Recent instability from the Coronavirus has caused an unprecedented response from our culture at large. Daily volatility, uncertainty, and personal disruption of our normalcy has stressed a population that already struggles with anxiety as a whole. Here are some quick tips to start dealing with anxiety today.
1) Moving Closer to Acceptance:
Fear, anxiety, and panic are all powerfully distressing signals from our body that something is threatening our immediate safety. The same fight/flight/freeze circuitry in our sympathetic nervous system that has helped people survive in the past is still active in modern life. When a threat is perceived it will activate this system because the body will always choose to protect itself in the present no matter the cost in the future. The current perceived threat from our culture is that precious resources such as food will be disrupted, pulling on powerful instinctual drives to find safety. However sitting in fear, panic, and anxiety can be overwhelming and detrimental to our health. Start accepting that fear is here through paying attention to your body. How does it feel? Tense? Electric? Jumpy? A tight chest and shoulders? Racing thoughts? Catastrophizing? Begin to map when your body is in a state of anxiety vs when it is not to know the difference. Even with just a little awareness we can begin to reframe our experience from jumping into worry or panic into noticing that our body is experiencing worry or panic. We can have compassion for ourselves in our body’s efforts to always protect ourselves no matter what, along with calming back to rational thoughts.
2) Immediate grounding skills
Four Square Breathing: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=MoQVgJx_QN4
Above is a link to a tutorial for four square breathing, a simple, easy to learn, and effective way to find calm by tapping into our autonomic nervous system through our breath. My favorite variation is to lengthen the exhale longer than the inhale. This engages the parasympathetic nervous system quickly, because if you are able to take deep breaths out, your body understands that it is in a safe place. Practice makes perfect in the development of calming tools. You will want to have an understanding of how it affects you before you need it.
Guided Meditation: https://insighttimer.com/
Above is a link for the Insight Timer app. It is free and has thousands of guided meditations that help us engage in our parasympathetic nervous system (rest and relaxation). I recommend beginning with guided meditation due to the immediate benefits that the external voice gives us through instruction. Focused meditations with no external voice to guide us takes time to implement and grow in their skill. Guided meditations provide something fast and have several different variations. I recommend searching for something you like, practicing it like the four square breathing, and having a familiarity with it for when you need it the most.
Knowing what you need to know and nothing more:
Our access to information is overwhelming, especially when our culture is experiencing a crisis. What is incredibly helpful also can be incredibly harmful. I strongly recommend knowing the facts that you need to know: Hand washing, social distancing, likelihood of vectoring the virus, etc. and nothing more. I see how unregulated consumption of social media and the news results in an increase in anxious symptoms for people who struggle with anxiety or those who are experiencing anxiety from the viral concerns. Plan on as little contact as needed with social media for the immediate future, or designate someone within your family to let you know about relevant updates. We must starve the source to alleviate overall anxious symptoms. Choose to engage in media that is more positive, connective, and distracting and you will be surprised at how it will affect you.
Planning your Day:
Many people are struggling with being homebound and find themselves trapped in cabin fever along with anxious symptoms. With so much out of our control as a culture it can be helpful to focus on what we can control. Creating a schedule or plan for ourselves can help us find structure and control, with it bracing against all of the upheaval that we are experiencing. Everyone has a calendar on their phone. Keep it simple and adhere. Compliance is the science and even small things like a ten minute walk can leave us feeling refreshed and more engaged in homebound life.
3) Connection is the Cure:
Sitting in anxiety, fear, and panic can feel incredibly shameful and isolating. One of the main benefits of psychotherapy is the act of coming out of isolation and into connection through the process. I encourage everyone to try to find feelings of connection and safety to help come out of feelings of anxiety. Think of a friend, spouse, or family member who is non-judgmental and supportive that you can call on when feeling anxious. Simply checking in on loved ones during a crisis can be a powerful antidote to anxious feelings, because anxiety thrives in the unknown. If you are homebound with your family, think of your connections as a sanctuary and plan fun activities that will bring you together and away from fears of our current volatility.
We are in unprecedented times and the entire team at Integrated Health Systems wants to do our part by stepping in and helping our patients brace against all of the uncertainty we are all experiencing at large. If you or a loved one is struggling to manage anxiety please reach out for a consultation. Anxiety is distressing but readily treatable. Stay healthy and safe.
Jacob Meyer, LSW, LAC