Workers today are facing uncertainty during a rapidly changing health crisis. How do we know when the worst is over? What will be the impact on the economy? How do I protect my loved ones? If you find your mind filled with questions like these, you are experiencing some degree of anxiety about COVID-19.
What are the consequences of elevated anxiety?
Anxiety manifests itself in different ways for different people. For some, it manifests internally as restlessness, irritability, and difficulty concentrating. For others, it manifests externally as gastrointestinal problems, shortness of breath, or muscle tension.
Do you find yourself in a state of perpetual worry? Are you compulsively checking the news for the status of the economy or COVID-19 outbreak? All of these things are examples of the ways in which anxiety can manifest itself within our lives.
Feeling anxious? Don’t fret, because …
Anxiety is normal and can be beneficial in moderation
Accepting your anxiety is the first step towards taking back control over your life. It’s important to realize that your response to this crisis is totally normal. Anxiety is actually our bodies’ stress response to uncertainty; it helps us prepare for uncertain situations:
Anxiety’s purpose is to help you address stressors in your environment. The physiological and psychological changes you experience are there to encourage you to take action to address the problem. Anxiety is only a problem when you’ve got too much of it, or can’t reasonably resolve it on your own.
COVID-19 is a global pandemic, and it may not be immediately clear what you can do as an individual to deal with that reality. It takes a mental shift to accept your circumstances, recognize what you can do as an individual, and act accordingly. Which brings us to the first step in addressing your anxiety, identifying your triggers.
How do you identify triggers?
So how do you identify the triggers behind your anxieties? Well it turns out that a lot of the drivers behind the non-clinical anxiety most of us experience from a global crisis like COVID-19 can be traced to the automatic thought patterns that arise from the fight-or-flight nature of your anxiety response.
Take a look at the list of categories above and see if you can spot some of these patterns in your thinking. Then reframe your thoughts in a more proactive way.
Instead of labelling yourself as lazy because you’re struggling to work from home, reframe those thoughts as anxiety alerting you that you were long overdue a self-care day. Maybe you haven’t had a chance to indulge in a favorite hobby such as painting, and doing so will give you the mental energy to be productive the next day.
Simply taking the time to reflect on the thoughts occupying your mind and putting them into perspective can give you the mental space needed to reframe your thinking, regain your bearings and take proactive steps towards improving your situation.
Helpful strategies for building emotional stability and mental health
Now that you have identified the cognitive distortions at the root of your anxiety, it’s time to look at some of the strategies you can employ to keep your anxiety in check.
You’re probably already familiar with the usual suggestions for taking care of your mental health during this pandemic: spend time in nature, meditate, exercise, eat healthier, get a new hobby—you know the deal. And while it’s all good advice, if you’re suffering from prolonged anxiety, it can be hard to find the locus of control needed to make time for self-care on top of all the other things you have to worry about on a daily basis.
Habits are the key to managing anxious and stressful thoughts. Routines give us a sense of predictability, which reduces uncertainty and thus anxiety. Building a healthy self-care routine can help you plan your free time around activities that will recharge your batteries. Here’s how you do it:
- Pick your favorite distraction. It has to be something you enjoy doing that you can still do while maintaining social distancing.
- Set a clear measurable goal. Be specific, for example you could commit to spending an hour in nature twice a week or meditate for 10 minutes before starting work each day.
- Stick to your routine. According to Charles Duhigg, writer of The Power of Habit, it takes 66 days to form a habit; don’t beat yourself up if you miss a self-care day, and resolve yourself to do better next time.
The act of setting a simple goal and completing it will give you the small boost of dopamine needed to reinforce the routine. Understanding how to form better habits can help you make routines more permanent.
Self-care is important
In this day and age, self-care is more important than ever (it’s not just about splurging on skincare). It’s any activity that allows you to unplug from the world and connect with yourself in a way that’s healthy and productive.
So to recap, here’s how you can address anxiety you’re experiencing during a pandemic:
- Accept that your anxiety and any negative thoughts emanating from it is a normal response to a global crisis.
- Reframe Identify the cognitive distortions behind your anxious thoughts, and reframe them in a positive way.
- Distract yourself constructively by building a self-care routine that will help you replace anxious thoughts with proactive habits.
Once you realize that the negative thoughts you may be experiencing are automatic thought processes caused by anxiety, it’s possible to replace those with positive automatic thought processes by building a self-care routine.
A session of hypnotherapy can help you to reduce your anxiety further. Therapy is available online through Zoom.