As we face unprecedented changes to our way of life, it is natural to feel an elevated level of stress and anxiety. However, if you are already a person who struggles with an anxiety or depressive condition, this increase in baseline may lead to an overwhelming level of distress or fear. It may contribute to negative thought patterns and lead to diminished coping. In this particularly challenging time in our lives, it has become even more important to develop and practice positive coping, model these adaptive responses in our families and shift our focus toward what is most important in our lives. But...that is all easier said than done...so I have put together a list of practical CBT-informed strategies that we may all benefit from integrating during this time of great uncertainty.
Consider whether a constant stream of COVID-conversation is helpful to you... In a situation with ever-changing recommendations, it is important to stay informed... yet too much time spent consuming or seeking information can amplify our anxiety response. I encourage you to set boundaries for yourself - set aside a specific time each day (perhaps once in the morning and once in the evening) to review recommendations and update your arsenal of information. At all other times during the day, work to stay present and focused on productive, enjoyable and value-based activities.
Build your tolerance for uncertainty. As humans (and particularly humans in our current situation) it is often impossible to have full certainty. It is distressing that we do not know more about the pandemic and it's spread; and it is distressing that we may not know exactly how to handle ourselves in the face of it. But, the way we cope with this level of uncertainty has an impact on our personal experience. Giving ourselves permission to know what we know and accept the limits of our knowledge will reduce the stress we feel.
Make decisions based on facts vs. feelings. Emotions often guide us away from logic & into irrational or excessive response styles. Focus on the CDC and WHO recommendations. Use what we DO know as a guide for your actions versus the worry about what we do not. Work to resist the anxious or obsessive-compulsive urge to go overboard, focus on doing only what is recommended, not more.
Focus on what you CAN do versus what you CANNOT do. It is quite easy to get lost in what we have lost as a result of this pandemic. But shifting focus toward what we still can do may help us to identify unique opportunities to reconnect with ourselves, our families and our values. Maybe this is an opportunity to start or finish that project you have been putting off, begin YouTube lessons to learn an instrument you've always wanted to play, bust out the board games that your kids are always asking to play, try a new recipe, etc. Focus on the rose, not the thorn, and you may find that you are able to turn this into an experience you'll reflect on with a hint of sentimentality (& not just fear) later in life.
Self-Care. In a time where much seems (and is!) out of our control, what we do to care for ourselves is very much in our control. Follow a consistent sleep schedule. Eat well. Get Exercise. Practice mindfulness. These are musts for increasing your physical and mental strength and will have a beneficial effect on your overall health and well-being.
Keep to a Schedule. Do your best to keep routines in place in your home. If not in place before or if school/work typically drove those for you, build your family a simple, consistent plan for each day. This should include sleep/wake/meal times and time for physical activity. Limit screen time (as best you can) to certain times of day versus allowing access all day long. Maybe screen time is granted as a reward/treat for you/your children after completing a productive activity versus as the go-to activity for the day.
Identify your values and use these as a guide when fear tries to take over. What is important to you? What makes you feel like you? Family, faith, creating, cooking, being of service to others...lean in to these when uncertainty or fear seem to be stealing your focus. We may need to work harder to find or feel these in stressful times (and that's okay!). Make a list of value-based activities or tasks that you can pull from in moments when you find yourself spinning on thoughts/fears. Engage in the activity fully.
And if one thing is for certain, know you are not alone in feeling anxious. Make sure you are able to communicate your needs to your spouse or family members, let them know how you are feeling and where you might need a little help navigating through this temporary new life. Reach out to your therapist or seek one out if you are having trouble finding a path.
COPING WITH ANXIETY & UNCERTAINTY
2-PART VIDEO SERIES
I sat down with colleagues, Ashley Smith, Amy Jacobsen and Heather Smith, to talk about dealing with anxiety and uncertainty during the coronavirus outbreak.
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