The COVID-19 pandemic ushered in a wave of shock, confusion, and a barrage of conflicting information about what the world is up against. Our modern technology and health care mean that we are more equipped than ever to fight a pandemic like this, but everyone seems to disagree on how it should be done. We offer 14 ways to tame anxiety that you can do right now.
Impact on Anxiety Levels
Anxiety is a common affliction, and that's not surprising. The modern world is much more demanding and complex than our brains were designed to handle. Pain is a symptom of a broken body. Anxiety is a symptom of a broken mind.
When you think about the additional burden that the pandemic gives to those who are already struggling with anxiety, it is easy to understand why anxiety levels are at an all-time high.
High levels of anxiety is not all bad. Anxiety and fear are the body's biological defense mechanisms. These responses trigger the fight-or-flight response that motivates people to act in the primitive sense — usually to run or fight. This response has kept humans alive for thousands of years.
Anxiety quickly builds up energy so we can fight or run from danger, but it may cause uncomfortable physical symptoms, such as a racing heart, inability to concentrate, shakiness, sweating and difficulty swallowing. These symptoms may feel horrible, but they are not dangerous in the short term.
However, an unknown or not easily understood danger can increase people's anxiety with no relief.
Consider all you're asking your mind to do.
You want to be safe and keep those you love safe. You may be facing monetary challenges or have lost your job. If you have children they may be at home, demanding your attention while you try to get some work done. You may have friends and family in the groups most at risk. You may have a loved one who is on the front lines of the battle against the virus.
That's a lot to ask of your mind. No wonder you feel anxious.
Reduce the intensity of your anxiety with these strategies:
- Go for a run. Actually, it doesn't have to be a run. It could be a yoga class, tennis match, long walk, or some good old-fashioned calisthenics. Exercise is an effective way to burn off that extra stress. It's actually been proven to be more effective than many medications for treating anxiety/depression.
- Declutter your life. Clutter adds to anxiety. Tidy up your environment and notice how much better you feel. Start with the rooms and areas in which you spend the most time. Include your personal space at work, too.
- Declutter your brain. Take care of the things that are on your mind. Procrastination creates mental clutter and stress. Trying to remember things is challenging for your brain too. Make lists and use a calendar and alarms to ease the load on your poor brain.
- Spend time with your pet. Pets are great for reducing anxiety. Play on the floor with your cat. Take the dog for a walk. Sit and watch your fish.
- Think about something positive. You're only anxious because you're thinking about something that makes you anxious. Give yourself a break and think about something else for a while.
- Change your diet. Your diet can have a negative impact on your stress levels. Play around with your food choices and find out what works for you.
- Give yourself something to look forward to. It can be a great relief to have something positive to look forward to.
Here's 7 more ways to tame anxiety:
- Distract yourself. This is what bad habits are, distractions. However, not all distractions are bad habits. Read a good book. Re-watch your favorite movie. Try a new restaurant (most of them are using pick-up ordering to get through this time).
- Keep in contact with friends. Maintaining some social interactions is great for your mental health. Keep them positive and uplifting and distance yourself from anyone who might emotionally drag you down.
- Find a solution. Maybe you can solve the issue that's creating your anxiety. If there's something you can do to resolve the situation, get busy and do it!
- Take slow, deep breaths. Your breathing naturally becomes shallow and faster when you're stressed. You can counteract a lot of the physical symptoms of anxiety by just slowing down your breaths and increasing the depth.
- Play the name five things game. Bring your mind back to the present. Look around your environment and name five things you see. Now, name five things you feel. For example, “I feel the pencil in my hand. It feels smooth and warm.”
- Try to name five things you hear.
- Smell the air and describe what you smell. Smell nearby objects until you've described five smells.
Give you mind and body a break by minimizing your anxiety. Avoid the belief that you just have to suffer with the discomfort of anxiety. Do everything you can to find relief without making your challenges worse. Part of that solution should be talking to a professional who is trained to help.
While the pandemic may lead to anxiety in many people, there are some populations who have a higher risk of being affected:
- Those with a history of anxiety – people who struggled previously may have a greater likelihood to struggle during the pandemic.
- Older or immunocompromised people – There is increased risk among this population which may cause heightened anxiety.
- Children – Children have been let out of school and shaken out of their routine. They may hear the concern among adults around them and feel unstable. They also won't have the ability to explain their fears or thoughts.
- Health care workers – They will have increased potential exposure risk and are also concerned with exposing their families at home. Long hours with insufficient equipment will contribute to anxiety levels as well.
Everyone is in this together, we are all dealing with a situation that we have not faced before. You are not alone. If you feel alone, don't be silent. Instead, reach out to a friend or health care professional. Many people are feeling the same and looking for ways to tame anxiety, just like you.