By Rutvi Kapadia, PsyD, Licensed Clinical Psychologist, Grand View Health
If I had to identify one word to describe what I have seen over the past few weeks amid the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be anxiety. The word itself creates uneasiness, mainly because it has become affiliated with such negative connotations.
As a clinical psychologist, I have a different perspective on anxiety because it has become a part of my day-to-day work. I’m not desensitized to it, but I view it from another angle. I see anxiety as a way in which our body alarms us that something isn’t right. We may not know exactly what’s wrong, just that something is wrong. When we are caught off guard, it gives us little opportunity to prepare. COVID-19 brought such challenges. We were preparing as we watched the pandemic spread across the globe, but watching something unfold on television and facing it in our own backyard are two completely different experiences.
Anxiety presents differently for people. When it sets in, we attempt to balance the scales and regain some sense of control. Enter coronavirus, where any control we thought we had was essentially taken from our hands.
For most people, this pandemic is like nothing we have seen in our lifetime, creating more uncertainty, more fear, and yes, much more anxiety. Couple that with grief and loss, not just for people—because that, too, is something many of us could face—but losses in other areas, not just for ourselves but also for the significant others in our lives: our children, our parents or our families, all of whom are also going through this experience.
While there is no “cure” for this anxiety, here are five ways to manage it:
- Keep Calm
This is easier said than done, but trying to manage our emotional reactions is one area over which we all have control. Find ways to manage the inevitable worries and concerns. Be aware it’s completely normal for your typical stress management responses to be less effective. Sometimes simple things such as deep breathing, meditation, progressive muscle relaxation or yoga can help you calm down when worry starts to creep in. Many blogs, websites, online videos and apps offer meditation exercises (see the list of resources below). Remember, it may take a few attempts at some of these activities to feel as though they are helping.
- Keep Active
This may be difficult due to the closures of gyms, rec centers, and even local parks/walking trails. However, if you can find a way to be active, it will make you feel better physically and psychologically. Get outside and take a walk. Do online workouts at home. Take family-focused classes online so you can maintain an active lifestyle and create healthy habits.
- Stay Connected
There are many ways to stay connected with family and friends and practice social distancing. Call, send texts, FaceTime, Skype, Zoom or Marco Polo to connect with significant others in your life while maintaining distance. Isolation can make anxieties and fears much worse, so finding creative ways to connect allows us to rely on our tribe for support. It also allows us to be there for others. Finally, encourage children to stay connected. They are also adjusting to being away from their normal routine of school, extracurricular activities and friends.
- Be Informed, Not Consumed
Stay abreast of the latest COVID-19 news, but don’t let it overwhelm you. Find reliable sources, review important pieces of information and guard against fake news. But take regular breaks from social media and other news outlets, too. Being bombarded with ongoing information floods our systems, makes it impossible to process it all, and may perpetuate fear, anxiety and panic.
- Be Kind to Yourself and Others
This is huge! We all are notorious for being hard on ourselves. It seems as if we expect ourselves to know exactly how to navigate this unfamiliar territory, manage our uneasiness and maintain some normalcy for our families, all while forgetting that these are challenges we’ve never faced before. So, first, recognize you’re doing the best you can. The only one expecting you to have this figured out is you. Engage in self-care, whether it’s five minutes or one hour for yourself each day. Help family members do the same.
Also, remember that others you encounter (such as co-workers, neighbors, strangers at the grocery store) are doing their best. Cut them a little slack. We all manage stress and anxiety differently, so we all are coping the best way we know how.
This is an extremely challenging time, and I cannot emphasize enough the importance of self-care. Reach out, ask for help, support one another and remember, you are not alone.
Resources to help you Cope with COVID-19
Provided by Rutvi Kapadia, PsyD