How to Manage Anxiety and Fear in Uncertain Times
The recent outbreak of COVID – 19, the coronavirus has led all of us to experience some feelings of fear and anxiety. This is natural and very human.
By Randi Young, M.S.W., R.S.W – Psychotherapist
Anxiety and worry are natural responses to uncertainty and lack of control over events in our lives. There is much uncertainty about the course of this outbreak, and like many things in life, we cannot really predict what will happen in the future. So how do we cope with these feelings of fear and anxiety?
There is a saying that can be helpful in these kinds of circumstances:
“Control what you can… Accept what you can’t”
Experiencing the sensations associated with anxiety including increased heart rate, butterflies in the stomach, shallow breathing is important to pay attention to. It is our alarm system going off in our body telling us something is happening. And it also can tell us what we need to do. When we can tune into what may be causing this, we can then do something about it. Dwelling on negative thoughts often increases our anxiety and trying not to think about the worry usually doesn’t work. Try right now to not think about a lemon. I think you can see why focusing on not thinking about a worry is often impossible.
Action can help us to manage our anxiety and fear even if we don’t “feel” like doing anything. We can feel more in control and divert our focus and attention to something other than our worrisome thoughts and physical sensations.
There are many things we can do to manage through these times of concern by taking action to help to reduce fear and anxiety.
If you are worrying about catching the virus, we all now know the things that we can do to help us limit exposure. As a nation, we are all doing this through social distancing and staying home as much as possible. Taking all the health precautions we can as recommended by our government and health officials is how you address your worry.
Continued exposure to the news can increase anxiety and worry for many. If you know that you’re sensitive to worrying based on what you hear or see from media reporting from twitter, social media, or news reports, take breaks from watching or listening to these. Fill your time with other activities. This is the action to address the influences that increase your anxiety.
If you’re experiencing a lot of negative thoughts and you’re going to the “worst case scenario”, reach out to others about your concerns including family, friends and even health care professionals.
Talk to people.
Sitting with negative thoughts and continually going over them sends you down the rabbit hole of negativity which can increase your anxiety. Turning your attention to other activities helps you to focus on other thoughts, distracting you from focusing on the negative.
- Go for a walk/ jog
- Do yoga
- Phone a friend
- Play a game
- Watch a movie
- Listen to music
- Bake a cake
Time with Family
These are just a few ideas. Take the time to come up with your own toolbox of activities you can do to reduce your anxiety.
Even though these are activities you may not “feel” like doing, pushing beyond the feeling helps us to change how we feel. Taking notice of what’s happening around us using all of our senses helps us to be mindful in the moment and take us away from our negative thinking. Hearing the birds chirping on our walk, smelling spring in the air, taking big deep breaths, touching the lighter jacket we’re wearing, seeing the crocus’s coming up, all help us in the moment to change our focus from our worry and anxious thoughts.
Experiencing anxiety and fear in response to COVID-19 is to be human. Focus on what is within your control to change in order to change how you feel and accept that together we will get through this challenging time, even though we may not be able to predict exactly when.