10 Ways to Ease Anxiety Amidst COVID-19
On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization officially declared coronavirus COVID-19 a global health pandemic. This is enough to make anyone anxious and fearful, let alone anyone experiencing mood and anxiety disorders as it is. With so much unknown right now and such extreme measures being taken, it can be hard to tell ourselves convincingly, “everything will be okay.”
This is scary and it’s okay to admit that.
So how do we take care of ourselves right now? We know, we know: follow the most basic health guidelines of washing your hands, try not to touch your face, utilize social distancing, and stay home if you are sick. But what about our mental health? Social distancing and quarantine are important measures we can take to slow the spread of the virus in order to protect our most vulnerable populations. However these measures also remove us from society, from other people, which will take a severe toll on us emotionally. (More about this in a great article by Ezra Klein on Vox.) They can also remove us from our normal self-care activities like going to the gym, being with friends, support groups, etc.
Breathe. This is tough stuff. It’s important to remember to take care of yourself physically AND emotionally right now. Read on for our list of ten ways to ease anxiety amidst coronavirus COVID-19.
Pause. Take some deep breaths. Anxiety can often manifest itself physiologically as chest pain, shortness of breath, rapid heart beat. Do those first two symptoms sound familiar? Before convincing yourself you need to be tested for the virus, take some deep breaths. Personally, I love this 1-minute visual breathing exercise video, but there are lots of great breathing exercise techniques out there. Google it, find one that works for you, and then do it. Often. If you have a kiddo and they are old enough, try to engage them in breathing with you.
Avoid triggers. This could be social media (hi, Facebook), watching or reading or listening to the news, or talking to a panicked friend or family member. These days for me, I feel my anxiety instantly rise as I scroll through my Facebook feed. It’s been a great place to find news and updates, but it is not great for my emotional wellbeing. Starting today, I’ll be limiting myself to only go on Facebook once a day which will allow me to stay engaged while also protecting myself mentally. Some triggers cannot be avoided and some triggers may be necessary to stay informed, but we owe it to ourselves to remove some of these wherever we can.
Go for a walk. If you live in a crowded city, maybe this isn’t the best right now. But if you are able to get outside to be in nature, do it. If not a walk, open a window or a door and stand and breathe for a few moments or longer. Fresh air and sunshine will do you good.
Listen to a podcast. If your thoughts are being dominated by anxiety and fear, try listening to a podcast about something totally different to distract your brain. Something calming or interesting or funny. There are a million great podcasts out there: personally I’m loving Binge Mode: Harry Potter right now, but find whatever will distract you and/or put a smile on your face and turn it up.
Take a bath. I am not normally a bath person, but even I have to admit, there is just something super calming about a bath. You could combine this one with a podcast and really sink into some self-care. Bonus points if you add some bubbles* to this party. (*No bubbles? No problem. Just add a little liquid soap or shampoo!)
Find your mantra. Mantras and affirmations may seem simple or silly or both, but man, do they work. Whatever you need to tell yourself, whether it’s “this is temporary” or “I can handle this” or “it’s okay and I’m okay” or “breathe, you’ve got this” or anything else, find those words and repeat them whenever you need to hear them. Write them on your hand. Put a post-it on your mirror. THIS is why Joey for Roo was founded, to put these affirmations right in front of your face when you need it most. I believe strongly in the power of this. Find your mantra and use it.
Prepare for change and get ready to adapt. If you are like me and thrive on routine, this may be a rough time. Our days and activities and goals will have to change. If you have school-age kids, you may end up taking a significant portion of your day going over online lessons with them. If your daycare closes, you may end up taking care of your little person 24/7. If you are a stay-at-home-parent and your significant other is suddenly home with you, that may invite a whole slew of difficulties of its own. Things will change. This time will be different. That’s okay. Try to get ahead of it by sitting down and making a list of potential solutions to foreseeable problems. Talk through it with your significant other or a support person. If something new pops up, add it to the list and work through it. This list will not only serve as an outlet for fears and anxiety, but as you work through each potential problem, it will become a physical embodiment of all that you have conquered.
Be social. We are lucky to live in a world with endless social possibilities. Try to focus on the ones that give you genuine face-to-face interaction with others, like FaceTime, Google video hangout, Marco Polo, or even virtual happy hours that are popping up like the ones through Mother Honestly (12:30-1 p.m. ET Monday through Friday, more info here).
Give yourself grace. The school and work closures happening across the country mean LOTS of “quality time” being imposed on parents and kids. This can be really intimidating. I love my kid dearly, but the thought of being around him 24/7 is really scary to me (shouts to the incredible stay-at-home-parents who do this all the time!). On top of that, it means figuring out a lot more logistics: planning and fixing every meal and activity around the clock. Be sure to grant yourself grace during this time. If you normally try to make every meal home-cooked from scratch, maybe let those back-of-the-freezer-frozen-fish-sticks into your life. If you normally try to limit screen time to thirty minutes, maybe let kiddo watch Frozen three times in a row if it means you get some time to yourself. This does not have to be your new every-day routine, but it may be the secret to some easier days. As someone who really likes control, I know this may be tough. But breathe through it and know that it’s not your routine and rules that make you such a great Mom or Dad: it’s YOU and your love for your kid. They may be feeling anxious, too, and some fish sticks and Frozen snuggles may be exactly what you both need.
Find support. If nothing seems to be working to ease your anxiety or fears, it’s time to find some professional support. It’s true that social distancing is going to mean lots of closed therapy offices and cancelled support groups, but thankfully those are not our only options. Many therapists now offer video sessions (the Talkspace app even does this exclusively). Organizations like The Motherhood Center of New York are offering their services through telemedicine, virtual support groups, and webinars. Do some Googling (or contact us if you need help finding resources) and know that it’s okay to need some extra support. Most of all, please know: you are not alone in your fears and anxieties right now. It’s okay to not be okay. We’re going to get through this together.
Was this list helpful for you? Please share! What are some of the ways you're supporting yourself right now? Tell us in the comments!