Managing Anxiety During COVID-19

Article Written By: Judy Rooney, LCSW, Tri-State Clearwater Medical

Yes, this is a difficult time for the whole world, and definitely a new experience for us in the United States, let alone the Lewis-Clark Valley. The effects of fear, worry, anxiety, and stress can be harmful to your health and the strength of your immune system, which at this time, is more important than ever. Here are a few steps you can take to help stay calm and manage your health and anxiety during this time of uncertainty.

Educate Yourself
It’s important to know the facts! Stay educated and informed on the recommendations from the Center of Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and other health officials in our area. Keep it simple:

  • Wash your hands
  • Don’t touch your hands to your face, especially if out in public place
  • Avoid large crowds and gatherings
  • Keep surfaces disinfected

It’s always a good time to support your immune system, but especially now. Get adequate amounts of healthy nutrients, water, sleep, and exercise! You might want to be mindful of eating foods rich in vitamin C, and other immune boosting foods that are right for you and your body. 

Avoid Obsessing
Stay focused on positive things. Notice how much time during the day you are spending talking about or watching/reading content related to the COVID-19 (Coronavirus). Step away from the TV and social media; limit your time researching information. Find other things to talk about and focus on that are positive and bring you joy! Go outside and get some fresh air. Try cleaning out a closet, or working on a project that you have been putting off, so you feel a sense of control and accomplishment. Or better yet, pick up a book, maybe a “beach read” you’ve wanted to read; give your eyes a break from screen time.

Be Mindful
An important step in our health and managing anxiety is to stay in the present moment, being aware of the small, but important measures we can take to protect ourselves and those around us. One study found that we touch our faces up to 23 times per hour. So, being mindful of not touching our face can increase our chances of remaining healthy. Stay in the present, don’t get caught up in playing the “What If” game; this is not helpful. Enjoy the simple moments of the day and engage your senses as you experience them. Remind yourself to just focus on one thing at a time. What can you take action on in this moment? What can you let go of until another day? 

Be Patient with Yourself
Have self-compassion, recognize that you are feeling stressed, and practice self-care. It is a gift we can give ourselves and others. Give yourself positive affirmations and messaging, using positive self-talk is empowering. Try saying, “I’m going to be all right.” Find the things that you are grateful for in this moment, rather than focusing on the negative. Take time to pursue activities that you enjoy and give you a sense of well-being. Trust that you will manage whatever will come your way, and realize that you are not alone.

Just Breathe
Practice some deep breathing; it really does calm the central nervous system. Diaphragmatic breathing can be used during times when you are feeling anxious or panicky. It is a powerful way to control hyperventilation, slow a rapid heartbeat, and promote physical comfort. For this reason we will call it the “Calming Breath.”
Here’s how it goes:
Calming Breath

  1. Take a long, slow breath in through your nose, first filling your lower lungs, then your upper lungs
  2. Hold your breath to the count of “three”
  3. Exhale slowly through pursed lips, while you relax the muscles in your face, jaw, shoulders, and stomach

Practice this Calming Breath at least ten times a day for several weeks; see if you can slowly lengthen and deepen your breath. Use it during times of transition, between projects, or whenever you want to let go of tension and begin to experience a sense of calmness. This will help you become familiar and comfortable with the process. You can use this method any time you begin to feel anxiety or panic building. 

Journal about your experiences during this time; journaling is a tried and true coping skill. This is a unique experience that we are in, and it may be helpful to put your thoughts down on paper. Perhaps future generations may benefit from your thoughts and actions, while helping you process things as you write.  

Move Your Body
There are many benefits to physical exercise; it releases tension that you hold in your body, clears your head, helps you sleep better, and is said to boost your immune system. Put on some loud music and let the cleaning begin or get outside and go for a walk. There is a multitude of on-line exercise and yoga videos that you may want to try out. If all else fails, or you are ready for something different, have a “dance party” in your living room and bust a move!

Plan, Don’t Panic
As human beings we have a tendency to think “worst case scenario” or “catastrophize” situations. It’s really difficult to accept and deal with uncertainty, and our lack of control. However, it’s important to understand that lack of uncertainty related to COVID-19 does not mean a lack of options. Try jotting down your worst fears, and approach them one by one with a plan of action; share these with someone you trust who is calm and supportive. What we want to prevent is getting stuck in that mode of the worst possible outcome, which is not helpful. Planning for the future is great; it’s panicking that will hurt your mental health. We know there are things we can do to prevent the spread of the virus by following the guidelines of the CDC, local officials, and the public health department. 

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You may experience increased stress during the COVID-19 pandemic. Fear and anxiety can be overwhelming and cause strong emotions. Please reach out and get immediate help.