It would have been hard to imagine in January that in only a few weeks our worlds would feel completely turned upside down. I can remember a time when hearing that there was a virus in another country didn’t hit me much. In my Atlanta counseling office, I work with a great deal of anxious people and so sometimes I have to choose what I’m going to worry about, and at the time coronavirus was not at the top of my list. It was like it was in my peripheral vision, just barely there but on the outskirts. It was not what I was focusing on.
And then it started trickling in. We started hearing about it in the news, started realizing people we knew were sick, and started seeing our country reacting by making recommendations for social distancing and quarantine. None of us would have imagined that cities would be for the most part shut down, jobs would be lost, and this unknown would linger for some time.
As a counselor who works with plenty of people who are anxious, I have found that I too was feeling anxious. While I tend to have a somewhat relaxed temperament, I found that I was ruminating and feeling tense. And my clients are feeling it too. We are experiencing a collective trauma of sorts.
And yet, in this time, this Atlanta anxiety counselor can share with you, that there are things you can do to manage that anxiety. This does not mean that the difficulty goes away. It just means that we can help our bodies and brains move through this with a little bit of help.
Here are some tips for managing anxiety through a pandemic – and even after it’s over:
- Make a plan for consumption of news, and try to limit it to only what is necessary – Many of my clients want at least a daily update to make sure they know what is going on in the world. And, if you’re experiencing anxiety, having exposure to 4 hours of stressful news that is all saying the same thing may not be so beneficial. So, maybe decide you’ll only watch 30 minutes of the evening news, or will only read two articles online in the morning. Be mindful of how news is impacting you and try to make a plan for coping with this.
- Deep breathing – when we’re stressed we can tend to breathe shallow. Help your body out by taking some deep breaths. I like 7/11 breathing during which you breathe in for 7 seconds, hold for three seconds, and then breathe out deeply for 11. But that’s not the only option. Find a breathing exercise that works for you.
- Focus on things you can control and try not to ruminate about the rest. – When we ruminate about things we can’t control it can leave us feeling stressed, and our brains want to resolve the problem. The issue is, many of the things we’re experiencing are outside of our control. So, when you notice yourself ruminating ask if it’s helpful, and then ask if there’s anything practical you can do about it. Then, if there are things you can control (like sanitizing your hands, wearing a mask, etc.) you can choose to engage in those things then take care of your brain so it doesn’t keep ruminating.
- Care for your brain to avoid unnecessary rumination- A great way to care for your brain is to use distraction skills when you need to stop ruminating because it’s not helpful. Distraction kills are things that are so powerful for your brain that you literally cannot ruminate. They distract the brain. Think of puzzles, sudoku, brain challenges, tetris, running, songs that make you happy that you just can’t help but sing to, talking to a hilarious friend….you get the hint. What works for one does not work for all and watching tv and driving are actually high risk for rumination so throw those out of the mix.
- Meditate (deep guided meditation) – Meditation has so many benefits. As a therapist who provides counseling for anxiety in Atlanta, I’m suggesting this to my clients almost daily. Meditation helps give the brain some of the chemicals it loses out on when we overproduce cortisol (our stress hormone.) It’s incredibly beneficial although can seem difficult. So, find a meditation app or maybe a meditation on youtube, and start practicing meditation. Note, YOUR MIND WILL WANDER. That’s natural. When you notice it happening, don’t push the distraction away, and don’t pull it in to focus on it. Just simply acknowledge ‘I got distracted’ then turn your attention back to the meditation and what the person is talking you through.
- Pursue genuine connection – I know it’s difficult to figure out how to connect right now, and it’s still super important to do so. Call you best friend. FaceTime your loved one. Try to do your best to be genuine and connect with others.
These are all just helpful tips, and honestly there are plenty of people providing online counseling services in order to assist with social distancing efforts. So, if your anxiety is up and you could benefit from talking with someone, why not see one of our Atlanta anxiety counselors? Give us a call or book an appointment today.