We are all living in a critical time right now. Whether we are one of the hundreds of thousands affected with COVID-19, a loved one of someone affected, a health professional at the front lines, or like the majority, at home or working an essential job, doing the most you can to stay safe (and sane) during a time when rational fears mix with new, perhaps, unwarranted living conditions.

And with a forced change of routine and lifestyle, people can begin to panic or break under the pressure of having to adapt to this new way of life. Mandated to stay indoors, required to physically distance yourself from family and friends or even people in general, losing a job, all of these and more can turn even the most easygoing person into an on-edge overthinker. The current uncertainty of the future and the seeds of fear and doubt that come with it can cause anxiety to not only increase but spiral out of control.

“When the whole world is going to pieces, it’s awfully hard for the human mind—a fragile thing in the best of times—to cope, and more […] doctors are reporting the spread of despair, worry and depression among their patients, especially those already suffering from some form of anxiety disorder,” quotes Jeffrey Kluger of Time Magazine [1].

Before the coronavirus hit, the ADAA, or Anxiety and Depression Association of America, reported that “anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults age 18 and older, or 18.1% of the [U.S.] population every year” [2].

Kluger states, “It’s too early in the coronavirus plague to know the exact extent to which anxiety disorders are on the rise, mostly because the clinical cases are lost in the much louder noise of the global panic. But anecdotally, at least, doctors are reporting both new anxieties among existing patients, and relapses among former ones” [3].

But all is not lost. We must realize that our situation on a global scale cannot and will not last forever. We should have hope that governments across the world will find a solution, and we as humans will be able to walk outside without fear of contracting a lethal virus.

A key component to that solution is the condition of mental health for the entire population. If we want to survive this pandemic, we must safeguard our mental health along with our physical health. On March 26, 2020 on CNN, Chief Medical Officer of the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention (AFSP), Dr. Christine Moutier stated, this is “the first time in an epidemic [that] we are paying attention to mental health.” Our brain, she said, is constantly “interacting with our life, choices, and environment”. In response to the pandemic, a variety of telehealth services are being made available to the public, and patients with mental health conditions are able to benefit from them.

Apart from telehealth services in the form of therapy sessions performed via phone or video chat, there are some tips that I, as someone with bipolar 1 disorder and chronic anxiety, find helpful in dealing with that anxiety while self-isolating.

 

 

Gratitude.
Think of 3 things to be grateful of, everyday. It can be something as simple as being thankful for a beautiful day or thankful for having clothes to keep you warm. Acknowledging the good things or people in your life shifts the focus from the negative and back to the positive.

Psychology Today states, “Feeling and expressing gratitude turns our mental focus to the positive, which compensates for our brain’s natural tendency to focus on threats, worries, and negative aspects of life…[it] creates positive emotions, like joy, love, and contentment, which research shows can undo the grip of negative emotions like anxiety. Fostering gratitude can also broaden your mind and create positive cycles of thinking and behaving in healthy, positive ways”.

Step into a hot shower or warm bath.
“A study reported in New Scientist […] concluded that taking regular afternoon baths was associated with a moderate but persistent lift in mood among people with depression. Indeed, the size of the effect was greater than that of physical exercise – a more established mood booster.
By increasing participants’ core body temperatures, the theory goes, warm baths helped to strengthen and synchronise their circadian rhythms, the daily fluctuations in behaviour and biochemistry that affect every one of our organs, including the brain” [5].

Laugh.
Watch funny YouTubes, TikTok, tv shows or films, old home videos or even look at old photos. Call up or video chat with that friend who always raises your spirit with the gift of laughter.

Get creative.
Paint a picture. Write a story or a poem perhaps about how you feel, draw, photograph obscure objects in your house or in your backyard or front yard, make up a dance. Try a new recipe.

Breathe.
When I feel myself panicking or my thoughts are spiraling out of control, I take a moment to check myself and breathe in and out slowly and deeply a few times to calm myself down. Inhale and exhale. It doesn’t always eliminate anxiety, but it keeps the room from spinning, and I find myself calmer and more able to process logical thoughts.

Challenge negative thoughts.
It is easy to ruminate as a response to a bad or stressful situation. One negative thought leads to another, and pretty soon, you’re spiraling out of control with no anchor to hold you. If you can’t ignore those negative thoughts, challenge them with reasonable ones.

 

Ben Martin, Psy.D. of Psych Central explains that, to challenge negative thoughts, some questions you can ask yourself are:

Is there evidence that confirms your thought? Am I jumping to conclusions?

You can put the situation into perspective, and ask: Is it as bad as I am making it out to be? What is the worst that can happen?

What is the best thing that can happen? What is most likely going to happen?

Will this matter in five years?

Lastly, you can use goal-oriented thinking and ask: What can I do to solve this problem? [6]

 

 

Step outside.
Breathe in the fresh air. Especially due to COVID-19, a lot of us may feel trapped inside and begin to get cabin fever. Best antidote for that? Open your front door and take a step outside. Let the sunlight hit you and breathe in the fresh air. One action like this and I am certain you will feel that much better.

Exercise.
Even while indoors! Do jumping jacks, lift weights or use resistance bands, find a yoga or pilates routine on YouTube and follow along! Anything to get those endorphins pumping!

Get it out and let it out.
If you’re anxious, sometimes you just need to get it out. Find a channel for you to do this through, whether it be doing something creative like writing or sketching, or talking to a therapist or friend, etc. Don’t hold it all inside. I know things can seem pretty lonely with everything that has been going on due to the outbreak of COVID-19, but the reality is, none of us are alone in how we are feeling. There are hotlines you can call if you need them. There are people only a phone call away. Express yourself. You’ll feel that much better.

We will get through this crisis, and these tools are only some of the ways that will help you cope.

 

~Crystal Lancaster

 

 

 

 

[1] https://time.com/5808278/coronavirus-anxiety
[2] https://adaa.org/about-adaa/press-room/facts-statistics
[3] https://time.com/5808278/coronavirus-anxiety
[4] https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-mindful-self-express/201511/how-gratitude-leads-happier-life
[5] https://www.theguardian.com/society/shortcuts/2018/oct/23/why-a-daily-bath-helps-beat-depression-and-how-to-have-a-good-one
[6] https://psychcentral.com/lib/challenging-negative-self-talk