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Tips for Soothing Pandemic Anxiety

By: 
Kate Moschandreas

If you have felt an uptick in your stress levels during the pandemic, you are not alone.

 

The Covid-19 pandemic has unleashed an obnoxiously long list of new things to worry about: concerns about our own health and the health of those we love, nagging questions about finances and job security, and daily disruptions to our routines and schedules. And our usual coping strategies? Well, now, we stay indoors and steer clear of friends.

The American Psychiatric Association’s recent polling shows that 36% of Americans report the pandemic is having a serious impact on their mental health, with 19% having new trouble sleeping, 12% indicating increased fighting with a partner or loved ones, and approximately 24% having trouble concentrating on other things because they are focused on the coronavirus. So, take heart: if you find yourself tossing and turning at 2 am, consider that one of your friends, colleagues, or family members is probably doing the same.

These symptoms of stress feel awful, but it may be helpful to know that they are a normal and appropriate response to uncertainty. Any time we face new, unknown experiences, our bodies produce increased adrenaline. This hormone surge helps us to stay on heightened alert, readying us for fight or flight. We fidget and feel tense because our bodies are readying to act. Yet, since many of us are more sedentary and homebound than ever, these symptoms feel especially uncomfortable. It may be validating that our bodies are operating as they “should,” but most of us would prefer feeling calmer and more relaxed.

In the weeks since the pandemic began, dozens of mental health professionals have written articles with suggestions for allaying “pandemic anxieties.” I have read many of these pieces and found that though the specific advice varies, a similar recipe for reducing anxiety is recommended across the board. The advice generally suggests: 1) increasing daily structure, 2) seeking greater connection, and 3) planning pleasure.

I’ve included some of the most useful suggestions below, though as with any list of tips, some of the advice will feel worthy of trying and some will not. Keep in mind that there is no one right way to cope with stress, so consider these as options for stabilizing the uncertainty of the time.

Increase daily structure. Many mental health professionals suggest that being schedule-less ramps anxiety. They advise that by intentionally developing new, comfortable routines, our sense of stability will be increased and our anxieties diminished.

  • Keep a sleep schedule with a similar bedtime and wake-up time each day.
  • Aim for sleep at nighttime, not too much during the day.
  • Try to get dressed each day (sadly, pajamas for days in a row is not recommended).
  • Time-block your schedule in one-two hour increments so that your schedule has both flexibility and structure.
  • Move your body every day (YouTube offers free work-outs and Beachbody.com offers low-cost workouts).
  • Get outside at least once a day.

 

Seek connection. Since the pandemic has isolated many of us from our work colleagues, friends, and family members, our daily reliance on support, humor, and shared experiences has been disrupted. Many mental health professionals suggest seeking virtual connections as much as possible.

  • Use your phone/video calls to check in with those you would usually see.
  • Reach out to old friends with whom you’ve lost contact.
  • Connect frequently with older relatives.
  • Contact your nearby neighbors to see how they are managing.
  • Call your therapist for a virtual session or call the health center for a referral to a therapist.

 

Plan pleasure. The pandemic has disrupted our ability to enjoy many of our usual entertainments – whether watching our sports teams on TV, going to a weekly AA meeting, or participating in a religious service. We miss not just the fun of these experiences but also how our anticipation of them mark time with experiences to which we look forward. Mental health professionals suggest creating new ways for anticipated fun.

Plan a long-term project. Whether it’s an elaborate jigsaw puzzle or a home improvement project, give yourself an initiative with which you can make gradual progress.

  • Schedule walks with friends (using social distancing, of course).
  • Plan game nights – from virtual video gaming to Monopoly.
  • Plan a pampering experience of indulgent self-care routines.
  • Plan a virtual movie night with friends where you can watch together, via phone or video call.

 

No one thinks that any one of these suggestions will erase anyone’s anxiety. However, usually when we are intentional about striving to respond to our stress, we make ourselves feel better than if we had done nothing at all. Ideally, a bit of self-care, pleasure, and routine will help calm our nerves, allowing our hopes for better tomorrows to be renewed.

Kate Moschandreas

Kate is a couples and family therapist and mental health counselor and has worked as part of the behavioral health department at SBCHC since 2017.