Mar 21, 2020 | By: Dr. Melissa Hudson, LMFT-Supervisor
I work with anxiety daily, even with clients who do not have clinical levels of anxiety. Why? Because it is part of life and it impacts all of us. We all have anxiety, we are either managing it or we are not. In this time, with the world contending with the Covid-19 virus, anxiety is on display everywhere. The stocking up of toilet paper, the run on the banks, hoarding, this is all reactive, anxious-driven thinking that particularly comes about when we feel out of control. Things feel uncertain, are uncertain, but I can stock up...it's anxiety in motion. But am I being proactive or reactive (triggered)? How do we know what's the correct level of response in such an unprecedented event, a pandemic? Even that word evokes uncertainty and fear. The other side of the same coin is avoidance, minimization, denial. Both of these approaches are anxious driven. The best is a happy medium, prepared but not activated out of fear.
For those who have worked with me, what we want to remember is that our mammalian brain/reactive brain/limbic system is powerful but primitive. Remember it will override our logic and reasoning quickly. What we want to do is minimize this reactivity (AKA emotional flooding, stress, thinking traps, distorted thinking, anxiety). So do your best to recognize anxious thinking: ruminating, black and white (it's all okay or we are doomed), catastrophizing, emotional reasoning (I feel scared, so I must be in imminent danger). Feelings are fickle...they are not facts, and they come and go. Notice them, acknowledge them, and then let them roll away.
So how in the heck do you do that, you ask? Check out this list of a few anxiety management strategies:
1. Look to the experts: the epidemiologists, the specialists in, the CDC, your local health department. I'd be cautious when you read the FB posts of "my friend is a doctor..." While this person may be an expert, he/she may not.
2. Limit your exposure to news and social media. Choose a time to catch up on developments but then turn it off. You will feel better. Managing anxiety does require discipline. Do not allow yourself to engage in behaviors, like 24-hour news coverage, that will keep you keyed up.
3. Get moving! Exercise is the best for naturally encouraging anxiety to complete its revolution and release that tension. It's also good for your physical health and your sleep. There are many free exercise opportunities to check out for a home-workout. Let's go!
4. Sleep...lack of sleep increases anxiety. Make sure you are practicing healthy sleep hygiene. Create a relaxing nighttime routine that will welcome sleep.
5. Stay connected. We are wired for connection, always. How can you feel more connected as you are at home more? But remember anxiety is contagious. Now may be a good time to distance from that catastrophizer in your life. Not forever but if you will get pulled into an anxious mind-space, exercise healthy boundaries and take care of yourself.
6. Help others. There are many opportunities to help.
7. Practice radical acceptance. This is about acknowledging where you are right now, at this moment, looking at what you can control and change and accepting that the rest is what it is. It's resisting "should'ing", projecting and worrying about what might be...refocusing to the now.
8. Get outside if you can. This will depend, of course, to where you are and what is being allowed.
9. Nourish your body. This is a time to eat well, make sure you are hydrating, eating fruits and vegetables.
10. Prepare but don't freak out. And while we care about what's happening to others elsewhere, focus on what's happening where you are.
11. Laugh, let me say that one again, LAAAAAAUUUUUGGGHHHH! As much as possible! It's impossible to be anxious when you're having fun.
12. Play...with your pets, children, partners. Again, you cannot be anxious when you are playing.
13. Appreciate and utilize the time. What can you do that you've needed the time to do? I'll be focusing on my coursework in certified sex therapy, trying some new exercises, and maybe even learning to crochet from YouTube. What about you?
14. Monitor your thoughts. We have something like 70,000 thoughts in a day and while they feel automatic, we want to make sure we are not choosing thoughts that will keep us upset and anxious. A great way to redirect when you find yourself doing that is to bring it back to the present. "Right now, I am fine...my dogs are napping, I'm safe, warm, this cup of coffee is delicious and cozy. I'm not going to engage in thinking that is fear-based. I'm safe." It's not easy, I know, but we have to try to manage anxious thinking.
15. Journal it out. This is a historic time. Journaling is a great anxiety management technique because you are externalizing all of your thoughts and feelings, getting them out. This is a particularly good idea when quarantining.
16. How could you connect with your creativity, whether it's just in problem-solving, a new hobby, or something you've pursued in the past?
Hey, if you're needing help, please reach out. I'm providing therapy via Telehealth video conferencing. So how can I support you? I am licensed to work with anyone in the state of Texas longterm and anyone, anywhere nationwide due to this public health emergency (learn about this national policy directive here).
About the author: Dr. Melissa Hudson has been a Plano couples' therapist and licensed marriage and family therapist since 2012. She also specializes in working with those contending with depression and anxiety as well as a wide spectrum of other psychological concerns you can learn about here.