Life has changed for billions of people around the world. As droves of people struggle to address practical matters in a post-pandemic world, we cannot not ignore the toll that pandemics have taken (and continue to take) on our mental and overall health.
If you have been feeling increased anxiety about covid or even monkeypox, you are not alone. Dawn Brown, director of the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) HelpLine, reports the line has seen “an uptick” in calls related to pandemic since covid first broke out.
Additionally, Axios data estimate that 29% of adults have experienced a decline in emotional wellbeing!
It is not selfish to take some time out to check in with yourself and your mental well-being during these unprecedented times. In fact, it is vital to stay grounded and balanced, especially if you have others relying on your help.
We have compiled some ideas for how to address your pandemic-related anxiety through simple measures and small steps, which we hope will help despite impossible circumstances. Find tips below.
Keeping calm while keeping your distance
Stay at home, but stay connected
Those with previous experience with anxiety and depression probably already know the importance of having a support network, made up of family, friends, and health care professionals. You may also be more prone to self-isolating out of fear and sadness.
It is important to not let your physical distance from loved ones prevent all communication. Take some time to reach out to those who can lend an ear and listen to your worries. For this, you want to call the type of friend who shame and vulnerability expert Dr. Brené Brown refers to as a “move-a-body friend”: someone who will not shame you or tell you you are overreacting, but who will be there to listen without judgement and offer practical help if they can.
Don’t be afraid to be honest about your anxiety, but also do not feel pressured to tell everyone about it either. It can be just as healing to simply ask someone else about their day or talk about a new series you’re watching or video game you’ve discovered.
There are also plenty of ways to spend time “together” while staying physically apart, like playing that new game together, starting a virtual book club, or starting a digital hangout (Google and Zoom offer great tools for this, but Facebook and Instagram Live can also offer creative ways to stay in touch!). There’s also Supportiv, of course, if you’d prefer to socialize with strangers.
Set limits for how much news you consume
Many experts, including Krystal Lewis, clinical psychologist at the National Institute of Mental Health, agree that we should set limits for media consumption during any pandemic.
Lewis explains, “Mass media coverage of a topic can have long standing and far-reaching effects. It is common for children and adults with health anxiety and generalized anxiety to be triggered by world events and news.”
While it is important to stay informed, getting overloaded on media — especially conflicting news from many different sources — will likely provide more stress than it does clarity.
To combat this, Catherine Belling, Ph.D., an Associate Professor of Medical Education at Northwestern University, recommends choosing one trusted source to rely on for your pandemic news, for example your local health department.
Allow yourself to check this source for updates once or twice a day, but try to focus on other things the rest of the time as to not overload yourself. Helpful resources like this NPR comic can also help if you need to explain the virus/pandemic situation to children.
Help someone else
When you are feeling more calm about society’s fresh pandemic, pay it forward by helping others in whatever way you can. Some ideas:
- Help deliver groceries to older people/immunocompromised people in your building or neighborhood
- Reach out to other friends who may be suffering
- Support a small business that might be struggling by buying a voucher for later use
- Contribute to an artist’s Patreon or other funding efforts to help them through the next month of cancelled gigs and reduced freelance income
- Read a story to kids via FB live
Create a new routine
If you are not used to working from home, it might feel completely bizarre and uncomfortable — plus very tempting to simply lie in bed all day! You can stay productive and keep your mind occupied by maintaining a routine, even at home.
A work from home routine can look like:
- Setting an alarm for the morning,
- Taking a shower and getting dressed as if you’re going to work,
- Creating a dedicated workspace at your desk,
- Having regular meal breaks, and
- Starting and ending your work day at the times you normally would.
Making time for regular exercise is also great!
One tip is to avoid working in bed, as this may confuse your brain when it comes time to go to sleep, and thus lead to increased insomnia and anxiety. Let bed remain a safe, relaxing zone, rather than one you associate with work!
Stay in the present
It is always easier said than done to “stay in the present,” but it is one of the most important tools anyone has in their arsenal for battling anxiety. Anxiety almost always deals with disappointment over past events or worry about future events.
We are in uncertain times, and things are changing every day, so it is only natural that we feel concern about what will happen tomorrow, in one week, or one month from now. Coronavirus and pandemic anxiety are real.
Spiritual teacher and author of The Power of Now, Eckhart Tolle, explains that we can balance staying in the present with “productive planning” for the future by giving ourselves conscious, “focused” periods for planning, with a time limit. This is different from dwelling in “toxic,” anxious thoughts about future events that we cannot control.
Mindfulness practices like meditation and journaling are also a great help for staying grounded and overcoming anxiety.
Go to nature
If you can safely avoid crowds and maintain distance from others while outside, going on a long walk can help us clear our minds and reduce anxiety.
This study on the Japanese practice of “forest bathing” showed evidence that time in nature can reduce stress and improve immune function. Another study on nature therapy from 2011 revealed similar results for participants, including decreased heart rates and cortisol levels.
Explore a new hobby
You might decide to fill your free time in front of the TV, but why not use this time at home to explore a new hobby? Test a new recipe, download a language app, or try your hand at knitting or sewing. You can also check out online courses — there are tons of sites like Udemy offering hundreds of thousands of different topics, where you can either participate in set class times or study at your own pace!
Reach out to mental health providers
Mental health providers like therapists are a hugely important part of your network, and due to quarantining efforts, you may not be able to easily see them in person.
Still, there are other ways to get the mental health care you need. Ask your therapist if they would consider online video sessions, or phone sessions.
Supportiv also provides peer support groups online. It’s not therapy, but it’s a great middle ground between screaming into the void and seeing your therapist.
Know that your grief is valid
It is completely understandable to be disappointed in the events of a pandemic. You are allowed to grieve these losses, even if they seem small or unsubstantial in comparison to the loss of a life.
When you have given yourself time to grieve, you may want to further ground yourself by taking time to write down a list of what you are grateful for. This can help root you back in reality, and let you see that there is still good in the world. We will also move forward and get through this.
What if you can’t self-isolate?
For many people, complete self-isolation is not an option. This may be because you are someone else’s primary caretaker, a front-line health care worker, or someone else who is not in the position to work from home. Not self-isolating can be just as anxiety-inducing if you are concerned about catching or spreading the next pandemic virus.
For people not able to self-isolate, we would still recommend many of the above grounding techniques, like meditating, journaling, taking time for walks in nature, and reaching out to trusted friends for emotional support. Here are a few additional ideas.
Stress inoculation exercises
If you are nervous about a certain scenario, like going to the grocery store, try a stress inoculation technique at home. This involves imaging the various outcomes and being aware of how they make you feel. Ground yourself with mediation and breathing techniques to stay calm. This is a kind of “at home practice” that can help prepare you for the real situation.
Make a list
Make a list of what is worrying you. Anxiety around finances is a particular concern for many as businesses temporarily close and events are cancelled. Writing down everything everything you are worried about helps to get it out of your head and into a controllable, visual form on paper.
After you make your list, write down some possible outcomes and solutions. Try to take a practical, solution-oriented approach rather than letting your worries spin out of control in your mind. This comes back to what Eckhart Tolle refers to as “focused planning.”
Ask for help
If you have made a list of your concerns, brainstorm if there is someone you can trust and go to for help. We are often fearful of showing our vulnerabilities or admitting we need help, especially when it comes to financial worries. But you will probably be surprised to see at how much your loved ones are willing to help you if they can.
So don’t be afraid to reach out and be honest about what you need — whether it’s a small loan to help cover next month’s rent after your work hours were reduced, or assistance caring for your children while you work, or someone with a car who can help you do errands while avoiding public transport.
Remember that life will return to normal. We may have to adjust to a new normal in the meantime, but that does not mean life is over. You will get to see your favorite band again. You will get to clink glasses with your friends. You will get to take that much-needed vacation.
It should at least be a comfort to know that everyone is dealing with this at the same time. You are not alone in the struggle, so reach out to each other. Everything is better when we work together.
The National Alliance on Mental Health has also compiled an incredibly thorough document with resources for people in various situations due to pandemic.
If you need immediate crisis support right now, find help for your specific situation:
Crisis Text Line – reach out for support via text messaging. Send a text to 741-741
National Domestic Violence Hotline — 1800 799-SAFE (7233) or text TELLNOW to 85944. A 24-hour hotline for any type of domestic abuse, including dating abuse and cyberstalking. You may be isolated with your abuser, and we encourage you to seek help here.
National Parent Helpline — 1-855-427-2736. Call for support, ideas, and further resources when in a parenting kids home during lockdown.
And if you’ve already reached out for help, you’re welcome to just come let off steam with us at Supportiv.