Well, this last week has been the longest year ever, right?
Last week I had an order of diapers coming in from Costco.com only to see the order was suddenly cancelled. I realized people must be starting to stock up so I made my way to a local Target to find empty shelves and frantic employees throughout. I could feel the panic around me and I found myself starting to worry too.
Before that experience, I hadn’t been worried much at all about the COVID-19 outbreak and chalked it up to a bunch of media hype. I figured if I just washed my hands and followed the same good health protocol I always did that we would be fine.
Then this week rolled around and it feels like the whole world is suddenly coming to a screeching halt. There are so many unknowns and so many changes to adjust to that we all can’t figure out our next step.
People everywhere are feeling the stress, myself included.
Here Are 5 Simple Ways to Reduce Your Anxiety During the COVID-19 Outbreak:
Take Regular Breaks From Social Media
While it is totally normal to reach for your phone or turn on the TV to see what is going on in the world, sometimes it can all be too much. The internet affords us access to so much in our modern-day world, but we often forget that our brains truly are not developed to take in as much information as the internet can provide in so little time.
When we see something stressful online, our stress responses in our brain cannot distinguish between what is actually happening and what is being presented in front of us. As a result, the brain sets forth a cascade of electrical and chemical reactions in our body signaling for us to prepare for “fight or flight” (and the other three F-words: faint, fawn, and freeze).
When that stress signal starts and we are just sitting on the couch taking in the information, it has nowhere to go besides cycling throughout our system.
In natural or real stress situations there is typically an opportunity to actually act on the stress through either taking off or fighting back, followed by a discharge of the stress energy and a chance for your body to naturally turn off the stress and return to a calm state known as “rest and digest.”
The first step would be to limit your access to social media and/or television surrounding topics that induce more stress. If you do need to seek information, stick to reliable sources such as the Center for Disease Control.
Next, be mindful of how your body is processing the information. Are your thoughts becoming more anxious? Is your heart beating faster? Or are you starting to panic?
If you find yourself getting worked up, stop reading or watching. Turn it off and go find a way to MOVE YOUR BODY to help complete the stress cycle. Go for a walk, do 15 jumping jacks, or even swing your arms around or dance to a fun song.
The stressful energy needs a place to go. Help it find a healthy way out.
Create A New Routine AND Healthy Choices
In the last week SO much has changed. Schools have closed, people have been laid off, and we can’t even grocery shop or go out to eat the way we did before.
Odds are, before all this your weeks probably followed a regular routine. I bet that you probably started and ended the day the exact same way every day. But now what? Everything is suddenly different.
Without a routine, there are more decisions to be made and often more feelings of overwhelm and anxiety for adults and children alike. A simple way to start building routine is to have a regular sleep/wake time, and regular mealtimes. Letting your body know it will get the rest and fuel it needs significantly reduces stress.
If you are finding yourself feeling anxious or depressed, consider limiting or stopping your consumption of caffeine and alcohol. Both can contribute to an increase in symptoms.
Eating more Omega-3 Fatty acids (think healthy fats like salmon and avocado) and fruits and veggies also help your body better manage stress AND fight illnesses. While your pantry might be full of non-perishables right now, there are still fresh fruits and veggies available in most stores.
Consider getting dressed (most days) and scheduling in some time for self-care, exercise, and connection. These are stressful times, but there is also suddenly great opportunity for self-care and a chance to nourish yourself.
Add in something creative or challenging to help keep your mind focused on something other than your worry. This is a great time to try a new recipe, start a website/blog, read or write, organize your home, or garden.
Last, but not least, schedule downtime.
You heard me. D-O-W-N-T-I-M-E.
I think that this sudden halt from all the hustle in our day to day lives has been exceptionally hard because for so many Americans, we simply don’t know how to slow down. Having set times with NOTHING on your schedule is important. Use this time to fulfill any need you have not been able to meet throughout your day.
Social distancing and isolation contradict our natural instinct to come together. Humans are built for connection and suddenly we are living in a time where we are scared to be near one another in fear of transmission of Coronavirus and the impact it is having in our world.
If you have had the pleasure of shopping in a ravaged grocery store this week, you also know there is a collective fear looming about that is almost palpable in the air.
When we experience stress, our brain responds by shutting down the pre-frontal cortex where we house our empathy, critical thinking/problem solving skills, and our ability to connect with others. Instead, we respond from more primitive areas in our brain and we lose the ability to think of how the other person is feeling. Hence people fighting over toilet paper.
When we connect with others, our body responds by reducing stress hormones, increasing the production of the “love hormone” Oxytocin, and our pre-frontal cortex comes back online. Suddenly we can work together, help our neighbors, and collectively reduce our stress and worry.
Obviously, with social distancing we must get a little creative about how we connect, but here are a few simple ways:
- Facetime friends and family
- Or skype, call, text, whatever! Stay in touch!
- Consider telehealth for working with a therapist or other provider
- Many therapists have been transitioning their services online and some still are seeing clients in office
- Help Others
- Altruistic efforts promote the production of chemicals and neurotransmitters that reduce stress and anxiety
- Share information about resources for those who cannot find them themselves, or share what you can if you have extras of something someone needs
- If you stocked up on face-masks PLEASE consider donating them to local hospitals so our healthcare workers can protect themselves in order to continuing their work.
- Wash your hands, stay home, and do your part to slow the transmission
- Donate to local charities or food pantries
- Offer to help older neighbors find groceries when you are already making a trip so they can stay home
- Buy gift cards or take out from local restaurants to help support them while they are closed for dining
- Spend time with your family in your own home.
- Movie marathons
- Cuddling with your children or partner
- Make art, play in the rain, and dance
- Spend time with animals
- Studies show petting animals reduces stress and lowers blood pressure
- If you are interested in adopting a cat or dog MANY shelters are waiving their adoption fees to help pets find homes right now—and you get the added benefit of happiness from helping save a life!
Move Your Body
As mentioned above, when the stress cycle starts, that energy has to go somewhere. Exercise is an excellent way to reduce anxiety and stress and also helps your overall health.
Now is great time to start working out either from the comfort of your own home or out in the warm sunshine while maintaining healthy distance from others.
Consider signing up for online classes or even renting equipment from a local gym or health club. While many were forced to close temporarily with everything going on, they are working to stay in business by renting their equipment or offering subscriptions to online classes.
Locally, in Clovis, California, there are a few to check out:
-Online yoga classes with your favorite local instructors for only $10-15 per month!
-Rent Pilates and rebounding equipment while the studio is temporarily closed
**If you know of any other local places offering online or rentals please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org to add to the list!
Practice Mindfulness and Mind Your Mental Health
Taking time to live in the present is truly what mindfulness is all about. With all the changes, the silver lining is that forced closures and time off can be an opportunity to truly be present in our day to day activities.
Take time to feel the sun on your face, put your hands in the soil and start a garden, breathe.
Practicing meditation or yoga on daily, or even weekly basis is proven to reduce overall levels of stress and anxiety. Both of these practices offer time to quiet the mind, slow the breath, and release stress.
There are thousands of free videos online of guided meditations, stories for helping you fall asleep, and calming music. I personally love the Zen app and Calm. Headspace is currently offering all healthcare providers (including therapists) access to their app for FREE with everything going on. Just enter your NPI number to access it!
If you are reading this and meditation just isn’t your style, consider other ways to be mindful such as eating meals without technology distractions, baking or creating something that involves using all of your senses, or even taking a nice walk out in nature.
And of course, I wouldn’t be in this line of work if I didn’t believe that working with a licensed mental health professional is another way to help manage and reduce your anxiety symptoms. Some worry is to be expected through all this. Even I feel it right now. But if you or a loved one are experiencing feelings of severe anxiety or overwhelm please don’t hesitate to reach out.
If you or a loved one are experiencing these symptoms, it may be time to seek professional help:
- Feelings of hopelessness or despair
- Suicidal thoughts
- Frequent crying spells or panic attacks
- Loss of sleep or sleeping too much
- Sudden changes in appetite (eating too much or too little)
- Anger outbursts, need for control, and irritability
- Loss of interest or pleasure in things you normally enjoy
Therapists are continuing to work through these changes as an “essential service” just like healthcare providers. Some still see clients in office while working diligently to maintain sanitizing between sessions, and others have moved their practices online for telehealth.
To learn more about Telehealth (online therapy) through Tailwinds Therapy, please click here.
For more resources and helplines, click here.
Take care, wash your hands, and stay safe everyone~