Guest blog post by Stephanie Gutzmer, Au.D., C-IAYT
It’s hard right now. Your news feed is filled with information on coronavirus. It seems COVID19 is the only topic available online, on TV, and on radio. And with social distancing and quarantining becoming more of a global thing, it’s hard not to be in fear. So, how do you manage fear and anxiety to maintain balance? Simple answer: step-by-step and moment-by-moment.
What is Fear?
Fear is one of the most powerful emotions humans experience. It hijacks your mind and body to ensure your survival. Without a fear response, we would not be able to recognize and avoid danger. It’s a powerful emotion with a purpose – survival.
However, fear is not always fueled by present danger. It could spark from the perception or anticipation of a potential future event. Your thoughts and perceptions activate the fear response. This type of fear is anxiety.
Fear and anxiety are beneficial if they are short, passing emotions. And with the coronavirus epidemic circumnavigating the globe, we all have reason to fear.
However, fear anxiety can become unmanageable when you become stuck in those fear producing thoughts, leading to longer-lasting, chronic anxiety.
Related Reading: What it Means When Depression and Anxiety Team-Up
It’s All About Perspective
It’s important to recognize during times like this national emergency that your thoughts can fuel your anxiety. Fear and anxiety are emotions that are exacerbated by your thoughts. Yet trying to force an idea out of your head or distract yourself from the fear only serve as temporary band-aids. To truly manage fear and anxiety, you need to give yourself space to feel the emotion and allow it to pass.
“Every time your fear is invited up; every time you recognize it and smile at it, your fear will lose some of its strength.” – Thich Nhat Hanh
Here are some things you can do to help manage fear and anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic:
- Write your worries down. Fears can begin a vicious self-feeding cycle, where you feel you can’t break free. Taking a moment to journal what you’re thinking and how you feel provides space to experience the emotion. Then going one step further can help with letting it go: write down what action steps you’ve taken. If you’ve done all you can for now, remind yourself of that.
- Allow yourself the freedom to fully experience your fears for a set amount of time. Just like keeping a lid on a pot of boiling water, if you are always trying to suppress your fears, it will all boil over. Conversely, your worries can run you ragged if you let them have full access to every minute of the day. When managing fear and anxiety, a balance needs to be established. Permitting yourself to be “bad” for a set number of minutes and allow yourself to worry may help you achieve balance. Limiting your total exposure to the news can help provide balance, too. (Don’t worry – they’ll repeat anything you missed!)
- Make a list of all the positive things in your life. The fear is designed to keep you safe, and because of that, during that response, your brain will search for a similar, past experience that may be relevant. In reality, these “relevant” experiences only remind you of past failures and adverse events. By focusing on the positive instead, not only can you break that cycle, but also broaden your perspective, increasing resiliency.
- Begin a daily 10-minute meditation practice. Meditation reduces mental stress, regulates blood pressure and breathing, and reduces blood pressure. To meditate, find a place where you will not be distracted and begin to focus on your breath, gently guiding your awareness back to it if you strayed away with a thought (which will happen!). It takes some practice to get comfortable with meditation, so I recommend using guided meditations in the beginning or starting with 2 rather than 10 minutes.
- Deepening and slowing your breaths when you are feeling particularly anxious acts a signal to your brain to relax. This counteracts the stress response in your body. When taking deep breaths, work on breathing into your entire chest cavity, including your belly and sides of your torso. There are many different breathing techniques to try, but box breathing is a simple technique that works to clear your mind, relax your body, and improve focus. Inhale for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4, exhale for the count of 4, hold for the count of 4 and continue.
- Take an online or studio yoga class. Yoga is an excellent coping tool for anxiety because it not only grounds you in the present moment but also works to balance your un-regulated nervous system.
- Routine exercise can reduce anxiety and depression symptoms, as well as improve overall health. Higher intensity exercises are better to complete in the early morning when the stress hormone cortisol is naturally most elevated, whereas low-intensity exercises are ideal later in the day.
- Support your body by eating lots of fresh fruits and vegetables and limiting sugar and processed foods. High sugar and processed foods can cause your blood sugar to drop, leaving you feeling irritable and anxious. Additionally, be sure to get good rest. Lack of sleep can actually cause anxiety.
- Limit the amount of caffeine you drink during the day. Caffeine is a stimulant, and drinking more than your body can tolerate may increase your anxiety symptoms.
- It’s natural and very tempting to deal with anxiety by numbing it through our vices – be it alcohol, drugs, eating, or shopping, to name a few. Be aware of your actions and recognize when you’re just numbing the experience. Most often, our vices feel good at the moment but cause immense guilt later. Work towards limiting these vices to find balance.
- In a time like this coronavirus pandemic where social distancing is encouraged or even required, it can make you feel isolated. Reaching out to trusted family and friends for support can help you manage fear and anxiety. Even if you can’t or don’t feel comfortable going outside, you can video chat or call someone in your community. Many of the worlds’ major art museums are offering free online tours to their galleries. Connecting even in this way to the outside can help you feel less isolated.
- Prioritize what needs to be done and try to tackle some of the items on your to-do list. Feeling like there isn’t enough time in the day to get everything done can add to your overall feeling of anxiety. Prioritizing your day and scheduling some time to work on these items can help you feel more in control. And what better time to tackle the seemingly never-ending list than a time when we’re all stuck inside?
- Taking up an old hobby or trying something new is another excellent way to manage fear and anxiety. It gives you something enjoyable to focus on and takes your mind away from the negative, serving to calm an overactive mind.
- Get creative! Carefree creativity strengthens your frontal lobe, which helps manage your anxiety. Also, choosing to do something with your hands, such as drawing, coloring, or knitting, grounds you to the present moment.
- Get outside in nature. Connecting with nature, especially through grounding, makes you feel better emotionally, reduces tension, and reduces stress hormones in our body.
- Laugh more. Laughter, even forced laughter, creates positive changes both physically and emotionally. Not only do you feel better after a good laugh, but laughing also releases tension and anger, boosts your immune system, reduces stress, and improves your outlook on life.
Related Reading: 6 Things to Know if You Have Anxiety and Depression
When to Get Help?
Fear is a natural, healthy emotion that everyone experiences at times. However, if you feel you can’t manage fear and anxiety or believe that they are negatively impacting your life, it may be time to seek support. If you are in the Chicago area, reach out to one of the qualified therapists at Life Care Wellness: (630) 423-5935. We can help you explore ways to feel balanced and in control while managing the changes and challenges of fear and anxiety, whether during this coronavirus pandemic or after.