We at Interim, Inc., understand that the current coronavirus outbreak has triggered additional stress and anxiety in those already confronting mental illness.
During this time of crisis, we all must manage two things simultaneously: Protecting ourselves from the virus while guarding ourselves from harmful stress and anxiety.
If your anxiety, fear, and worry has been overwhelming of late, put these strategies into practice.
- Media distancing: To stop the spread of COVID-19, we’ve all had to practice social distancing. But to stop the spread of anxiety, we must distance ourselves from the onslaught of bad news. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. The media is bombarding us with 24/7 coverage of the pandemic, and that negative news is the driver of those thoughts. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media. And if you are extremely fearful, stop watching and reading news altogether.
- Take action: The more your mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you feel. You can’t stop thoughts from entering your mind, but you can choose to stop dwelling on them, and you can choose to take action to solve problems. There is a huge difference between worrying and problem solving. Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions. Don’t take the bait. Instead, turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Spinning your wheels with questions that don’t have answers will take you down the rabbit hole of fear. Instead, find creative measures to get you through this storm until you can get back on your feet. Push yourself to take one uncomfortable step at a time. The goal is to stay afloat until the storm passes.
- Don’t react to symptoms: If you cough, it does not mean you have COVID-19. The same is true for others who cough. Allergies, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, and the cold are more common — and a more likely explanation. Accept uncertainty as you do in other areas of life and assume what is most likely. Do not go looking for symptoms, as this will only reinforce your worries and increase anxiety.
- Focus on being productive: Although we have no control over the crisis, we must focus on where we do have control — our response to the crisis. This is an opportunity to try something new or something we easily put off. Organize a messy room, paint a wall, clean the garage, edit the photos on your phone, read a book, play a board game. You can also learn a new skill or start a new hobby. Creating and accomplishing puts your attention on what is satisfying.
- Don’t buy into the myths: We’ve heard it all before. Anxiety is not really a disease. You should be able to snap out of it. Alcohol, marijuana or just breathing into a paper bag will alleviate symptoms. Although we can’t see anxiety on X-rays or detect it in blood samples, this very real condition can be diagnosed and treated. While it’s true that a small portion of human anxiety is natural, extreme forms of anxiety can become a disorder, causing total impairment. And remember, drugs and alcohol might give you a moment’s relief, but these substances will ultimately work against you.
In the end, it’s important to realize that there are treatments and therapies that help identify and treat the cause of your anxiety. You don’t need to do this alone. If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through this difficult time.