March 31st, 2020

Anxiety normal response to COVID-19 crisis – Tips for coping


By Sulz, Dave on March 19, 2020.

Dave Sulz

lethbridge herald

dsulz@lethbridgeherald.com

Many people are likely feeling anxious as fallout from the COVID-19 pandemic throws their daily lives into turmoil.

That’s a perfectly normal response under the circumstances, says a registered psychologist at the University of Lethbridge.

“These are really unsettling times for everyone,” says Jennifer Ellis-Toddington, the U of L’s manager of counselling and career services. “It’s hard to know what to do today, let alone tomorrow.”

When life is so unpredictable, as it is right now, anxiety increases – and that’s a perfectly reasonable reaction.

“You should probably be anxious, but you can be anxious and still function,” says Ellis-Toddington.

One of the keys is to keep things in perspective and remembering “we’re all in this together… not just Lethbridge, not just Canada, but everyone around the world.”

It can be helpful to reshift our focus away from the scary plight before us and live life in manageable, bite-size pieces.

“It’s important to take it one hour at a time and focus on things you can control,” she says.

That involves taking steps to create structure even in the midst of a loss of our normal routines.

“By creating structure and routines, people do much better in terms of mental health. It helps if you can know what your day looks like.”

That might involve making a list of tasks to tackle at home, or reading you want to catch up on, or hobbies to engage in. In some cases, it might require some creativity for families to fill the time “when most of our go-to stuff is cancelled,” says Ellis-Toddington, who adds playing board games, like in the “old days,” might be a good option.

While social distancing is advocated during the pandemic, it’s still important for people to main connections with others, perhaps by social media or phone.

“Social support is a huge protective factor in any mental-health struggle,” she notes.

It’s also helpful to get outside every day. Exercise, sunshine and fresh air are all effective ways to boost your spirits and ease stress levels.

For many, the stress might involve jobs that are impacted by the crisis, but there’s solidarity in knowing that many others are facing the same challenges.

“We’ve got to find a way through it, all of us together,” Ellis-Toddington says.

 

Tips for coping with anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic:

Limit access to social media.

It is important to find a healthy balance between staying informed and becoming overly preoccupied with COVID-19. Frequent checking can increase anxiety and create unnecessary feelings of panic. Tips for creating balance include limiting time on social media (e.g.,checking once in the morning) and seeking reputable sources for updates (e.g., AHS website).

Make self care a priority.

Eat healthy and regularly, get rest and adequate sleep, exercise, and get sunshine. Go outside for a bit each day, even if it’s just for a walk around the block.

Stay connected with others.

Connect with others even if you must do so virtually. Isolation can enhance feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and anxiety. Social support is a huge protective factor for all mental health struggles, including depression and anxiety. Reach out to your supports often and regularly. Share your thoughts and feelings with others; it’s likely they are experiencing many of the same emotions and concerns as you are.

Remember anxiety is a normal response.

Anxiety helps to keep us safe. Use your feelings of anxiety in constructive ways such as to fuel connection with others and care for yourself.

Tap into spiritual supports.

At times like this, many of us will have existential concerns, such as fear of death, and a feeling that the world is random and beyond one’s control. Try connecting to your life’s purpose and sources of meaning, be it spirituality, relationships, or pursuit of a cause.

Create structure and new routines.

Your regular routine has been disrupted. With so much unpredictability, it helps to know what your day will look like. Make task lists and set goals for yourself each day.

Engage in activities that bring you joy and a sense of mastery.

Be creative with your time now that many of your “go-to” activities have been cancelled, like sporting events and concerts. Perhaps it’s time to dust off the board games, pick up the musical instrument you forgot about, or reread your favourite novel.

Find a healthy outlet for your emotions.

It’s easy to turn to things like drugs or alcohol to numb or escape your feelings. Instead, try connecting with others and engaging in more healthy coping such as mindfulness, journaling, yoga and self-care.

(From Jennifer Ellis-Toddington, University of Lethbridge)

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