How to manage your anxiety during this COVID-19 pandemic

Photo by William Farlow on Unsplash

The COVID-19 pandemic has brought a range of challenges and stressors into our everyday lives. These are unprecedented times. There is no roadmap to tell us exactly how to navigate this situation. We now live in fear and even panic that we might catch the virus and pass it on.

We worry about loved ones becoming infected, we worry about the financial impact of the shutdown on our lives, and we wonder if food supplies will run out. Some of us might have even been diagnosed with COVID-19 and are either in the hospital fighting for our lives or confined at home while receiving treatment!

People are impacted by this pandemic differently, and we know emotions can be heightened and uncertain. While worry can alert us to actions we need to take to remain safe and secure, worry can also lead to anxiety, panic and impulsivity. 

In addition, a large majority of people are now spending more time at home, whether because they have lost their employment, because they must take care of their children or a sick family member, or because they are now forced to work from home. Furthermore, social distancing can increase feelings of isolation.

There has never been a more critical time to focus on your health and build your resilience. What is resilience? It is the ability to not fold under pressure, even if you don’t feel calm and confident. Here are a few suggestions:

  • Reduce your anxiety by reducing your risk. Practice good hygiene. For example, sneeze and cough into your elbow; wash your hands regularly with soap and water for at least 20 seconds; avoid touching your face with unwashed hands; clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces; etc.
  • Keep your schedule of daily activities as regular as you can. Setting out a daily plan can help reduce anxiety by taking charge of the things you can still control in your life at the moment. Even things as simple as regular mealtimes and bedtimes can help ease tension.
  • Get regular exercise and spend time outside, when possible. Staying active and having opportunities to be in nature are helpful ways to reduce your anxiety while still keeping a safe distance from others. Try walking or, if you own a bicycle, go for a ride.
  • Manage your flow of information. While you might want to stay updated on the latest news, it is easy to get lost and going down an internet rabbit hole. Choose reliable sources of information about the pandemic and establish boundaries on checking for updates.

Yes, it is important to get regular accurate information. However, continuously scrolling through social media or constantly refreshing the news is likely to increase your anxiety. Select a few trusted news outlets and commit to checking for updates no more than once or twice a day.

  • If a spiritual practice is important to you or has been in the past, work it into your regular routine. Practice self-care and try to cultivate a mental wellness practice for you and your loved ones, such as talking nightly with your family about moments of the day that were fun and enjoyable.

Find fun ways to stay connected with individuals you and your family are separated from. Video calls, phone calls and text messages are a great ways to stay in touch with family members and friends while social distancing.

  • Try deep breathing when you feel anxious. Mindfulness tools like grounding exercises and deep breathing may be helpful to alleviate fears.
  • Realize that it is okay to be worried about the current situation. Experiencing anxiety is completely normal. Don’t brush off your feelings or minimize your fears. Instead, what you want is to avoid making your feelings worse. Find a friend or family member with whom you feel comfortable talking about your feelings openly.
  • Reach out to your mental health provider. If you have a mental health provider, or if you find yourself feeling overwhelmed with anxiety to a point where it interferes with your ability to go about with your daily life, reach out for professional help. There are telehealth services to connect with mental health professionals who can help you.

Make an effort to think about some of the reasons you have to be thankful and positive during this difficult time. When you find yourself getting worked up over the virus, take a deep breath and remind yourself that you are doing the best you can. Remember, worrying won’t change anything. Take things day by day and focus on taking care of yourself and your loved ones.

Valerie Lemaine, M.D., M.P.H., is a top-ranked, board-certified plastic surgeon in private practice in Edina, MN. She received her M.D. from University of Montreal, Canada, where she also completed her plastic surgery. She obtained her M.P.H. from Columbia University, NY. She also completed a reconstructive microsurgical fellowship at Memorial Sloan-Kettering Cancer Center in New York City. Dr. Lemaine then accepted a staff position at the prestigious Mayo Clinic (Rochester, MN) where she worked as a plastic surgeon, taught and published clinical research. In 2018, she transitioned to private practice and joined Plastic Surgery Consultants and Minnesota Oncology.