The COVID-19 virus pandemic has precipitated extraordinarily difficult feelings of dread and anxiety for many people. We are all under threat by it. We all have been affected by it in varying degrees. There is a dearth of experience and precedent in dealing with pandemics, leaving us uninformed and ill-prepared to handle this once-in-a-century event. It leaves us saddled with questions and grasping for explanations and answers and about what the future holds in store. How do we navigate these uncharted waters? What will become of us and our loved ones? Can we keep ourselves and our loved ones safe? Can we provide for ourselves in a time of monumental economic upheaval?
Anxiety expresses itself with psychological and physiological symptoms. It can run from manageable concern to overwhelm and significant duress. It can negatively distort the way we perceive the world around us. It can cause us to believe what we think is happening is indeed the way it really is or will be. It can fuel powerful, uncomfortable and frightening bodily sensations, rendering our beliefs even more compelling and plausible. Although anxiety can be a very useful early warning system intended to protect us, it can also lie to us, locking in a malicious, negative perspective that obliterates our ability to think clearly.
People who have a history of unresolved trauma or previous mental health challenges are particularly vulnerable group and susceptible to the overwhelm brought about by this crisis. Individuals with a fragile underlying medical condition are at high-risk as well. People can feel exceptionally vulnerable if they or their loved ones are on the front lines of the fight against it. Powerful feelings of helplessness can trigger a cascade of dire predictions accompanied by misguided actions to reduce the danger.
Thankfully, there is good news about anxiety. It is a very treatable condition amenable to numerous different techniques and treatment approaches. These options are an attractive and effective alternative for individuals who are reluctant to take a pharmacological approach. Given the plethora of approaches and techniques now available, it is possible to regulate our emotions, to dampen down the effects of anxiety and worry, thus allowing us to think more clearly and more broadly and with a sense of empowerment that may not have been accessible before.
There is the widely held belief that managing anxiety is a question of “mind control”, meaning if we can control our thoughts, we can control how we experience anxiety. This approach is certainly useful, embodied in positive statements such as, “I can choose to keep myself safe” or, “I can manage the challenge of COVID-19.” However, it may not be enough to manage the overwhelm. What the recent research shows that regulating our body’s physiology and bodily sensations, a “bottom-up” approach, has a very beneficial effect on our state of mind. Mindfulness techniques, breathing techniques and yoga are some of the tactics that can be used to regulate anxiety. Taking as little as a few moments of every hour to practice these techniques can help to achieve this.
Here are some pragmatic and helpful ideas you can use to regulate your emotions. Doing one of these activities for 5 minutes per hour can lead to better regulation and strengthened resilience. Brief, frequent doses of these activities will have a more beneficial effect than an intense, extended, once-a-day workout:
• Practice yoga poses
• Improvise and engage in artistic, creative activities
• Listen to or play music
• Practice breathing techniques
• Call, text or video chat regularly family members, friends and neighbors. Take this opportunity to reconnect with others
• Engage in home-based group activities, e.g. cooking, group play activities
• Maintain a regular sleep schedule
• Follow a good diet plan
Other choices can help restore a sense of control and predictability in a situation that might feel otherwise:
• Limit your exposure to news by checking once during morning and evening news cycles. No exposure after 8pm.
• Limit your exposure to social media.
• Exercise compassion towards yourself and others. We are all connected as we meander through this crisis.
• Practice a cognitive script of empowerment, optimism and efficacy, e.g., “I can make good choices to deal with the current challenges.”
• Inform yourself about latest recommendations and information about the virus.
• Engage a mental health professional if you feel you cannot manage the stress and overwhelm on your own.
A good therapist can offer ideas and techniques to help you. The anxiety over the COVID-19 is understandable and even normal, but one does not necessarily need to be hopeless. This global pandemic can also be an opportunity to strengthen your web of support and to develop those aspects of self that will assist you in times of distress. Look for personal stories of triumph over adversity. Think about what it takes to get through hard times. Think of the qualities, characteristics and traits you possess and will need to successfully move through this pandemic. By using this event as a teaching moment and an opportunity to learn about yourself, we might realize we have the capacity to cope, to be stronger and more resilient and, perhaps, to even thrive. If you feel that you can't manage on your own, there are resources out there for you, give us a call at Coherence Associates Inc, at (760) 942-8663, or reach out to us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we can help you find a therapist that fits your personal needs best.
Walt Ferris, LCSW