The world-wide spread of COVID-19 has upended our lives.
We are now living in a state of global anxiety, both more disconnected and connected than ever before. People are worried in a way they never anticipated and their anxiety levels rise and fall with the frequent news alerts and community closings. We have not experienced an event like this in our lifetime.
The consequences of the transmission of the virus and the resulting uncertainty has resulted in continuous anxiety across the globe. The alarming and sometimes conflicting news reports are difficult to ignore. Worrying may be a barely audible buzz in the back of our minds or it may be front and center panic.
It is important to remember that the COVID-19 crisis anxiety is often layered on top of other serious problems people are experiencing: illnesses, family issues, money concerns, etc. One of my clients is pregnant and worried how to protect herself and her baby. Another has been diagnosed with cancer and wonders how he will get adequate treatment when resources are pointed in the direction of testing and treating those with the virus. While these events may seem pale in comparison to medical issues, disappointment has been high for those who have had to cancel weddings, religious and other celebrations, and long-planned trips.
Thoughts for Managing Anxiety
Before becoming an executive coach, I led an Employee Assistance Program that served more than 300 major corporations across the country. We counseled employees and family members with marital issues, depression, anxiety, and other emotional problems. We also helped people manage the aftermath of tragedies including both World Trade Center attacks. What I saw is that moving through anxiety, fear, and grief—especially when we don’t know when the crisis will end– is a non-linear process with stops and starts. However, there are also wonderful moments of resilience, growth, and connection.
While there is no “one size fits all” recommendation, here are several ways to increase the calm in your life.
Simply taking several deep breaths and slowly letting the air out actually works to re-set the energy in your body and mind. Try this several times a day, even when you are not feeling anxious. If you find this helpful, you can add in formal meditation classes available on-line. Or you can listen to Headspace, a well-known meditation app.
Assess the right amount of exposure to news for you.
In the days after 9/11, I had to recommend to a client that she totally avoid the news as it was so disturbing for her. Are you benefiting from reading three newspapers online and watching TV endlessly? If so, keep going. But if too much news overwhelms you, decide the optimal amount of incoming information for you. Perhaps you can just watch one trusted television channel. Or if hearing the news is too much, follow the online site that is most factual and least alarmist. You can feel free to re-think this strategy as days go by.
Be kind to others.
There may be others even more anxious and less fortunate than you. As an act of generosity and a way to get outside yourself, consider ways to be kind to others. Check in on your elderly neighbors and offer to shop for them if you are going out—or send them delivery. Donate online to local soup kitchens or national programs including Feeding America. Remember the first responders who are on the front lines and think about what they may need in terms of kindness for them and for their families.
Practice massive self-care.
Put your oxygen mask on first. Sleeping on a regular schedule will work wonders for your energy and spirt. If you can safely walk outside with social distance, get some fresh air and activate your endorphins. Find what distracts you: video games, loud or quiet music, trying a new recipe, viewing exhibits of museums on line. Eat in a healthy way while allowing yourself some comfort food.
Maintain your personal contacts.
While most of us are working from home and our socializing is limited, it is helpful to stay in touch with others. Schedule a happy hour/coffee hour on-line with a friend. Make sure to connect via text, email, or phone with at least one or two people every day. One of my friends is in several book clubs and one of her groups will be holding their next meeting on one of the video platforms.
Remember that it won’t always be like this.
Several years ago, when a close relative was ill with a painful undiagnosed illness, a friend told me something I have never forgotten: “It won’t always be like this.” Of course, that didn’t take away the problem that day but it gave me hope for the future. When your fear is increasing, try making this your mantra.
Talk to someone.
If you find yourself overwhelmed with anxiety and these strategies aren’t sufficient to ameliorate your intense feelings and thoughts, it would be wise to speak with an experienced mental health professional. You can find one through a family member or friend, your physician, or your company’s Employee Assistance Program. Many mental health experts will now be conducting counseling via a video platform or phone.
We are all in this together.
And when this is all over, what we will remember most are the moments of beauty, generosity, creativity, and connection. Let’s continue to help ourselves and our family members, neighbors, colleagues, and friends manage through these dark moments.
CEO, Priority Coaching