Anxiety is often defined as fear of uncertainty. As a therapist, I often find myself helping my patients understand the legitimacy of these fears. Through hard work and a strong alliance with my patients, we face the fears, question its validity and as a result, reduce the anxiety. But times today are different. Our world is now full of real uncertainties; uncertainties about what Covid-19 means for us as a society, as a family and as an individual. Many of our patients with preexisting anxiety disorders are describing a sense of “legitimized anxiety”. Recently, I had a patient who told me that his OCD is helping him keep his family safe as his previously “over the top” hygiene practices are now being regarded as approaches to minimize contamination. Anxiety can be productive as it propels us to take action and make the necessary changes to stay safe. None-the-less, many of us struggle in an age of anxiety and now our fears have grown to unsurmountable levels. Covid-19 has pushed us to the next level of legitimized anxiety. How do we get through these trying times where answers are often elusive and uncomfortable?
Some answers can be found when we identify how we view control over our lives or what control means to us. The current uncertainty that Covid-19 represents is leaving us feeling helpless and without control. How long will this last? Will it impact my family or my loved ones? How will our day-to-day life change? Many may already be experiencing the changes that the Covid-19 pandemic has caused. We have children home from school or maybe some of us have lost our jobs. Uncertainty has affected our “life as usual”. Our lives are different and we just want some sense of the familiar and some sense of hope. A helpful way to address this sense of helplessness and lack of control is to consider how often we apply possibility thinking versus probability thinking. The likelihood of being affected is greater in certain areas of our world than in others and through certain actions. Consider all the variables and what this specifically means for your individual situation and then put into perspective your individual risk.
Regardless of your degree of risk and preexisting anxiety disorder, there are a number of things we can all do right now to regain a sense of control over our lives and the consequent sense of hope for the future that results when we feel empowered. As we face this unique crisis we can manage and control our runaway anxiety and overwhelming fears. Following are some suggestions.
Know your information
- Know what is real news and what is rumor. It is very important that we stay informed in this continuously changing environment. However, there are many rumors running around. Just earlier this week, my 19 year old daughter home from college announced that our community had begun enforcing an 8:00pm curfew. I am enrolled in my town’s Community Newsletter which I receive through email. I had just received a recent newsletter that very day and noticed where they specifically stated that news of a curfew in our town was only a rumor. I felt empowered for knowing where to go to find the information I needed.
- It is important to always stay aware of the sources of your news. Only consider news coming from reliable sources such as Centers for Disease Control (CDC), the World Health Organization (WHO), White House briefings, local public health and community government information sites.
- Do not check your phone or television for news every ten minutes. This limit is unique to each person but consider it a good idea to limit your news exposure to the same times of day, each day.
Stay aware of what you can control.
- Follow the directions of the CDC on how to reduce your chances of getting the virus and protecting your family.
- Take care of your wellbeing. Set aside time to meditate. You can start this with 5 minutes a day of mindful breathwork. This is where you imagine breathing out stress and anxiety and breathing in peace and relaxation. If 5 minutes seems like too long, take in 7 breaths/exhales. Start a stretching routine, read the book you’ve been wanting to find time to read, buy art supplies and learn a new craft or practice an old one. Go for a walk and take pictures with your phone of images that stand out. Share with friends on social media. Try new recipes with all the groceries you’ve stocked up on.
Reach out for help.
- Reconnect with friends through phone calls and social media. Set aside a specific time during your day for “distant socializing”. It can be very enjoyable to watch the same movie at the same time with a good friend while in separate physical spaces. Afterwards call each other and share thoughts about the movie. We become more insightful and consider the meaning of things that in the days prior to Covid-19 we might have rushed right by.
- Talking to a mental health professional can help you identify any distorted thinking or other thoughts that can be making this difficult situation even more hard to cope with. At KHC, we are expanding our mental health programs to include telehealth so you can reach one of our licensed mental health therapists from your own home or work. Most insurance companies are currently covering this benefit. Talk to one of our patient care coordinators in Miami, WPB, Weston or Orlando and schedule an appointment.
Whether you have a preexisting anxiety disorder, depression or just find yourself overwhelmed by the uncertainties of our current world, within us we have the tools to work our way through these difficult times. Eventually our world will become more predictable again. For now, lets stay well informed with accurate information, increase our sense of control by letting go of what we can’t control and focusing on the things we can and lets connect and never hesitate to reach out for help.