Your worry is normal. It is natural to be anxious and afraid given how dynamic and fluid the COVID-19 situation is. We as humans are hardwired to worry when faced with uncertain situations. Our built-in “fight or flight” stress response kicks in when we feel threatened, loss of control, and unsettled. This stress response has allowed us as a species to survive threatening situations throughout our evolution. Recognizing and accepting this response as normal is important. Be gentle with yourself for worrying.
Again, feeling loss of control and unsettled triggers our fight or flight anxiety. Much seems out of our control at the moment. Our minds can swim with dozens of “what if” scenarios, of which we have little to no control over. Many of us are outside of our normal routine, like working from home, taking care of children not in school, and social distancing. This can make coping with normal anxiety especially challenging. Below are some tips on how to manage:
- Focus on what you can control. Instead of being overly preoccupied with what others are or are not doing, focus on what you can do for your own and family’s health. Follow current CDC (Center for Disease Control) recommendations for hand washing and social distancing. Move from worry to problem-solving. Focusing on things we can control gives us a sense of mastery and control.
- Exercise. About 15 to 20 minutes of daily aerobic exercise improves our mood by releasing anti-stress hormones, like oxytocin. Regular exercise also helps maintain a healthy immune system.
- Limit the flow of alarming media. I am not suggesting you disconnect from news entirely. However, make time to unplug from the constant barrage of anxiety-provoking news blasts. You may wish to choose one reputable source for updates and turn off news alerts from others.
- Quiet your mind. Find simple ways to give an overthinking mind a rest. Use your breathing to find stillness by paying attention to the rhythm in your breathing. Practice slower, deeper breaths. Put your hand on your belly; you should feel it rise and expand as you draw air in and fall as you let it out. Listening to peaceful music calms the part of our brain called the amygdala, which is the area of our brain that responds to fear.
- Meaningful engagement. We are social beings and struggle when isolated for extended periods of time. Keep connected with important people in your life via phone, video chat, and text. Lean on people who care about you when you need to and share good things with others.
About the Author: Cris Zamora, employee assistance resource coordinator, City of Milwaukee, Wis., has a master’s degree in Social Work and has been a Licensed Clinical Social Worker since 1999. He joined the field of employee assistance in 2005 and has been the Employee Assistance Coordinator for the City of Milwaukee since 2010. To hear more from Cris, view the Focusing on People: Safety, Morale, & Staffing Changes During the COVID-19 Pandemic webinar. This article is also published in the city's Wellness Newsletter.