The coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has changed life as we know it. Schools and businesses are closed (many indefinitely), people are having to navigate working from home and/or homeschool their kids, going to the grocery store is an ordeal, and we’re living a spring without basketball or spring training. And that’s not even mentioning the sickness and death that countries around the world are experiencing.
It’s enough to shake even the most solid mental foundations.
Anxiety disorders are already the most common type of mental illness in the United States, plaguing as many as 40 million adults, or 18.1% of the population (source). For those people, the coronavirus situation is likely intensifying an already real problem. As far as everyone else goes—it’s likely that more people than ever are dealing with feelings of anxiety, something that may be entirely new to them.
How to know if you’re dealing with anxiety
Everyone worries from time to time, and in times like these, worry is a perfectly normal reaction. Of course, there comes a point when normal worry gives way to excessive worry, and a point where excessive worry turns into obsessive worry. No matter where you fall on the scale, it can be a difficult thing to manage.
If you’re unsure whether or not you’re dealing with anxiety right now (or if you’re in denial about it), that’s okay. After all, I’m sure you have plenty of other things on your mind right now! But because it’s important to be aware of how you’re feeling (so you can respond appropriately), here are some of the common signs of anxiety:
- Problems eating, including changes to your appetite (whether you have more of an appetite or less)
- Changes in sleeping patterns, including trouble falling asleep and/or staying asleep, or sleeping too much
- Difficulty focusing or concentrating
- Feelings of paranoia
- Feeling physically unwell, especially related to any chronic health problems you have; anxiety can manifest in different physical ways for different people, but chest pain, nausea, headache, rapid heartbeat, and trembling are all common
If you’ve noticed any of these things happening since the pandemic started, you’re probably dealing with more anxiety than you’re comfortable with.
Healthy ways to deal with coronavirus anxiety
No matter how much anxiety you’re feeling, or how strong it is, I first want you to know this: you’re not alone. Literally millions of people are dealing with this, right now. And as hard as anxiety is, whether it’s related to the coronavirus or not, there are some healthy ways to deal with it.
Not all of these methods will work for everyone, but if you can find a few things that work for you, you can temper your anxiety and face whatever problems come your way with hope.
Also, please note: if you have an anxiety disorder, or suspect that you do, these strategies may help you mitigate your anxious feelings, but they won’t take your disorder away. The best way to manage that is by talking to your doctor or another licensed professional.
Talk about your anxiety.
Humans need each other. As we discuss in this post, social connection is vital to our mental and physical wellbeing, affecting everything from how long you live to how quickly you recover from illness or injury. Poor social connection is also linked to depression and, you guessed it, anxiety.
You might be hesitant to share your feelings of anxiety with your family or friends. It’s definitely a vulnerable place to be. But as Brené Brown says: “Staying vulnerable is a risk we have to take if we want to experience connection.”
Think about it: if you don’t share what you’re thinking or feeling with someone, how can they possibly help you? How can you come to a place of shared experience and love? Your mind will be in one place, and theirs will be in another, and you’ll be disconnected.
Find someone you trust with your feelings, and dare to open up to them. Chances are, they won’t judge you or criticize you for being anxious right now. More likely, they’ll share their own feelings of anxiety with you, and suddenly, you’re even less alone.
By the way, therapy is a great place to talk things out if you aren’t (yet) comfortable talking to someone you know personally. Many counselors are still offering teletherapy while social distancing is being practiced, and some companies, like Talkspace and BetterHelp, are organized to offer teletherapy sessions. While I can’t speak for either of those personally, I can tell you that therapy in general has been a game-changer for many.
For more information on healthy discussion, check out:
For me, anxiety often feels like a state of motion—motion that I can’t stop. My mind is racing and my body is tensing. This makes sense, since anxiety tends to send our bodies into “fight or flight” mode, like our natural fear response would do. We feel like we’re in danger, and that we have to do something to get out of it. Honestly, it’s a pretty exhausting place to be, even if you’re feeling it all while sitting on your couch.
The way to counteract this is by getting to a place of mental stillness. This allows you to distinguish between anxiety and fear: are you actually in danger (which would justify a feeling of fear, as if you were facing an angry wild animal), or are you worried that you might be in danger (which would create a feeling of anxiety). The distinction is subtle, and for people with actual anxiety disorders, the two feelings have become virtually indistinguishable. But recognizing and acknowledging the difference is key if you’re going to deal with your coronavirus anxiety in a healthy way.
Mental stillness can stop the overthinking, help you shut off those scary responses in your brain, and help you work through your anxiety.
So how do you get to mental stillness? Here are some things to try:
- Meditation (I love the Headspace app)
- Putting down your phone
- Turning off the news
- Go for a walk or hike
- Engage in a calming hobby (reading, knitting, puzzles, coloring, etc.)
- Positive affirmations
- Design.org free coaching messages
Take care of your body.
With gyms closed down and many people under orders to “shelter in place,” it might seem like we all get a free pass from exercise for a while. But before you take that pass, remember this: exercise can do wonders for anxiety.
Exercise produces endorphins: feel-good chemicals in the brain. Exercising regularly has been shown to reduce stress, stabilize mood, and improve sleep. Even short amounts of aerobic exercise are enough to start having a positive impact on anxiety.
If you’re stuck at home, it might feel like your workout options are limited, especially if you don’t already have any at-home exercise equipment. Plenty of gyms are live streaming group workout classes, and there are many at-home workouts available on YouTube as well. Even things like power cleaning can get your heart pumping!
Exercise is clearly a powerful tool to use when fighting anxiety, but don’t forget about diet. What you eat can drastically affect your mood. Caffeine, sugar, alcohol, and certain food additives are common culprits.
Anxiety can make you want to fill your body with comfort foods, which are often, shall we say, not the healthiest options out there. As much as possible, make sure you are fueling your body with healthful, nutrient-rich foods: proteins, complex carbohydrates (whole grains), fresh fruits and vegetables, and omega-3 fatty acids can all help give your body what it needs to feel and function its best. And make sure to drink plenty of water, too.
Stay informed (the right way).
Anxiety about a specific situation can be worse if you feel like you’re in the dark about the whole thing. With a global, ever-changing situation like the coronavirus, it’s a good idea to stay informed.
That said, there’s a right way to stay informed, and there’s a way to stay informed that is going to fuel the fire of your anxiety. Informing yourself with the right amount of information from the right sources can help you deal with coronavirus anxiety in a more healthy way.
To stay informed without becoming more anxious, make sure you:
- Limit your time spent checking the news. Set limits on your phone’s News app or web browser.
- Try scheduling specific times to look at the news, and only check it during those times.
- Beware of sensational headlines.
- Make sure the news you’re taking in comes from reliable sources (the CDC and WHO are both excellent, reliable resources)
- Avoid taking posts on social media at face value (friends and family may be spreading the unreliable information you’re trying to avoid)
- Remember what you know. If you read something that doesn’t line up with information you gathered from a reliable source, feel free to second guess it. The more reliable source is more likely to be right.
Control what you can.
For many people, anxiety feels like an “out of control” feeling. Thinking that you don’t have control over your own destiny can be enough to have anyone feeling a little (or a lot) anxious.
The truth is, when it comes to global pandemics, there are many things you can’t control. After all, if we had control over this thing, it wouldn’t have done as much damage as it already has. We also can’t control how other people choose to respond to it, or how resources are allocated to hospitals and other front-line workers.
Thinking about the things you can’t control is likely going to make you feel anxious. Instead, try to focus on the things you can control, like:
- Staying home as much as possible
- Practicing social distancing when you have to go out in public
- Washing your hands often, with soap and water, for at least 20 seconds
- How you spend your time at home
- How much news you take in
Even simple things like meal planning or planning activities for your kids can give you a sense of control and help you feel less anxious. Being proactive about the things that are actually in your control can be another healthy way to deal with coronavirus anxiety.
Self-awareness is key to dealing with anxiety—coronavirus-related or otherwise. In fact, we believe that becoming self-aware is a key step to creating any positive change in your life. Why? Because when you’re self-aware, you’re not only able to honestly see where you’re currently at, but you can honestly admit where it is you want to go. Plus, you’re more likely to be aware of the limitations you have that are keeping you from getting there.
Becoming self-aware isn’t easy. (In fact, we know of at least four huge hurdles to self-awareness: skepticism, shame, self-doubt, and pride.) But the more self-aware you are, the better you’ll be able to handle your anxiety in both the short- and long-term.
Become more aware of your personal symptoms of anxiety. When you’re anxious, do you get irritable, fatigued, manic, or restless? Do you feel any physical symptoms? What suffers (sleep, relationships, exercise, appetite, etc)? The sooner you can recognize the anxiety, the sooner you can stop it in its tracks.
Also become aware of the things that help ease your anxiety. Do you need some alone time before you talk it out? Do you need to order takeout instead of trying to scrape dinner together? Does a hobby of some sort help calm your mind? What helps you find stillness? Consider making a list of all the things that help; it can be difficult when you’re actively feeling anxious to think rationally enough to remember them.
Remember: anxiety is not weakness, especially in a time when the world is such an uncertain place. But it’s not something you should allow to disrupt your life, either. More than ever, we need to be calm, focused, and ready for what comes next—whatever that may be. Hopefully, by dealing with coronavirus anxiety in healthy ways, we can move forward with hope for a brighter future.
Free coaching to help with whatever problem you’re facing.
Take the Design.org assessment to get started with our free, personalized coaching messages sent via email. We can help you design your happiness so you can live a life you love.