No matter how you are affected by Coronavirus (COVID19), chances are high you are feeling stress and anxiety. And you wouldn’t be human if you didn’t occasionally feel like you can’t handle anxiety about it all. How could we not feel a bit overwhelmed by the myriad demands for change in our lives and routines, or anxious about concerns for our wellbeing and that of our loved ones, to say nothing of the economic and social impact of the global fight against this virus?
And yet, when it comes to anxiety, we can handle a lot more than we may think we can. And I’m betting you can too.
For these early weeks of fighting the pandemic of COVID-19, I thought a reminder of three key strategies that help build anxiety capacity would be a help, as we settle into our various iterations of this new normal.
1.STRESS AND ANXIETY ARE NORMAL and can be powerful catalysts for growth and change and grow.
Stress by definition is a demand to change and we are all feeling it.
Anxiety is the worry about the safety of something we care about, and can trigger various threat responses including anger and fear. All are NORMAL reactions to threats, and we are likely experiencing them at some level.
Remember, anxiety’s job is to harness attention and motivate action. When we take action anxiety tends to go away, or at least stand down. All the prepping, the micro-decisions, and the new routines are ways our anxiety has fueled us to adapt in these last few weeks.
Even feelings of acute panic and being overwhelmed can be expected, and can be normal given the situation and risks.
2. YOUR CAPACITY IS STRAINED as you pivot to whatever your new normal is. Whether you’re a student robbed of prom, a business leader charged with making impactful decisions, or caring for your families and loved ones, you may not be used to feeling so much stress and anxiety (even if it is a normal reaction to an extraordinary situation) and find yourself worrying that you can’t handle anxiety. Managing these emotions requires energy, and this can limit our overall mental capacity, but that doesn’t mean you can’t handle it. You can.
Expect fatigue, distraction, and concentration lapses as you adjust to these many demands for change, and process your own anxiety.
Limit secondary anxiety, obsessing, & anxiety-escalating activities (i.e. news).Too much anxiety is too much, and anxiety escalators surround us – news reports, others’ anxiety, and our own mind’s ability to spiral beyond helpful anxiety. Be mindful if you notice yourself becoming more anxious after watching the news, scrolling social media, or talking to friends, and look for ways to limit your exposure.
Heavy up your anxiety coping skills: Remember to put YOUR oxygen mask on first before helping others. Use the strategies you have in place already to take care of your emotional needs. Try these three anxiety “first aids”
Name your anxiety when you feel it– this turns on your thinking and helps you to take control so you can respond faster and more intelligently
Do something different than whatever you are doing when you feel yourself getting overwhelmed. Change course.
Liberally use calming tools: grounding, breathing, laughter, and tears.Cry if you need to, scream and stomp your feet, move and stretch your body (yoga can be great)…whatever helps you work out the extra pent up energy you have can be helpful (so long as you aren’t screaming at someone else).
3. INCREASE CAPACITY by heavying up on self-care.
Maintain self-care basics: sleep, exercise, nutrition, and social contact being mindful of boundaries, and varying needs for connection with regards to extroversion and introversion needs. You may feel alone as you obey your community’s guidelines for protecting yourself, but you are not. We are all in this together.
Aim for self-compassion, gratitude and recognition of silver linings wherever they are. When you next feel frightened, hopeless, or overwhelmed, look for the positives, and cultivate hope. There are positives everywhere if we are willing (and remember) to look for them.
Monitor and re-adjust as you go, keeping in mind you are growing and changing. A mindset of growth can help you be gentler with yourself as you grow through this adjustment.
If you start to feel like you can’t handle anxiety, rather than turning away from it, aim to tune in and ask yourself these questions:
1. What is your anxiety is trying to tell you?
2. How could you use it as a catalyst to solve whatever problem is at hand?
Are you forgetting to wash your hands? Set up a new routine for washing. Are you staying up too late watching the news or scrolling social media? Set an alarm to turn off your screens and hit the hay, since sleep is so important to building resilience.
Bottom line in making sure you can handle anxiety is to take control: take action where you can, and be kind to yourself.
Evolving our new COVID-19 routines and structures will take trial and error. We will all misstep, and it will be harder than it seems like it should be at times. With all the anxiety around us, you may even feel like you can’t handle anxiety. The most important thing is to be gentle with yourself, and know that in fact, you can.