Managing fear and anxiety at any time is challenging. No one likes uncertainty, and with so many avenues to information, basic levels of stress can skyrocket. Remember that human beings are survivors. Anxiety is activated by the primal part of our brain, signaling us to fight, flight, or freeze. It intends to aid survival, and yet, as it sometimes functions, it leaves us feeling paralyzed, panicked, and riddled with fear. Remember that this is normal, and everyone will feel some level of anxiety and fear right now.
Given the seriousness with which we are receiving information about COVID-19 pandemic, it is normal to feel anxious. Facing concerns of the developing COVID-19 pandemic, marriage and family therapists, as well as other mental health experts, want to remind those with exacerbated anxiety, fear and depression symptoms some ways to manage their symptoms during this time of uncertainty.
- Honor Your Feelings: You will have anxious thoughts. Hold space for these thoughts as not to avoid, ignore, or suppress them. Give yourself permission to have anxiety as an appropriate response to uncertainty. Manage things in smaller increments of time, reminding yourself what you can and are unable do from minute to minute. This can help keep things in perspective.
- Self-Care Matters: Engaging in self-care is critical right now. A short list of self-care items includes: sleep, balanced nutrition, exercise, hydration, as well as protecting and conserving our emotional energy. When our personal energy drains our ability to keep things in perspective becomes increasingly distorted.
- Maintain Social Support: Stay in touch with your social support system via text, phone, FaceTime, Skype—whatever is available to you. Pay attention to your sleep and nutrition needs. It can be hard to sleep well when we are a bundle of worries. Try to maintain a healthy routine including the things you typically do to support your physical and emotional wellness. And use caution by following current health and safety protocol while doing them.
- Check on Others: Helping others when we are worried can be a welcome distraction, as well as an action item to ease it. Take time to check in on anyone in your family, friend, or community group that is living alone.
- Consume a Healthy Media Diet:Just as you need to pay attention to sleep, nutrition, hydration as ways to manage your health, you must choose a healthy media diet. Seek information from reliable news sources only. Set healthy boundaries for checking in on the latest news to short, defined periods, and refrain from setting related push notifications on your device. In fact, it serves your interest to turn these notifications off. Appropriate information consumption can reduce anxiety and fear, or at the very least, give you a break from ruminating on the current COVID-19 climate. Here are some better-established sources when you do turn to the media coverage:
https://www.nytimes.com/news-event/coronavirus (free access during the outbreak)
- Live Reasonably, Do What you Can: Take the recommended precautions as outlined by Centers For Disease Control & Prevention (COVID-190) and other credible health agencies (see links above). Remain focused on the factors within your control, such as washing hands, covering your mouth during coughs and sneezes, avoiding non-essential travel, and practicing social distancing.
- Reach Out to a Mental Health Professional: MFTs and other mental health professionals are still keeping up with their clients. Many have moved to virtual platforms that offer telehealth to clients. If you’re noticing that your symptoms of anxiety (in association with COVID-19 or otherwise) are causing you significant distress or are interfering with your ability to function normally, reach out for formal mental health supports. You can find support through the following sources: via the AAMFT therapist locator (www.therapistlocator.net), PsychologyToday(psychologytoday.com), and Good Therapy (www.goodtherapy.com).
These are challenging times, and now more than ever, we need to work together in supportive and compassionate ways. From some of the most difficult moments come opportunities to grow. This is a time to redefine our communities in ways that will allow us to feel more connected, despite temporary social distancing.