Techniques for Managing Anxiety 2

Techniques for Managing Anxiety and COVID-19

If you’re reading this, chances are you have felt occasional— or frequent— anxiety during this current public health crisis. The COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of stress, fear, and loss (of lives, jobs, livelihoods) spanning the globe. Managing anxiety during this time may seem out of reach.

The worst part of it is the unknown— how long it will last, who it will affect, and how and when economies will repair. You’re probably asking yourself when life will return to normal.

If you’re prone to anxiety and panic attacks as I am, this kind of public health crisis and the unknown can be a trigger for anxious thoughts.

In this post, I’m sharing what has worked for me to manage anxiety— habits, actions, self-care, and practical tips that can be useful. I chatted with an expert, Jennifer Love, M.D., a board-certified physician, psychiatrist, and author who has shared a few insights of her own.

The Unknown is Anxiety-Inducing: Managing Anxiety

Everyone I know is affected in some way— layoffs, pay cuts, financial worries, health worries, elderly parent worries, feelings of isolation, lack of motivation, and overall uneasiness. What worries me so much is the unknown.

Related Articles You Might Like

When I asked Jennifer Love, M.D. her thoughts on this, she describes an ancient survival mode that has followed us into modern life— for better or for worse:

Humans, like animals, are wired for safety and survival. Many ancient humans were nomads. With every move, they’d have to learn where to find food, water, and shelter, and locate all of the dangers in the area (bears, wolves, etc.).

This was essential to survival. We’ve evolved to indoor, community living (most of us), but our brains haven’t kept pace with the change. When our routines or communities become disrupted, our brains “sense danger,” and our alert signals turn on.

We are wired to experience anxiety with the unknown. So what are some techniques for managing anxiety?

Media Coverage Can Stress You Out

I’ve had to limit myself from reading online news about COVID-19. There are too many stories about the rapid spread of this virus and the lack of effective treatment— obviously, a bad combination.

When I asked my expert why we seek out news too frequently when we know it’s causing stress, she has an interesting answer:

I think it creates a false sense of security. “If I understand what’s going on, if I follow this news story, I won’t be caught by surprise.” (Humans don’t like surprises, remember?) The result is news-overwhelm and higher stress levels.

Managing anxiety while simultaneously letting the media stress you out is not a good combination.

Take Action Before Anxiety Overwhelms You

I’ve often felt like taking action can help ease my anxiety. Inaction and procrastination make me feel worse.

If my worry feels irrational, I can take steps to keep it at bay. Having a regular schedule, getting enough sleep, eating well, connecting with others, setting reasonable goals each day.

In a practical sense, I take action to protect myself and my family. Wearing masks at the grocery store and pharmacy, staying home, sanitizing everything, healthy foods, getting outdoors. You’ve no doubt heard this all before!

Don’t Underestimate Mindfulness

When I asked my expert what her best defense against anxiety is, she explains mindfulness, and, has a useful 5-senses exercise:

Practice mindfulness. Mindfulness is the practice of being in the moment… not worrying about the future, or dwelling on something that happened in the past.

Sometimes you have to take a look at the big picture, but you don’t need to sit in fear of the future all the time. Ask yourself, “In this moment is this thought process serving me? At this moment do I NEED to be anxious?”

If you’re standing in front of a bear, fine. Your anxiety is your best chance to survive. If the answer is no (it usually is), then mindfulness helps put it to the side.

For anxiety-ridden brains, I encourage my patients to use their five senses to ground themselves to the moment, to the safety of now.

For instance, I love to watch the flame of a candle; if it’s lavender or vanilla I’m adding my sense of smell too. Cuddle an animal, buy a weighted blanket, notice your fuzzy socks, or the softness of your favorite sheets against your skin.

Techniques for Managing Anxiety 2

Savor your food; pay attention to the tartness of a pomegranate seed, the sweetness of watermelon, the sound of your pet eating, or your child breathing during the night.

Make a list of all the things you love, using each of the five senses, so when you start to worry, you can remind yourself, “In this moment, all I need to do is chop these veggies, or read this book, or sip this tea and feel the warmth of the mug in my hand, or watch these candles.”

Self-Care Goes A Long Way

For those of us who have kids, being a role model is so important. You have a little person watching your every emotion and depending on you for their every need. Managing anxiety in a healthy way is crucial.

There are many ideas out there to help manage anxiety, like practicing yoga or meditation, spending time in nature, exercising, eating healthy, getting enough sleep.

Sound familiar? It is exhausting and sometimes hard to keep motivated when your routine has been disrupted.

1-Hour Game

I asked my expert to provide tips on motivation, and she has a simple “1-hour game” to try, as well as, an insightful fact about the brain’s motivation center:

To motivate myself to do something I know I want to do, but don’t really want to do (like exercise, or clean the kitchen), I play the one hour game. If I’m sitting in a comfy chair, or on the couch, I tell myself in one hour I will be sitting right here, cozy and comfortable.

At that time, will I feel better if all I’ve done is sit here, or will I feel better if I get up, exercise for half an hour, take a shower? I tell myself, either way, I’ll be back on that chair. Some days I stay put.

The more I practice this the easier it gets because my brain’s motivation center learns that it actually does feel better to do the thing I want to do, even if I don’t really want to do it.

I apply this to everything. “I will feel better if I just work on this chapter a little more.” “I will feel better after a walk.” “I will feel better if I dress up for my zoom calls today.” “Even though I’m alone, I will feel better if I shave my legs.” Your brain is aching to feel better.

Managing Anxiety with These Self-Care Ideas

coffee with nevada moms (1)

We Feel the Way We Think

There are many ideas out there to help focus the mind on the positive: writing out a gratitude list, journaling, checking off daily accomplishments, staying busy, or shifting attention to things that can be controlled.

I asked my expert, do these affirmations and brain exercises really work? Here’s some food for thought:

We feel the way we think; if we change the way we think, we can change the way we feel. Even our face muscles are in communication with the brain.

Have you ever seen the face of someone in agony, anxiety, or severe depression?

The brain directs the facial muscles. Do you know that if you consciously relax your facial muscles and smile, those muscles send a message to your brain which can change your brain chemistry?

Give yourself permission to slow down right now. The idea of “what are you accomplishing with all your time in social isolation” is not useful.

There is no competition. The world is weird right now. It’s ok not to be ok. Find things that make you happy.

Guided Meditation Before Sleep

I’ve tried and struggled to meditate and can never fit it into my schedule. We all know meditation is positive and relaxing, yet it seems so hard to adopt a daily practice, am I right?

I asked my expert to suggest a way to try meditation, for those of us interested in it, but unable to commit time to it. She suggests some free meditations and has a link to one of her own:

Try some guided meditations at bedtime. Michael Sealey has dozens of free sessions on YouTube on anxiety, insomnia, overthinking, depression, getting over past relationships, loving, kindness…you name it. Pop in your headphones and listen until you fall asleep.

If you want to try something quick, I recorded an eight-minute relaxation that can be done with eyes closed or even watching (my producer put in some relaxing nature scenes). It’s perfect when you just need a short break and a little relaxation.

If you want to try some guided meditations for the whole family, check out this list of different videos you can find online for all ages.

Telemedicine During COVID-19

When I was in college I realized that my anxiety was no longer something I could ignore and I sought therapy for the first time. This was the first of many bouts of severe anxiety throughout my 20’s and 30’s. In my 30’s I started taking medication.

If anxiety has really become a problem, panic attacks get in the way of daily life. No amount of journaling, meditation, and yoga is going to relieve severe symptoms and seeking therapy and medication can be the way to go.

I asked my expert about what is happening now [during this public health crisis] and I was surprised to find out that therapists and psychiatrists are likely taking new patients via videoconference:

Where I practice, and I believe around the country, telemedicine guidelines have been relaxed because of COVID. I am taking new patients every week by videoconference.

Find a therapist or psychiatrist in your area through your insurance or on a search engine like Psychology Today, and ask if they’re starting patients via zoom (or other).

Take a Deep Breath

For all of you Nevada Moms out there reading this, there is no easy answer to prevent anxiety in a situation such as this, but there are proven ways to manage it. Managing anxiety isn’t always easy, but it is possible.

I hope that you take care of your well-being and know that making positive changes to habits and thought patterns can really help. Reach out for help if you need it. If you suffer from anxiety and panic attacks, as I do, know you’re not alone.

P.S. If you liked the tips and insight from my expert, Dr. Jennifer Love, follow her on Instagram. Dr. Love is the co-author of “When Crisis Strikes: 5 Steps to Heal Your Brain, Body, and Life from Chronic Stress,” which will be published by Citadel Press on December 29, 2020.

Maureen Lowe
Maureen Lowe

Maureen Lowe is a Bay Area native that relocated to the high desert mountains of Southwest Reno with her family in 2017. Mama to her active pup and toddler boy, Maureen is a textile designer and graduate of CCA San Francisco. With a lifelong love of nature and the arts, Maureen has made it a mission to explore Reno’s scenic trails and cultural offerings to find kid and dog-friendly outings that work in all seasons.