Anxiety can be difficult to deal with at the best of times. Heightened anxiety during the Covid-19 health crisis can make this difficult situation even worse.
Stress and anxiety aren’t topics we normally cover at Art & Home. After all, one of the best ways to relieve stress is to surround yourself with positive and beautiful things, and to share those beautiful things with others. I try to do that on a regular basis.
Sometimes, it’s minimal… just a general feeling of being ill at ease. Like the idea in the back of your mind that you might have left the stove on before you went to the grocery store.
Sometimes, it verges on a panic attack, where you can feel the tightness in your chest growing, and have difficulty focusing on everyday tasks. This is what I refer to the “Bracing for Impact” phase, because you just KNOW something bad is about to happen.
That knowledge is often false, or – at the very least – exaggerated. If the washing machine starts making a funny noise, you might immediately jump to the conclusion that it is going to die, which means you won’t be able to do laundry, which means you will – eventually – end up homeless and dirty.
Perhaps I exaggerate a little bit, but perhaps I don’t. It really depends on how badly I get wound up on a given day.
Over the past few years, I have taken certain measures to help deal with my anxiety.
I have reduced my caffeine intake – dramatically. Don’t get me wrong, I still LOVE coffee, but I have learned to love decaf coffee nearly as much. And I almost never drink cola drinks anymore, something I do miss.
I try to exercise regularly, going for a walk every day and listening to music often helps relieve some of the built-up stress from the day.
Sugar and I are no longer really good friends. I miss you, Sugar, but it wasn’t a healthy relationship.
And when I do indulge in something sweet, it tends to be toward dark chocolate, as research studies have shown that the nutrients in dark chocolate can help reduce anxiety.
And – for the most part – I have been able to self-manage my anxiety and only have to resort to medication on rare occasions when I just can’t seem to shake the feeling of impending doom.
And then the Coronavirus happened.
Heightened Anxiety Due to Covid-19
Stress and anxiety can be difficult to overcome in the best of times. Layer on the Covid-19 pandemic, economic uncertainties, and personal financial concerns, and it can easily become overwhelming.
Suddenly, my carefully controlled and calculated life is in a spiral of uncertainty.
There are so many things to worry about as the pandemic progresses. Will my friends and family remain safe and healthy? What will we do if someone we know and love gets sick? Or dies? How bad is this going to get? When will it be over? Will it ever, truly, be over? Will I be able to survive this crisis financially? What will happen to my retirement funds if the economy continues to suffer? Can I afford the next mortgage payment? What happens if I can’t?
Logic and reason dictate that if we all follow proper and prudent social distancing practices, we can flatten the curve and the chance of any of the disaster scenarios coming to be are reduced, but my anxiety doesn’t always want to listen to logic and reason. In fact, my anxiety often tells logic and reason to go take a long walk off a short pier. They don’t get along well these days.
Covid-19 and Anxiety Symptoms Can Feel Alike
One of the worst parts – for me – is how many symptoms of anxiety align with symptoms of Covid-19
Shortness of breath – Is it anxiety or Covid-19 induced pneumonia?
Feeling hot or cord – Is it anxiety or a fever?
Weakness and lethargy – Or is just your everyday malaise or is it Covid-19 related tiredness?
When you’re in the middle of dealing with anxiety, adding the additional worry that your anxiety symptoms might actually be Covid-19 symptoms does not help. At all.
For no particular reason, I have been taking my temperature every single day to make sure that I don’t have a fever. It may be a small thing, but it helps to know that I don’t have that symptom.
Anxiety Makes Covid-19 Worries Even Scarier
According to Healthline, people (like me) with Generalized Anxiety Disorder (otherwise known as GAD) experience constant anxiety and worry about activities or events, even those that are ordinary or routine. Therefore, a trip to the grocery store can become overly stressful. A trip to the grocery store during the Covid-19 crisis, where a contaminated box of cereal could kill you, is even worse.
The worry is greater than it should be given the reality of the situation. The worry causes physical symptoms in the body, such as headaches, stomach upset, or trouble sleeping.
Shopping right now is probably stressful for anyone. Well, anyone with a reasonable mindset who understands the risk of contact with other individuals outside of your own household.
Therefore, even those without anxiety issues are feeling the difficulties of dealing with the current crisis. Those with anxiety are experiencing it tenfold.
How to Deal with Anxiety Amid the Covid-19 Craziness
I wish I had a magical (non-pharmaceutical) pill that could make all of your anxiety go away, but I don’t.
However, there are some general tips to help deal with anxiety that apply just as much, if not more so, now than they ever have.
Talk with Someone
There’s a reason it’s called “getting it off my chest”. Sometimes, the act of talking about what is making you anxious with somebody that you know and trust can help relieve some of that pressure.
That is partly because just having that social interaction can help, in and of itself, and partly because verbalizing your concerns can often help you realize how unlikely they are to becoming reality.
After all, even if your washing machine does break down, how likely is it that this event would lead to a domino effect ending with you being homeless and alone. Probably not very likely.
Manage Your Worries
This can range from setting aside a certain time of the day to go over the “worries of the day” or keeping a worry journal where you right everything down. But try to control when and how you worry about things, so that worrying about things doesn’t control you.
Try to reality check your worries, similar to how you would if you were talking with someone. How likely are they to happen?
And always remember that worrying about something serves very little good. Finding solutions does, but the actually process of worrying that something MIGHT happen has little or no actual benefit.
“Worrying is as effective as trying to solve an algebra equation by chewing bubblegum.” – Baz Luhrman
Stay Healthy and Active
Eat well, sleep well, and do some physical activity. It can be a full workout in your home gym, or a simple walk with the dog (even if it’s just doing circles in your own back yard). Keeping a healthy body helps toward rebuilding a healthy mind.
The simple act of controlling your breathing can help give you back a sense of control over your life. Take some time out and breathe in and out mindfully and deeply. Plus, deep breathing exercises can be beneficial in battling the impact of Covid-19, so you’re covering both angles.
There are hours and hours (and hours) of reading that can be done on all of the vitamins, supplements, teas, foods, and more that you can consume to help with anxiety.
Some people find these amazingly beneficial, others find that have little to no effect.
Although I do believe that natural alternatives, if they are effective, are likely better for your in the long run than pharmaceutical options. But it would also be counterproductive to delve too deeply in the positive and negative effects of vitamins and nutrients on the Internet, as that is a rabbit hole that few anxiety suffers escape without something new to worry about.
Personally, I have found that a daily regimen of B-Complex, C, and E vitamins as well as a low dose of valerian at night can often keep my anxiety symptoms at bay.
Although I have discussed a lot of ways to implement self-care for dealing with anxiety, DO NOT feel ashamed if you need pharmaceutical help.
Talk to your doctor about your symptoms, even if you have to do it over the phone, and discuss options for when you are dealing with mild anxiety and for when your anxiety becomes severe enough that only a properly prescribed pill will do.
Make a Small and Achievable Daily To-Do List
There is something really nice about checking things off your to-do list, but don’t make a list that is so big and overwhelming that it actually causes more stress.
You don’t need to rearrange the garage, and do the Spring cleanup on the yard, and wash the dog, and detail the car all in one day.
Create small lists of things you know you can tackle that day and then check them off as they are done. If you got done early, you can add something else, or maybe a bigger project, to tomorrow’s list.
Writing this post checked one thing off my to do list. Now I have to go do laundry before the washing machine breaks and I end up homeless and dirty.
Try to Focus on the Good
Last, but certainly not least, positive thoughts can do a lot to help offset the negative effects of anxiety.
Look around the room and pick out your 4 favorite things. Listen to one of your favorite songs. Spend time cuddling or playing with your puppy (if you have one). Get your kids (if you have them) to draw you a picture.
There are literally thousands of things you can do that will bring a smile to your face. Pick a few. Do them.
Remember, this too shall pass
What you are feeling right now will come to an end. Your overwhelming sense of anxiety will ease. The Covid-19 crisis will come to an end.
Part of that process is learning to accept that this is how you feel in this exact moment, but it won’t last forever.
Lean into your feelings of anxiety. Examine them. Understand them. And tell them (and yourself) that they are only a temporary response to a temporary situation.
You’ve faced obstacles in the past, and – so far – you’ve overcome them 100% of the time. In time, you will look back and realize that this is no different.
Stay safe. Stay healthy. And breathe.