Managing Your Anxiety during Anxious Times

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Different & Able editor Erin here, writing to share some strategies that I’ve found helpful for dealing with my anxiety about Covid19. A little background: I’ve had anxiety for as long as I can remember. Two decades of therapy have helped me gain some insight into practical strategies that work to control it. Usually I don’t need to implement these strategies daily in order to feel well. When I was younger and my anxiety was less under control they were crucial, but now they’ve become so ingrained that I don’t really need to think about them consciously. That said, I realized early that Covid19 was going to be a huge mental health challenge, and since the beginning of the pandemic I’ve reintroduced them. It’s helped a lot. Here are some things you can try if you feel like you’re spinning with anxiety right now.

1. Look to the future, but not too far in the future. 

If you’re feeling depression right now, which for so many of us is a cousin of anxiety, I get it. One way I’ve been hedging against getting bogged down by depression is to plan ahead, but not too far ahead. By that I mean, I am planning out my days and the coming weeks carefully, but not looking further into the future than that. For instance, like so many people, I don’t know how Covid19 will affect me professionally. I won’t know that for a few months, at least. So now is not the time to focus on that part of my future, since I have so little information and can’t do anything about it. Instead, I’m focusing on the day ahead of me and the week to come. How will I feed my family this week? What meals will I make to utilize everything in the pantry and avoid trips to the store? These are the questions I’m trying to answer, instead of wondering where we’ll all be in a year. 

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Graffiti on a wall which reads: "Today I will not stress over things I can't control."

Image Description: Graffiti on a wall which reads: "Today I will not stress over things I can't control."

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2. Plan your days carefully. 

Each morning I’ve taken 20 minutes or so to plan my day in a detailed manner. It has been extremely helpful. For instance, today’s schedule looks like this: 

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A hand-written schedule which Erin created to organize her day.

Image Description: A hand-written schedule which Erin created to organize her day.

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I write it in pencil so that I can change it as the day goes on. If I make a change, I add it. I’m not hard on myself about whether I stick exactly to the schedule, but I do make sure to record any changes. This helps me feel in control. I make sure to add daily exercise like walking my dog, and meditation, as well as dedicated time with friends and family. (I enjoy taking a lunch break from work with my husband, and watching Love Is Blind in the evenings over FaceTime with friends!)

3. Adjust your perspective 

A common experience for those with anxiety disorders is to catastrophize. We tend to exaggerate the consequences of small actions, and are liable to think that they condemn us to a certain future. This is not true! There is very little in life that you can’t revise. Remember that if you’re alive and well, and surrounded by people you love (both digitally and IRL), you are very, very lucky. If you don’t lose a loved one or get sick yourself in Covid19, you are very, very lucky. All the other stuff is just detail at this point. So don’t allow yourself to catastrophize right now.

Talk back to your own mind when you hear yourself say things like, “this is going to ruin all my chances” or “I’ll never become x now!” Tell yourself: “I am healthy, I have a safe place to live, and people who love me. If I have those things, I can survive.”

4. Stay updated, but don’t overdo it. 

Don’t stare at your phone all day. It won’t help. Add a time to read the news into your daily schedule and stick to it. Give yourself half an hour in the morning and half an hour in the evening to catch up, and then cut yourself off.

5. Be kind to yourself. 

This is not the time to add pressure. I’ve been hearing a lot of people saying things like, “what are you going to do with your pandemic time?” This makes me anxious. I’m not going to put any extra pressure on myself now--not going to try a new exercise regimen, not going to try to learn a new hobby unless it’s seriously easy and I enjoy it, and not going to expect myself to excel. This is a time to stick to routine and do your best, not to overdo it. Even if you can do a lot with this time, doing so may exhaust you and leave you too tired to stick to routine the next day. Take it from a former over-achiever: slow and steady is the way to go right now.

6. Do things for other people that make you feel good.

Anxiety tends to make us selfish. I say that not as a value judgement, just as an observation: for me, at least, anxiety gets me stuck in my own mind, my own feelings, and my own experiences. One good way to trick your brain into forgetting your own anxiety is to do things for other people who are more in need than yourself. I've been sewing masks for doctors in need, as well as checking in on my elderly neighbors to see if they need supplies that they can't get. This helps me a) put my own problems in perspective, b) stay busy doing something that makes me feel good and c) feel some agency over a situation in which I have little control.

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A white board reads: "Do Good, Be Good."

Image Description: A white board reads: "Do Good, Be Good."

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