational.
Jenna Blum, Doctoral Student and CommuniCamp™ Counselor Supervisor, SMart Center
Borresen, K. (2020, March 17). What Therapists Tell Patients Who Are Anxious About Coronavirus. Retrieved March 26, 2020, from https://www.huffpost.com/entry/therapists-advice-patients-coronavirus-anxiety_l_5e6fb44ac5b6125e095b4134?fbclid=IwAR1pOhRXNHs-Jz3Q6c8JBo5tEZMTTJvtmL9Xj18GYZXwjjnCwvqMGDHIQmE