The coronavirus crisis has brought an unprecedented level of stress to people around the word. And while the pandemic’s ramifications for public health and the economy are at the forefront of news coverage these days, the mental health toll may be every bit as acute.
As you try to cope with the massive disruptions around you, the obvious antidote is to find the middle ground between wallowing and avoidance, to hit the sweet spot between spiraling into dread and detaching so greatly that you’re uninformed about the latest news. But this can feel so difficult to achieve when the news seems to get worse by the hour.
Here are some ways to deal with anxiety in these trying times.
Maybe it’s setting a time limit on your social media, or not checking your phone first thing in the morning while you simply enjoy your coffee. Examine what factors make you feel worst. Are there particular news sources that, instead of making you feel informed, just send you into despair? Are there interactions with specific people that always end in frustration or anger? Setting healthy boundaries helps conserve your energy for taking action later on and prevents you from burning out and giving up altogether.
Take small, specific actions
You may not be able to solve the world’s problems, but you can do one tiny thing per day that makes an incremental difference and helps you feel less passive. Having a concrete plan of action has been shown to make us feel more hopeful. Perhaps you’ll decide to make one phone call a day to someone who tends to make you feel better or can offer you advice about your finances or managing your kids. Perhaps you’ll make a donation somewhere to feel part of the solution. The more that your actions are connected to your values, the better.
Seek connection and self-care
Social support is one of the strongest de-stressors there is, and a sense of community helps you feel less alone when the larger world looks bleak. Find ways to foster these connections even as you practice social distancing. Friends can bring laughter and healthy distractions that help with healing. Some of my clients report a devastating double-whammy that stems from this particular time: They feel “frivolous” or selfish devoting attention to their own well-being when the world seems to be falling apart, but the less time they spend on their own well-being, the worse they feel — which makes them cycle further. Keeping connected to the natural world — through occasional time unplugged — and being mindful of your sleep and eating while making sure to still move your body will make you more resilient. It’s not selfish to keep yourself strong and healthy.
Watch the catastrophizing
When anxiety rises, so too does distorted thinking. Are you processing things in all-or-none-terms? Are you habitually ignoring the goodness around you and painting humanity with too broad a brush? See if you can cultivate gratitude for the brighter spots in your day, small as they may be. Finally, observe your inner voice, and make a habit of challenging it every once in a while.
Licensed clinical psychologist Andrea Bonior, PhD, is the author of several books, including Detox Your Thoughts: Quit Negative Self-Talk for Good and Discover the Life You’ve Always Wanted, due for release on May 5.