The worldwide outbreak of COVID 19 has thrown everyone into chaos. For starters, we’re all worried about catching the virus. Some of us are dealing with financial stressors due to layoffs. Then there is the strain of having kids and spouses at home 24/7. In addition, medical workers are caring for numerous sick and dying patients, as well as the fear of bringing the virus home to their families. For many of us, this sudden upending of the world we knew has led to unprecedented anxiety levels and an inability to cope with it all.
Taking Control Of Your Coronavirus Anxiety
We all have natural reactions to the fears and stressors in our lives. We want to feel better, so we turn to certain behaviors to try to settle ourselves down.
There are, however, both positive and negative coping behaviors. For example, exercise can be a positive coping method, while excessive drinking is a negative response.
How we choose to cope also varies because stress is made up of several components. Each aspect causes us to respond differently, yet they each can affect us deeply.
- Psychological stress – The fight or flight response is activated under the psychological stress of fear. For some, there may be reactions in the body, such as a pounding heart, racing pulse, or headache. Others experience a cognitive response, including confusion or obsessively thinking or worrying about the stressor.
- Physical stress reactions -If you have underlying physical conditions (irritable bowel syndrome, migraines, or asthma, for example), you may find those symptoms coming up more frequently when you are under stress. You also might be constantly fatigued or may have difficulty sleeping.
- Emotional stress response – You may feel numb or, conversely, you might be jumpy or angry and find it difficult to turn off your fearful thoughts. You might also unintentionally withdraw from others as a way to protect yourself emotionally.
Self-Care For Coronavirus Stress
We can actually amplify our own responses by dwelling on our fears. While it is perfectly natural to worry and ask “why” or “what if,” fixating on trying to find the answers only increases our anxiety, which escalates our frustration and emotional responses.
To help reduce your anxiety about COVID 19:
- Turn off the news – and especially don’t watch it right before you go to bed. If you start watching news coverage then, you are more likely to start your mind running again, which means you may ruminate on the upsetting facts and figures while trying to sleep. Instead, pick a time earlier in the day to watch news updates. Then turn off the news (or shut down the internet) and do something enjoyable to help your emotions settle down.
- Do the same with emails and social media – try to compartmentalize these activities so that you aren’t constantly going back to them throughout the day. If possible, spend an hour on them earlier in the day (you may need to set a timer!), then shut them down. Don’t go back to them until the following day.
- If your anxiety is waking you in the middle of the night, get up and write down your thoughts. It can be helpful for you to put pen to paper because the act of writing your fears and worries often makes you feel like you have gotten them out and can let them go.
The antidote to anxiety is to get out of your head and get into your body. Grounding exercises, like those used in mindfulness, can help you settle your physical body down and take your mind (or emotional body) out of the trauma.
By “settling down,” I mean to calm down into your body by turning your attention inward to the feeling of your breathing. In focusing on the physical, you distract yourself from the emotional component of stress.
Things that require the sensation of touch – like knitting, kneading dough, folding laundry, or exercising – can also help to let you turn the upsetting thoughts off so you can let them go.
Here is a simple mindfulness exercise to try:
- Sit in a straight-backed chair, glasses off, eyes closed or using an unfocused gaze.
- Put your feet flat on floor.
- Feel your feet on the floor, noticing the connection between the soles of your feet and the floor.
- The idea is to engage your senses, so make an effort to feel your legs and back against the chair and your shoulders opening wide.
- Sit up, but don’t be rigid. Don’t lean forward or push back against the chair, just relax.
- Breathe slowly and calmly. This activates the relaxation response because slowing your breathing tells your body that there is no reason for alarm.
- If you notice any pains or twinges, just acknowledge them and let them go. Bring your awareness to just below your navel and try to feel your body from the inside out.
- As you feel your body and center your thoughts on it, imagine the tension and energy of your racing thoughts coming down into your abdomen.
- Now, picture this energy sinking down through your legs and feet and flowing out into the floor or ground below you. Simply focus on relaxing and letting go.
- Let any thoughts that come up float by. Don’t give them any emphasis or attention. Don’t judge yourself for having them.
- Take a few moments to enjoy the release of your tension. Focus on your slow breathing.
- When you are ready to tune in to the world again, press your feet gently against the floor, wiggle around slightly, gently shake your hands and then open your eyes.
We Can Help You Feel Safe
If you try these ideas for self-care and are still struggling with anxiety, know that many practitioners are continuing to see patients virtually during the pandemic. If your stress is interfering with your daily life and has continued for longer than two to three weeks, it’s time to reach out and get the help you need.
For more information, please contact Dr. Andrew Rosen and The Center for Treatment of Anxiety and Mood Disorders in Delray Beach, Florida at 561-496-1094 today.