Coping with COVID-19 Anxiety: Taking Care of Your Mental and Emotional Health

Monday, March 23, 2020

SPSCC Counseling Services has put together a guide to help you cope with anxiety from COVID-19.

Remember you and those around you are resilient.

  • Research shows that people tend to overestimate how badly they will be affected by a negative event and underestimate how well they will cope or adjust to difficulties.
  • Take the time to remind yourself of the external and internal resources you have to get through difficult times.
  • Internal resources are your own skills and strengths. External resources are family, friends, and community resources. Be a resource for others and offer help to friends, family, and neighbors if you are able. Remember to ask for help when you need it.

Maintain a daily schedule at home.

  • Plan and stick to specific times for classes, studying and other responsibilities at home. This structure will help you manage your time and stress levels for on-line learning and sheltering at home. For example keep the same time every day for studying and engaging with your classes on-line. This structure will help you and other family members that are home with you.

This is an opportunity to strengthen your own tolerance for uncertainty and change.

  • The more you accept the unpredictable nature of this situation, the lower your anxiety will become. If you live alone, stay socially connected. This helps combat the risk of depression and anxiety that naturally occurs when socially isolated.

 Use social media intentionally for staying connected to family and friends.

  • Use video platforms like FaceTime. Text and voice call to at least one person every day.

 Gather in very small groups.

  • For example meet a friend and take a walk outside together. Being outside, particular in a natural setting surrounded by trees, has been proven to bolster your immune system.

Take breaks from reading, watching or listening to news stories about the Coronavirus, particularly on social media platforms that can spread inaccurate information.

  • Staying informed is important but you can do this by limiting news to only 30 minutes a day. Hearing about the pandemic, especially in areas outside your immediate community, can heighten your anxiety in unhealthy ways.

Don’t ignore your anxiety but instead turn towards it and accept it as a temporary emotion that all humans experience.

  • Resist the urge to calm your fears by obsessively reading your news feed on your phone. Instead gentle focus on the specific unpleasant body sensations of anxiety. And then turn your attention to pleasant or neutral sensations such as the warmth of a cup of tea in your hands.

Breathe to invite relaxation.

  • Anxiety is experienced in the body as muscle tension, headaches, upset stomach or a feeling of being “on edge.”
  • Research supports the effectiveness of a simple breath technique to invite our physiology to relax: 1) Slow your breathing to a 5-second in-breath and a 5-second out-breath. 2) Work to get a very smooth breath all the way through this cycle. No need to breathe too deeply. 3) When your mind wanders just invite it back to the count – “1, 2, 3, 4, 5.”
  • Continue this way for 3 minutes. Notice how you feel. Repeat daily.

Amplify your self-care.

  • Now more than ever get enough sleep, eat well, exercise, and double-up on relaxing activities to recharge your energy.

Focus on activities that bring you joy and a sense of purpose.

  • Listen to music, dance, play games, paint, write, bake and cook. If there a creative project you’ve been putting off now is a great time to begin. Maintain hope for the future and positive thinking. Direct your thoughts to your future goals such as your degree, a new job, planning a family get-together. Keep a daily journal for writing down what you are grateful for or what went well each day.

Maintain connection to your spiritual beliefs and community.

  • Even if religious gatherings are suspended, you can stay connected through live-streaming. Check with your place of worship for updates about ways to participate online.

Remember every day to be kind to yourself and to others.

  • Be patient. Be compassionate. Be grateful. Remember to smile. Remember to laugh. Remember – like all things – this time of difficulty will change.

Be mindful of these common signs of distress:

  • Feelings of numbness, disbelief.
  • Feelings of anxiety or fear.
  • Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels.
  • Difficulty concentrating.
  • Difficulty sleeping or nightmares and upsetting thoughts/images.
  • Physical reactions such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and rashes.
  • Chronic health problems get worse.
  • Angry, irritable or short tempered.
  • Increased use of alcohol, tobacco and other drugs.

Additional National and Community Resources:

  • Thurston County Crisis Clinic: 360-586-2800
  • National Crisis Text Line: text Help to 741-741 
  • SAMHSA Disaster Distress Hotline: 1-800-985-5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746
  • Deaf or hard of hearing can use your preferred relay service: 1-800-985-5990
  • Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK