Got Coronavirus Anxiety? Here Are 8 Ways to Get Your Mind Off of the Pandemic
If you feel like you’ve been a ball of anxiety the past few weeks, you’re definitely not the only one. The COVID-19 pandemic has thrown the entire world for a loop. It may seem like there’s something new to worry about every day — so it’s no wonder many people are dealing with “coronavirus anxiety.”
But chronic stress can affect your immune system (oh, great — one more thing to worry about!) so it’s important to get a handle on your stress level. These simple steps can help.
NOTE: These tips are meant to help alleviate stress and anxiousness caused by the pandemic. If you think you might be dealing with an anxiety disorder, talk to your doctor or a mental health professional.
1. Limit Your News Consumption
It’s important to stay informed, but not at the expense of your mental health. “It’s not irresponsible to take a break,” says Stephen Benning, PhD, a psychology professor at University of Nevada, Las Vegas — especially if you have psychological issues like anxiety or depression that may be heightened by reading the news.
Getting constant alerts on your phone can add to your coronavirus anxiety, sending you down a rabbit hole of panic-ridden clicking. Instead, Benning suggests limiting your intake to 5 to 10 minutes, three times a day: in the morning, at lunch, and 3 to 4 hours before you go to bed. “In that time, stay focused on getting the news you need to live your life rather than keeping track of every new development across the globe,” he says.
2. Stay Virtually Connected
Social distancing doesn’t have to equal social isolation, the National Institute of Mental Health advises. You can still express your anxiety, worry, and frustration to the people you trust — just do it virtually.
The good news? We’ve never lived in a more technologically convenient time to be experiencing a pandemic. When you need to talk to someone, take advantage of FaceTime, Zoom, Skype, text messages, and social media to connect with family, friends, and colleagues.
3. Set a Worry Time
Sure, you want to minimize your anxiousness — but that doesn’t mean repressing your feelings entirely. Allow yourself a designated worry time each day to have a guilt-free “coronavirus freakout.” During your worry time, you can cry, punch a pillow, journal your anxious thoughts, or share your worries with a friend or loved one.
Choose a time of day, a place, and a length of time. Set a reminder on your phone or on a sticky note somewhere in plain sight. When anxious thoughts arise, tell yourself: “I’ll worry about this for 20 minutes at 6 p.m. in the kitchen.” This gives your feelings appropriate and structured time and attention.
Outside of that designated worry time, focus on keeping your breathing calm and evenly spaced, Benning says. Or try a calming exercise: Tense the muscles in your face for 30 seconds, then release them. “Do the same with the muscles in your neck, your shoulders, your arms, your legs, and your feet to spread progressive muscle relaxation down your body,” Benning says.
4. Reframe Your Thoughts
While your anxious thoughts are valid, you can find the positive in any situation if you look for it. Reframing your thoughts around the quarantine can be powerful.
When you’re worrying about whether your loved ones will get sick, for example, focus on what you can do to educate them about ways to stay healthy. Or if you’re feeling anxious about being stuck at home, think, “What a great opportunity to focus on activities I’m usually too busy for!”
5. Focus On What You Can Control
You may be feeling out of control right now — maybe your job is stressful, or your income is up in the air, or you’re worried about your health, or you’re wondering when life will go back to normal.
To ease your anxiety about all the unknowns, Benning suggests finding ways to regain some semblance of control in your everyday life: Check spring cleaning or household projects off your to-do list, tackle a 30-day squat challenge, or create a daily routine to improve your productivity.
6. Make Time for Fun
If you’re stuck inside with family or roommates, all the togetherness can be stressful. Fun activities can help to ease some of that tension (and make you feel less…well, stuck).
“I suggest cooperative board or video games instead of competitive ones to aid in playing toward a common goal,” Benning advises. “Shared workouts, art classes, cooking meals, or online classes are other activities people can do together to promote their own well-being and their relationships.”
7. Avoid Pandemic Panic-Shopping
It’s smart to be prepared and keep your pantry well-stocked, but don’t go overboard.
“When people buy as much as they can of any product they think of that relates to any kind of disaster — like months’ worth of bottled water or toilet paper, which aren’t likely to be an issue with this kind of virus — it will likely add to people’s anxiety,” Benning says.
Listen to the guidelines, take what you need, but don’t be excessive. Hoarding will only feed your anxiety — and cause more anxiety for others.
8. Get Moving
It’s easy to fall into a routine of laying around on the couch and going from “day pajamas” to “night pajamas.” But exercise is believed to help you deal with anxiousness, so create a social-distancing-friendly workout schedule and stick to it.
You may not be able to go to the gym or yoga studio right now, but you can still stream at-home workouts (like Yoga52, Xtend Barre, or 600 Secs). Or take a jog around the block — just be sure to maintain at least six feet between yourself and others, and wipe down any park or playground equipment you use with disinfectant wipes before and after you use them.