Six Tips For Taming Anxiety & Overwhelm During The Coronavirus Crisis
It's 1am. For the tenth time this week I am refreshing the Amazon.com site to see if my grocery items that I've lovingly carted, over and over, will actually be given a time slot for delivery. I wait. My heart pounds. No dice. This is the ritual that has become my new normal, rinse and repeat - fill cart on myriad websites, refresh, pray valiantly for delivery, and...all attempts end in futility and cursing at my screen. I've never felt so anxious about going to the grocery store, simply to buy food. But these are the times we are living in.
I'll admit, all things considered, that's not too bad for me, someone who has suffered from chronic anxiety her whole life, and a more recent diagnosis of PTSD and hypochondriasis; Coronavirus should be squarely in my wheelhouse and also my kryptonite. But, ironically, it hasn't been. I'm not sure if it's the years of practice, preparing for a catastrophe that never arrived, the finely-honed skills of fear-based worst-case-scenario-ing, or the years of therapy that have prepared me, but overall, I've been nothing but strong and resilient. And so, I'm here to share my tips with you in the hopes that you can gain some tools in your toolbox and some calm in your storm:
1. Limit your exposure to news media and social media: While it's tempting to want to stay connected, check hourly infection rates across the country and in your region, listen to news briefings and watch the latest warning videos on facebook, just step away from the scrolling. Being informed is one thing, but being overwhelmed is another, and too much information beyond what the current shelter-in-place instructions are in your region, and when/if your kids are going back to school (hint: they aren't) can add to anxiety and a sense of overwhelm.
Part of overwhelm can be an excessive amount of input and information, especially about things you can't change. Choose a specific time of day and set a timer, 15 minutes should be enough to learn what is going on without being flooded with terrifying information.
2. Get a good night's sleep: Easier said than done when you are anxious and scrolling late at night on social media (see Tip #1!). We know that lack of restorative sleep can exacerbate symptoms of anxiety and overwhelm, and that anxiety and overwhelm can contribute to insomnia, so it's a bit of a vicious circle that I definitely try to break with clients right away.
Definitely put away the electronics and screens at least 1 hour prior to bedtime (2 is even better) - exposure to blue light can drastically reduce melatonin production which is the hormone needed for sleep. Although it's tempting to stay up late, sleep in, and generally have no schedule at all during this bizarre time of limbo for many of us, try to develop a set routine, going to bed and waking up at roughly the same time every day. If you don't, don't sweat it or beat yourself up about staying up late. Embrace it as part of this in between time.
If you truly can't sleep, try reading or journaling or some of the other techniques listed in this article. Taking a small amount of melatonin (I generally recommend 1-2.5 mg to start with rather than the often quoted dosage of 10mg for adults) may help as long as it is not contraindicated with any of your health conditions or medications (ask your doctors). As a lifelong insomniac, it's definitely been a lifesaver, and as a side bonus, it may even help with anxiety.
3. Start your day with meditation: Alarm goes off, I jolt out of bed, kiddo is already screaming about not wanting to wear clothes to school, dog is barking, husband is agitated about work, I'm scrolling on facebook freaking out about something, I'm checking and deleting junk emails and my nerves are shot before the day has even begun. Or at least, that's how it used to be.
Now I have a non-negotiable commitment to myself that unless the house is on fire, I'm sitting on my luscious velvet meditation pillow doing 10 minutes of Headspace. When I start my day off on the right foot, with a more grounded, present energy, I am much more able to tackle whatever life throws at me, including the curveballs. I usually try the daily offering, or one of the many programs they provide on topics like anxiety, overwhelm, focus, stress, etc.
They even have a new section of meditations called "Weathering The Storm" that are specifically tailored to the current pandemic and are completely free to any users. Headspace is also being offered free of charge to health care professionals.
4. Make a list: part of overwhelm for me includes the feeling of needing to do All The Things all at once. I recently had a client describe this so perfectly: "there are a million things I need to do and a trillion things I want to do..." Oh, yes. I'm familiar.
Sometimes it helps to get that running tally out of your brain where there are a million tabs open and on to a single piece of paper where you can touch and feel it and it can't swirl around in your delicate amygdala, delivering constant jolts of adrenaline.
Once you have that list, start crossing off anything that isn't essential or can wait. Focus on the now. Chunk things into 1-3 tasks per day. Actually accomplishing them and crossing them off both your physical and mental to-do list will feel so good. Trust me. And there is some evidence that making lists can actually help quell anxiety as well and may improve sleep if you make a list prior to going to bed.
5. Focus on what you can control: while the whole world may have seemed like it's been turned upside down and life as we knew it has been completely redefined, there are ways to preserve normalcy and a sense of control over your little corner of the universe.
Focusing on the present moment and the things within your current sphere of influence can really help reduce that overwhelming feeling of hopelessness. Setting a schedule for yourself and your family. Getting outside and getting moving. Creating healthy, nourishing meals. Even something as simple as getting up and taking a shower. That's taking control back from the overwhelming abyss of "everything is awful and I don't even know where to begin." One step at a time. But take a step.
Oh, and how did I solve my insane grocery conundrum? I gave up, admitted defeat, donned my mask and gloves and did battle at Whole Foods and got exactly the groceries I wanted and needed. What was causing me all of that anxiety was the fact that I could NOT control having groceries delivered. I couldn't magically make delivery times appear, even though many friends in different zip codes infuriatingly could. And it seemed too scary to go out to the store. But once I took back control? Realized that I am young, healthy and have protection? Stress, anxiety and overwhelm = gone.
6. Get into a flow state of action and gratitude: throughout most of my life, singing in choirs has absolutely made my anxiety disappear. The combination of deep breathing, community, making gorgeous music, and the concentration required to simultaneously sing words in another language, hit the right notes and listen for harmonies while watching the conductor doesn't leave much room for the amygdala to over fire. The endorphins and oxytocin don't hurt either.
When you can get into a state of flow, you are grounded in the present moment, not obsessing about the past, nor freaking out about the imagined bleak future. When I'm absorbed in my work - writing, coaching, public speaking, I also have no anxiety, because I am required to repeat that timeless mantra: Be Here Now.
Even better if the activities you choose to focus on in some way benefit other people. Work on sewing face masks. Help your child master the New Math (if you're really feeling ambitious). Deliver groceries to an elderly neighbor (while maintaining a safe distance). Or just crank Taylor Swift and dance around your living room, shaking it off.
Appreciating and focusing on what we have and really living in the moment prevents our brain from time traveling, hurtling through space to some dystopian planet. Even if it feels like that's the reality we are living in. Most of us are fortunate to have our health, our family and friends just a Zoom call away, and a renewed purpose in life to make the most of things, in spite of, or maybe precisely because of, what's going on.
And last but not least, there is always the option of seeking professional help. Many therapists are offering telemedicine right now, and the ADAA has a whole host of resources, as does mentalhealth.gov if you need urgent, immediate assistance. Don't think you have to manage it all on your own. We are all in this together.
If you enjoyed this article, please share it with your friends and networks. And to stay up to date on all things health and wellness, subscribe to my monthly newsletter and to get my FREE downloadable guide “5 Surprising Ways To Boost Your Energy” . I’m also more than happy to answer any questions via email, or on Facebook. To book a free, private Discovery Session with me, just schedule your appointment here! Click to learn more about my brand new Overcoming Overwhelm 90-minute session. Stay safe, healthy, and Wild about Wellness!