Life feels scary and out of control for a lot of us due to the coronavirus outbreak. Our normal activities are disrupted. People are panic shopping. Schools are closed. Things are changing quickly and that’s disconcerting. We don’t know what to expect because we’ve never experienced anything like this before. In an effort to help you calm your anxiety and cope in the best ways possible, I’ve put together some tips for getting through this difficult time.
A therapist’s tips for coping with coronavirus anxiety
Focus on what you can control. When things feel out of control, turn your focus to what you can Instead of thinking about what you can’t control, identify what you can do — you can control what you eat, how you spend your time, and what you think about. You can choose to think about all that can go wrong or you can choose to think about what’s good in your life. You can choose to be angry and judgmental (at others or yourself) or you can find ways to practice compassion (for others and yourself) and do something kind.
Remind yourself that you’re doing what you can to stay healthy. Part of our anxiety, understandably, is that we will get sick or our loved ones and those more vulnerable will get sick. And while you don’t have complete control over your health, you can follow the advice of your physician and public health department for minimizing your risk of getting sick. Again, focus on what you can do and take comfort in knowing that you’re doing your best.
Create a routine. Routines give us a sense of normalcy. They help us stay productive. And they calm our anxiety by giving us some predictability in our lives. So, work on creating a new routine for yourself (and your children). You don’t have to be rigid about it, but keeping to a fairly stable bedtime and wake-up time and planning time for work, exercise, and recreation will help.
Limit news and social media consumption. I know you’ve heard this a thousand times, but it’s worth repeating because it’s so important. You need to take a break from the non-stop media coverage and social commentary on this situation. Perhaps give yourself 15-minutes in the morning and evening to consume the news and stick to reputable sources rather than sensationalized headlines. If this is still anxiety-provoking, consider asking a family member to check the news and tell you of any important updates.
Put a time limit on worrying. It’s important to acknowledge your fears and worries. We just don’t want to let them rule our thoughts all day long. Consider scheduling “worry time” – 15 minutes for thinking or writing about whatever is on your mind. Set a timer and when it’s up, shift gears and think about something else.
Distract yourself. Sometimes distraction gets a bad rap, but it’s a useful strategy (especially when combined with “worry time”). Intentionally engage your mind in activities that take some mental energy such as work, reading, crossword puzzles, playing a board game, listening to a podcast, etc.
Use healthy coping skills. It’s tempting to sit around in front of a screen, eating and drinking too much. Or you may find yourself returning to an unhealthy coping skill from the past (restricting food, smoking, self-harm). Instead, try to use healthy coping skills such as these:
- Get outside. Nature is healing and Vitamin D is good for your health.
- Talk to friends and supportive people. Social distancing doesn’t mean being isolated.
- Pray or listen to a religious service online.
- Get enough sleep.
- Meditate or do some calming breathing exercises. You can find a variety of free guided meditations here and I also like using the breathing bubble on the Calm app.
- Go to a 12-step meeting online.
- Listen to or make your own music. It’s a good time to make a new playlist.
- Spend time on your hobbies.
- Practice gratitude.
Fun and laughter are good for you! In the midst of all this struggle and uncertainty, make sure to have some fun. It’s good for your physical and mental health. Watch some comedies. Get a regular family game night going or play online games with friends. Do a craft project. Bake a cake. And there are always videos of laughing babies and goats in pajamas on Youtube that are bound to make you smile.
Most importantly, be good to yourself. This is hard, but we will get through it!
©2020 Sharon Martin, LCSW.