How to curb anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
By Dr. Jaleh Shahin
Psychologist, Copeman Healthcare | Supported by TELUS Health
If you’ve found yourself feeling worried or anxious about your health, the health of loved ones, finances, work, your children’s education and more, you’re not alone. Experiencing anxiety and worry in uncertain times is normal. In fact, intense anxiety and/or fear is an adaptive response that has helped our species survive throughout history. Referred to as the fight or flight response, it’s our brain’s version of a smoke alarm that tells us to stay put or run away in dangerous situations. Essentially, it makes us extra vigilant of harmful threats.
In this global pandemic – a time with immense uncertainty – some anxiety and fear is to be expected. However, too much anxiety may be putting you or your loved ones at more risk of harm.
Individuals react differently to extreme anxiety and fear. Some may go into “denial mode” and underestimate the risks. As a result, they may not take the advice of health officials seriously enough and proceed normally; this could put them and their loved ones at higher risk of exposure to the COVID virus. Others may respond to their intense fear by going into “panic mode” and respond by panic purchasing, stockpiling items and supplies or making frequent and unnecessary calls or visits to medical facilities. This response also can be harmful by limiting availability of necessities and medical supplies.
So, what can be done to ensure we can respond to our fears in a way that keeps everyone as healthy and safe as possible?
Whether you’re experiencing extreme anxiety or moderate levels that are normal, here are eight strategies that can help you manage those anxious feelings.
1. Identify what you can and what you can NOT control
Identify what you can and can’t control. Let go of what you can’t control and focus on what you do have control over. Focus on how you spend your time at home and your thoughts and actions, such as hand washing, practicing social distancing, staying home and following other guidelines provided by health officials.
2. Connect with friends and family virtually
We live in a digital world that allows us to stay connected to our loved ones almost anywhere, anytime. Reach out to your friends and family online. Have an online coffee date, play an online game together, watch movies together, schedule phone calls, Facetime or Skype, text a loving message to someone you care about and keep the connection going. Connecting with others is more important than ever during times of crisis.
3. Stop talking about COVID
It’s tempting to spend a lot of time talking about the pandemic, the virus, the exposure, what others should or should not be doing, and all the other worries you’ve been experiencing! Fight this temptation! We are surrounded by messages about the risks and potential harm of this virus, this will impact your sense of threat. Allow yourself and your loved ones to take breaks from talking about the virus and the pandemic. Don’t initiate conversations about the virus or gently redirect the conversation when it comes up. You could even make an agreement with loved ones that some of your conversations are “COVID-free.”
4. Limit your social media and news consumption
Limit your exposure to the news and especially social media. Know the facts and only use reputable sources such as official government websites for obtaining pertinent information. Limit how often you check the news and make sure you avoid taking advice from social media.
5. Be kind to yourself and practice mindfulness
You may be experiencing many other emotions in addition to anxiety and fear. You may have feelings of sadness, loss, grief and more. Practice self-compassion and allow yourself to feel your feelings. A great way to learn to experience and have space for emotions is practicing mindfulness. There are several free resources on mindfulness. Some mindfulness apps may be offering their programs for free for a period, so explore your options. Commonly used mindfulness apps include Breathe, Headspace and Calm.
6. Practice self-care
Taking care of yourself during stressful times is an essential component of nurturing your mental health. It could be engaging in a favorite activity or one that’s new and engaging. The list is endless, but here are some examples to consider: eat and sleep well, exercise, take a bath, watch your favorite show or movie, listen to music, dance, play or learn a musical instrument, learn a new language, journal, practice gratitude.
7. Become an anxiety expert
If you’re struggling with heightened anxiety, there are numerous resources that teach you everything you need to know about anxiety and how to tackle it. Anxiety Canada is an excellent source; they offer a plethora of information, tools and strategies and resources for adults, youth and children.
8. If all else fails and the anxiety is disruptive to your life, seek professional mental health support
Sometimes anxiety can become disruptive to our daily functioning. If you’re experiencing debilitating anxiety, access a mental health professional for support.
Finally, we’re all in this together, so let’s lend a helping hand to our friends and neighbours. Humans are resilient and we have overcome challenging times repeatedly through history – this time will be no different! Be kind and stay safe.