15 Mental Health Strategies to Reduce Anxiety and Fear Around the COVID-19 Pandemic
- Focus on what you can do (i.e. Wash hands, avoiding large groups, following public health recommendations, etc…).
- Let go of what you can’t control. Turn the situation over to the higher power: pray, journal, meditate to release what you have no control over.
- Do what you can to stay healthy (i.e. exercise, eat your fruits and veggies, eat less sugar, get the sleep you need, drink tea/water).
- Find the silver lining; seek gratitude (i.e. more time for house projects, family/couple time, coziness, reading, catching up on paperwork, TV, and/or indulge in a show binge, etc…).
- Limit news intake, online searches, and articles about COVID-19. Stay informed but avoid hours of research.
- Validate your own concerns knowing this is a unique, unprecedented experience and anything new with potential danger to your health or loved ones is concerning. Ironically, self-validation often reduces internal reactivity and angst. Giving yourself permission to experience how you are already feeling, can reduce the intensity of the emotion.
- Intentionally unplug and lose yourself in pleasant activity. Our brains need a break from the barrage of debate. Anything creative will help our brains process our worries (i.e. cooking, gardening, crafts, paint, play or listen to music, etc…).
- Schedule 30 minutes a day of laughter. This will be good for your immune system too! The COVID-19 memes are endless. Watch your favorite comedians or youtube channels. Some ideas to get you started are Jim Gaffigan, Jerry Seinfeld, Cristela Alonzo, Ray Ramono, and Michael McIntyre.
- Contain your anxiety by scheduling worry time (“It’s not time to worry yet brain! Tomorrow at 3 pm I will worry about this.”).
- Look for (and be) one of the helpers in whatever capacity you are able to do so. Be kind. Avoid stigma. Shop for others who are more vulnerable than you. Donate to food banks who will see more need as people lose income. If able, consider continuing to pay others who have to stay home. Donate cancelled ticket/event money to the arts/vendor.
- Keep breathing- engage your diaphragm, look up breathing exercises, do yoga, avoid high heels (they engage shallow chest breathing). Your brain needs fresh oxygen to think clearly.
- Use our electronic connectivity to do just that: connect with others. While it can be helpful to embrace your introversion, maintaining connection with friends and families avoids isolation. Stream church services, check in on neighbors, video chatting, or phone calls can keep us connected.
- Empathize. Avoid mocking others with a different perspective. We all have our own journeys. Avoid minimizing concerns while also avoid being ruled by them. It is hard for people to think clearly in fear. Your validation may reduce someone else’s anxiety.
- Grieve the losses of the season whether it is a cancelled concert, event, trip, or changed wedding plans while also being mindful there are people whose family members are dying or have died, others have lost or will lose their livelihood. Give compassion to yourself and others during this difficult season.
- Give yourself permission to rest. In this busy world, our generation needs rest and quiet. For thousands of years, pioneers, settlers, and hard winters kept people in and away from others for months at a time. Practice quiet—it will literally restore your brain. Expect your brain to fight it initially, as it will not feel normal. Practice makes perfect.
Final caution: Your children are watching and anxiety is contagious. Help them find the balance between licking subway poles and building a toilet paper fort/bathing in hand sanitizer. While the teens I work with have expressed some concerns needing to be addressed, many are expressing a desire to stop that COVID-19 talk and please talk about anything else.
If you have found other strategies to reduce anxiety, add in the comments. Provide links to your favorite breathing exercise, comedians, memes, etc…Learning from each other online is a gift for our generation. #community
Kristal Mathis, LMHC, MA MFT
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