Managing Anxiety in Uncertain Times
Dr. Katie Bowman
Executive Director, New London Counseling Center
Many people struggle with managing anxiety on a good day but add the recent events of COVID-19 pandemic, school closings, layoffs, social distancing and physical isolation...then anxiety quickly becomes something that most of us can relate to. Often fear of the unknown makes anxiety worse, and there is one thing that I know for sure--there is plenty of ambiguity and uncertainty floating around right now. Things in almost every area of life are changing at such a rapid pace that it is sometimes hard to keep up. Add on the fact that many of us are not able to use our normal coping skills like going to the gym, hanging out with friends and family, or taking a walk at the park? Our mental wellbeing can feel tenuous at best.
“Anxiety” is often used to describe feeling stressed, nervous, worried, or high strung. But no matter how you describe it, the signs and symptoms can be physical, psychological, and behavioral in nature:
The Physical Signs
Pounding in the chest
Quick shallow breathing
Nausea or other stomach issues
Muscle tightness or soreness
The Mental Signs:
Lots of worry/fear
Trouble concentrating or remembering things
Feeling like your mind is scattered
The Behavioral Signs:
Feeling uncomfortable or avoiding situations (like interactions with family),
Distress in relationships
Poor sleep patterns
Using drugs or alcohol
Anxiety can present in lots of ways, but if it is significantly impacting your work, relationships, productivity, school, etc., then it may be time to do something about it.
How to Take Action
Since many of our normal resources for managing anxiety are not accessible right now, it is time to get creative! Here are some very practical things you can do to help manage your anxiety:
Stay connected. Humans are social creatures and we need to be connected to others now as much as ever. Reach out to friends, family, church groups, and peers through platforms like Zoom, Facetime or Google Hangouts. Be intentional about not focusing conversation on the Coronavirus. Instead, play a game like charades with friends, teach a coworker a new skill you learned, or have the kids show family their latest science experiment. It is fine to talk about how your life is impacted by COVID-19, but don’t let it be the ONLY thing you talk about.
Create structure at home. It may be tempting to stay in your pajamas all day and binge watch episodes of Friends, but let’s be real--that isn’t going to help manage stress long-term. Try to create a schedule for when you wake up, go to sleep, work or do chores, and have kids do school work that is consistent each day. It is also helpful to plan meal times and exercise times as if you were in your normal routine.
Refill your tank. Trying to balance work or daily responsibilities, caring for children or family, and managing a household can leave a person feeling pretty empty, stressed or burnt out. It is sometimes easy to forget all that we have gotten done in lieu of thinking about all that we need to do. Pace yourself and focus on what you have accomplished each day.
Try a new way of managing your anxiety. There are lots of things like exercise, mindfulness, prayer, socializing, etc. that can help keep anxiety at bay. Try to incorporate a new skill into your repertoire. In fact, I will be starting a free, online series that teaches how to use mindfulness to reshape your thinking habits and reduce anxiety by slowing down, being quiet, listening, and appreciating. You will learn how stress and anxiety work, how it affects you, and ways to manage it. This series isn’t just about finding immediate relief (although it will hopefully do that), but it is about creating a lifestyle that allows you to be more awake, alive, and joyful. Each video will be approximately 20-30 minutes long and will give you specific tools and techniques to try. I’d love for you to join me starting Wednesday, April 8th at https://www.newlondoncounselingcenter.com/heretohelp
All of these are useful tips, but if you feel like your anxiety is beyond your control and you need to talk to a counselor, please call a professional or 911 in case of an emergency. Therapists at New London Counseling Center are available and can be reached at 484-746-3112.