In situations of uncertainty, what you focus on is crucial. Right now, there’s a lot of information out there, parts of which might calm you down or stress you out. It’s normal to not know exactly how to deal with these situations, yet it’s still important to manage your emotions and take care of your mind.
Apart from the behaviors which you could implement now to help keep you on a schedule — such as working out, cooking, cleaning or learning — you can also be mindful about your emotions and your mental behaviors. To help you out on this journey of emotion management, we’ve asked experts to share with us some of their tips for managing stress and anxiety during this lock-down. Here’s what they told us:
Dr. Ashley Smith, Co-founder of Peak Mind: The Center for Psychological Strength
“My biggest tip for dealing with the uncertainty and stress related to COVID-19 goes hand in hand with the mental behaviors to avoid, which are unproductive worry and rumination. It is completely natural to feel anxious when faced with uncertainty, and our minds grapple to predict what will happen, plan and problem-solve, and, ultimately, find certainty, which provides a sense of safety and security.
I encourage people to ask themselves, “Is this a real problem (rather than a hypothetical one), for today, that I can control” before going down the mental spiral of what ifs, catastrophic predictions and unproductive planning. If not, then your best bet is to come back to the present moment — the here and now — and focus your attention on what you are doing and what your next action step is. If not, going down that spiral of unproductive worry is only going to increase anxiety.”
Dr. Elizabeth Cohen, CEO and Director of Dr. Elizabeth Cohen and Associates, CEO of Afterglow
“Feel your feet on the ground. When anxiety overtakes us you can feel like you are floating outside of your body. You might even feel lightheaded and dizzy. These reactions are our sympathetic nervous system (biological stress responses) in action. By feeling your feet on the floor, back in the chair, and breath coming in and out of your nostrils you quickly shift from the stress response to the relaxation response. In times of crisis we need to make good decisions. The decision making part of our brain works best when the relaxation response is activated. So, keep feeling your feet on the floor and your back in the chair. Ground yourself throughout the day.
Move the anxiety through your body (DANCE). We hold so much of our feelings in our bodies. Think of the last time you were worried about an email response you were anticipating. Feel your shoulders tense and your stomach tighten? Our body holds our stress and the more it holds the more it aches and hurts. Since we are being overloaded with stress right now we need to move the stress through our bodies. The best way to do this is to move. Run, jump, or dance. Find your favorite song and move your hips. Shake your body and let the feelings move through you.
Focus on what has not changed. Look around you right now and list 3 things that have not changed since the crisis. Are your plants still growing and needing water? Are your kids still asking you to bring them a snack? Are you still getting weather updates on your phone? Are you still brushing your teeth (I hope so)? Focus on what is staying the same. Do what you can to keep routines.
Allow yourself to feel your fear. Over the past week I have been noticing that my clients feel as if they need to take a stance on the crisis. Either they can feel like this is the worst thing that has ever happened or it is being blown out of proportion. I have said over 100 times this week that there is a response in between. You can be worried and feel fear without having to catastrophize or minimize. Allow yourself to feel some fear and concern without panicking and you will be able to make better decisions. You do not have to be anything more or less than what you are in this moment. Feel your feelings and share them with someone close to you. Don’t try to push your feelings away or they will just come out sideways.
List times when you handled the unknown. Not knowing what is going to happen and how long this crisis will last causes lots of fear in all of us. It is important to keep in mind that there have been other situations in which you felt afraid in a situation with an unknown outcome and you made it through. For example, birthing a child, graduating from school, starting a new job, learning to ride a bicycle or learning to drive a car. Write down a list of the unknown situations you handled in the past. Keep this as a reference point to your ability to handle unknown situations. You can handle this one too!
Renters should avoid asking themselves when will this be over. When you have this urge, ask yourself what you need right now and see how you can get it.”
Dr. Kevin Chapman, Founder and Director of The Kentucky Center for Anxiety and Related Disorders (KYCARDS)
“I have developed an acronym that should be helpful during the COVID-19 pandemic as we continue social distancing. The acronym is ‘FIGHT’: ‘F’ stands for focusing on what you can control. None of us can control the length of time that this pandemic will last or make it go away any faster. However, we can control our own actions during this time and focus on living in the present moment, one day at a time.
The ‘I’ stands for identifying negative thoughts. Negative thoughts fuel anxiety and increase distress about uncertainty. ‘G’ stands for generating alternative thoughts. Alternative thoughts should be flexible in nature. It is the generation of alternative thoughts that leads to different emotional experiences during this time.
‘H’ stands for highlighting adaptive behaviors. We can still stay socially connected even though we are physically distant. Being able to workout from home with a virtual trainer, staying connected with friends through teleconference, and keeping a daily schedule are all adaptive behaviors. The ‘T’ stands for teaching someone else to do the same.”
Dr. Kevin Fleming, Founder of Grey Matters International
“If the wise one who said ‘happiness is in the waiting room of happiness’ is correct, than this big waiting room of life is actually holding some graces: to see life, our compulsions, and restless spirits in a new way. Sure, there will be objective ‘stir crazy’ feelings that will come and go, but what we have found in the neuroscience research is that for the brain to make breakthrough-type insights, it needs to first have a radical inhibiting of input streams of ‘data’ that it has gotten used to and has prepared rote automatic responses, models and other comfortable ways of viewing things.
This ‘monkey wrench’ thrown into our lives, if we allow it, can be a new input stream of immense surrendering, reformulations and creativity to hear and listen to what we have been avoiding in our lives — be it a relationship that needs a healing, a conversation we have ignored, or something that needs to be changed in our decision making/lives that we have buried underneath all the compulsive ‘goings out’ and seemingly important commitments ‘out there’, in the world. So, my advice here is to turn this time upside down, look in between and inside or behind the obscuring issue in your mind. I guarantee you will see the thing that most needed change within yourself — even more than the ‘self help stuff’ you were doing when the world was accommodating to your going out.
I would avoid the following mental behaviors during this unprecedented time: over-stimulation via electronic devices, given the heightened arousal and anxiety effects on the nervous system; not staying in the present; fear-based thinking; not practicing ‘radical acceptance’.”
Dr. Marni Amsellem, Founder of Smart Health Psychology
“Think about how you can create a daily routine that works for you and how your day looks right now. This may change from week to week as work, access to food and resources are currently ever-changing. As your needs change, adapt your routine accordingly. Separate your work space from your living and sleeping space the best you can. We need a space where we can go and know that it is designated for the purpose of sleep or the purpose of work. Keeping this structure can help us maintain a sense of normalcy.
Pay attention to behaviors that you are doing now that you might not have been doing this way before. If there are things that you are doing that are not working for you, now is a great time to make that change. With all of this time inside that is requiring us to slow down, it can be a great time to pick up a pen and notebook, and start journaling. If you’re looking for any tips, I have offered some on my journaling-focused website WriteReflectGrow.”