Just as no one is currently immune to COVD-19, no one is immune to the accompanying anxiety and depression (two sides of the same coin). Even if one doesn’t feel she or he is directly thinking about or stressing over the virus or the surge of financial uncertainty, many are noticing that they are feeling low on energy, high on irritability, sluggish on motivation, and experiencing more strain on interpersonal relationships, particularly family relationships.
There is a lot of bad information out there and a lot of good information out there in relation to coping with the stress of this pandemic. The link below is to one of the best articles in circulation from Psychology Today. Psychology Today is a reputable source for myriad psychological and relationship information, especially the most cutting edge. Also, most therapists across the country can be found on this website, including me. One needs only to enter their zip code in order to see a list of bios, websites and phone numbers from which to select a therapist nearby.
The article is called, “Anxiety Contagion: Tips for Relief,” by Dr. Rachel Zoffness. I borrowed heavily from this article for a radio interview that I did in mid March on KWED (the link is also below). Below these two links are some of the main takeaways that I have added my own two cents to for each bullet point from the article.
KWED Dr. Nick COVID19 Special: https://youtu.be/wM-8QLV_DcA
1. Stop obsessively checking the news: The key word is “obsessively.” I include social media on this since so many get their news from platforms like Facebook and Twitter. The “hide” and “block” features are great at this time for friends, family and followers who spike your anxiety and anger when you read their posts.
- Check your sources: I have recommended to clients to avoid opinion shows on both ends of the political spectrum, from Rachel Maddow to Sean Hannity. Even if you completely agree with them, their punditry can make your blood boil. The CDC website is your best source for straight information during this time. www.cdc.gov. I also advise finding your city’s news websites for local information, and again, NOT clicking on anything that represents an opinion or editorial, and definitely NOT looking into the comments section.
3. Download these relaxation apps: There are recommended apps in the article. I personally prefer Headspace and Calm. When you are in a panic, your fight/flight/freeze response kicks in, your body floods with cortisol and adrenaline, all of your vital signs spike, and your breathing becomes short and shallow. The easiest thing to do to reverse these symptoms is to focus on your breathing, changing short and shallow to long and deep. Interestingly, when people smoke cigarettes, they are forced into long and deep breathing, which along with the nicotine effects, leads to calming effect, and addiction. Don’t smoke!
4. Don’t contribute to the panic: Again, hide people on social media who post inflammatory and fear-inducing opinions, articles and memes. And don't do it yourself. It may quite temporarily scratch an anxious itch that you have, a compulsion that quickly relieves obsessive worry, but in the long run, only contributes to dysregulation of your emotions. This is a historic time for all of us to band together, and not contribute the larger stress in the world. Stress in the world affects you, and your stress affects the world, even if it’s just the smaller world around you.
5. Maintain social relationships: Even hardcore introverts need social connection. Humans are wired this way. This is a GREAT time to get back in touch with family and friends who you have been meaning to reconnect with – through phone calls, virtual platforms like Zoom or Skype, and even letters! This pandemic has brought out a lot of social creativity in people, like meeting and eating in lawn chairs six feet away from one another around an apartment or neighborhood pool. (There were a lot of extremely creative proms!).
6. Establish a daily schedule: You don’t have control of the reality of the pandemic, but you do have control of what you do. Determining a daily schedule, which absolutely includes a good sleep schedule, helps you feel far more in control. This is especially important for children.
7. Separate workspace from living space: A long advised study skill is having a singular place where kids do their schoolwork – such as a desk or a kitchen table. When kids do their homework in their bed, for instance, their brains gets confused: “Is this the place I work or is this the place I sleep?” And the result is not being able to work or sleep optimally. The same is true for adult work.
8. Leave the house: As an example, it’s necessary for prisoners to have “time in the yard” regularly. This isn’t just for their pleasure, but it helps make them more manageable as too much time inside makes them more antagonistic and potentially violent
9. Get out into nature: This is tied to #8. People who suffer from Seasonal Affective Disorder (with the “affect” usually being depression) for years have been advised to be in the sun due to all of the proven health benefits. Among other things, the body produces Vitamin D when the skin is exposed to sunlight, which raises immunity and reduces the chances for cardiovascular disease, cognitive decline, asthma and cancer.
10. Exercise! One of the best things one can do for high stress levels for quicker relief is burning off cortisol and adrenaline, which anxiety depends on, as the metabolism of both happens more quickly when one’s body is exercising.
11. Distract, soothe, and stay busy: “If you don’t have anything to do, your mind will fixate on your anxieties.” One example, which may or may not be your thing, is puzzles, which have become extremely popular since the beginning of social distancing. They have the effect of focusing concentration on a more productive task (versus focusing on distressful thoughts) and create somewhat of a meditative and mindful state.
12. Get support: Contact me on this one!
One big thing to remember: You HAVE been through this before and come out on the other side of it. You have experienced major stressors, major and minor traumas, and terror over the unknown. While they may have been attached to different scary situations, such as a big, uncertain move or the death of a loved one, your brain really doesn’t know the difference between those events and this current event. Thoughtfully ponder those times in your life and what was most helpful to you getting through them. Your own resources for overcoming those experiences will serve you well now.
With great respect and sincerity – Dr. Nick