STRESS AND ANXIETY IN THE TIME OF THE VIRUS
“If you know the enemy and know yourself, you need not fear the result of a hundred battles.” The Art of War, Sun Tsu
These are confusing, stressful times for all of us. The disruptions of daily life are felt by many, myself included – my husband and I are in self-imposed isolation; going out for a cup of coffee is for now a thing of the past, as are all social gatherings; vacation plans have been postponed indefinitely; ways I usually fill my time are not applicable. We are all feeling uncertain about the days and weeks ahead, and uncertainty is the fuel the propels anxiety. It is important however to remember that anxiety is all but inevitable in these stressful times, but that there are ways to manage these waves of fear and perhaps even find the silver lining in these dark clouds.
Accept that it’s Normal to be Stressed-Out Right Now.
The first step to managing your anxiety is to recognize when it happens instead of ignoring it. Anxiety is idiosyncratic and difficult to pinpoint. For some it can feel like a creeping unease or sense of dread, for others the symptoms can be physical. Simply note that this is anxiety. When we can name our emotion, it puts you back in control, show the anxiety who’s boss. Don’t judge yourself for how you’re feeling. The first step of coping with anxiety is recognizing that it’s a normal and valid response. Symptoms of stress are a survival mechanism that get activated during times of uncertainty and perceived threat. Because it’s an uncomfortable feeling we want to rid ourselves of it, but it’s better to recognize it and manage it. When we normalize our anxiety, there’s some comfort from the knowledge that that others feel that way too. The better we can pinpoint the root causes of our anxiety, the more manageable to anxiety becomes.
Face Your Fears.
Facing your fears will provide a sense of relief. It’s a well-known truth that avoiding unpleasant tasks can make our stress even worse. Set aside a time each week to confront your reality and take the necessary action to deal with it. This small step can make you feel in control and when we feel in control, our fears lessen. When you know that you’ve taken appropriate action, it’ll calm you down.
Learn grounding, anchoring and other self-soothing techniques to calm down during moments of panic. Our fears cause us to obsess and ruminate and catastrophize in our heads. The best way to counter that is using grounding techniques, i.e. pull your attention to the present moment by deep breathing; observing your surroundings and focusing on your physical reality; or select an object like a pendant to reach for when you’re anxious.
Move Your Body.
Another way to get out of your head is to distract with physical movement to reset your nervous system. Jump up and down a few times, then take deep breaths. Literally shake it off by standing, taking deep breaths and gently shake your body.
Keep to a Routine.
Whether we’re working from home right now, or are suddenly find ourselves out of work, maintaining a routine helps keep us propped up. Set a daily goal when you first wake up in the morning. Having too much free time creates stress. Too much free time is a friend to anxiety, depression and substance abuse.
Talk to Someone.
Even though we can’t socialize in the way we’re used to, we can still connect over virtual platforms. It’s helpful to identify a trusted friend or family member to talk to when you’re feeling super anxious. It’s important to note that while you may not be able to physically go and get therapy, you are probably still able to access mental health services via teletherapy. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your emotions, take actions to talk to a professional.
Be Easy on Yourself.
Ultimately, anxiety and stress are an inescapable part of life. No matter how hard you try to slash anxiety, it is still likely to trickle back into your life. Anxiety isn’t something to be vanquished but something to acknowledge, accept and manage. Therefore, it’s important that you cut yourself some slack on the days when things do seem unmanageable. We’re living through tough times and struggling with overwhelming feelings and thoughts are to be expected.
The Silver Lining.
At the risk of sounding like Pollyanna, let me assure you that there is a silver lining. This too shall pass is my mantra. And I believe that like all crisis, it gives us the opportunity to improve our lot. We can take this time we now have on our hands to reorganize our homes as well as our priorities. Perhaps we were too busy running around and doing things losing our abilities to sit still and be introspective. Perhaps we were too consumed with FOMO (fear of missing out). As a friend reminded me this morning, she can now relax at home and not worry about missing out on anything.
Submitted by Judy Stanigar, LCSW
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