Tips for Managing Anxiety During a Health Crisis
By Beth Janczak, LCSW
COVID-19. A term none of us had even heard of until recently, let alone know how it might impact us, is now here and is seriously causing a great deal of stress and disruption. If you are someone who might already experience anxiety, a global health crisis could be the situation that pushes your anxiety into overdrive. While it’s great to be aware and prepared, I’d like to share some simple steps you can take to help keep your anxiety under control.
1) Know your limits: Ok I admit it. I’m a total news junkie. However, too much news or information can cause anxiety to sky rocket. Living in a 24 hour news cycle, while helpful, can also be too much of a good thing. It’s ok to change your habits around information consumption. Maybe it makes sense to stick to your local news (versus 24 hour cable news), or limit the amount of time you spend online learning about this pandemic. Give yourself permission to tell your loved ones that you would like to talk about something else, or simply change the subject. Knowing your limit and holding that boundary can help reduce anxious feelings.
2) Understand your own risk: When something like a global pandemic happens, it can be so scary, and it can feel like everyone is in immediate danger. However, it’s important to know the reality of your own situation. Both the CDC and the Illinois Department of Health have a lot of useful information, as well as what to do to help lower your risk. Knowing your own risks, can help give you back control over what feels like an out of control situation.
3) Control what you can control: While many things are out of our control, there are many simple things you can do to control what is happening around you. Maybe meal planning and stocking up on extra pantry items is your jam. Social distancing, a fancy term for choosing when to hang back from events, could help you feel more in control. And the simplest? Wash your hands frequently. (Here are some fun songs to help get you to 20 seconds). When things seem out of control, remind yourself you have a lot more control over things than you may think, and while washing your hands, list specifically what you do have control over. This will help keep you grounded.
4) Keep routines: We learned on Friday that our schools will be closed for at least the next two weeks, and that the best thing we can do is stay home and limit time with others. So now, faced with a LOT of unstructured family time, We have decided to try to keep some routine and structure going to keep the peace. In reality, keeping your own rhythm, routines, and structure will provide a sense of normalcy, as well as keep anxiety at bay. This doesn’t mean schedule every minute of every day, but it does mean setting times to help the day flow. In my house, we are aiming for a balance between free time (read screen time, let’s be real), and activities, such as arts and crafts, family reading time, set meal times, etc. Knowing what’s coming next can be a game changer for anxious thoughts.
5) Take a Break: I know right now not only our news, but our news feeds are filled with an overwhelming amount of information and opinions. Here me when I say it’s time to walk away. Taking a break does not make you less informed, or is something to feel guilty about. Watch a movie, call a friend, do something you find enjoyable. This might be a great time to limit or break up with social media. Giving yourself permission to break up or limit social media can help you reset, and give your anxiety a bit of a buffer too. As you hear the term “self-quarantine” on repeat, remember its ok to institute your own self-quarantine from social media and news. With that time away from the noise comes rest and relaxation and those are some of the best ways to lower anxiety.
And above all else, if you need to talk to someone, whether it be a family member, a friend, or your friendly therapist, make sure you do. Know you aren’t alone, and that there is always someone here who wants to listen and help.