How do we keep anxiety, fear, and paranoia at manageable levels with a virus that has infected individuals worldwide? The battle seems like it is outside of your home against some microscopic enemy, but the struggle actually starts inside your mind.
If you are feeling stressed or anxious, these strategies for coping will help you manage your emotions. These coping strategies will not always feel natural, but they are science-driven pathways to becoming a healthier person.
STRATEGY #1: Assess the Four Pillars
Ensuring we have a rock-solid foundation for basic health needs is a must.
1. Do you maintain a regular sleep schedule and practice other healthy sleeping habits (e.g., using naps with care, limiting light exposure from LED screens before sleep)? 2. Do you maintain a healthy balance of nutritious foods (e.g., vegetables, fruits, whole grains, healthy protein)? 3. Are you able to exercise regularly (e.g., 150 minutes per week of moderate-intensity aerobic activity) and stay somewhat physically active during your day? 4. Are you self-isolating from others? Are others perceiving you as emotionally withdrawn?
STRATEGY #2: Grounding
When we have intense emotional pain or overwhelming anxiety, grounding helps anchor us to the reality that is occurring in the present moment. In short, grounding provides distance between us and our negative feelings.
1. Mental grounding examples: – Describing your environment in detail using all five senses (e.g., the walls are beige, the chair is firm)
– Playing a “categories” game (e.g., thinking of types of dogs, listing famous cities)
– Saying a safety statement out loud to yourself (e.g., My name is ; I am safe right now. I am located in ; the date is _.)
2. Physical grounding examples: – Digging your feet into the floor
– Carrying a small object (e.g., rock, ring, cloth) to touch and focus on
– Running cool or warm water over your hands.
3. Soothing grounding examples: – Putting up inspiring songs or quotes in your environment to act as reminders
– Thinking of things you are looking forward to next week
– Saying a coping statement (e.g., I can handle this, this feeling will pass).
STRATEGY #3: Deep Breathing
Deep breathing, also called diaphragmatic breathing, is a sure-fire method of managing your body’s response to anxiety and stress. Anxiety and stress attack your nervous system and send you into a “fight, flight, or freeze” response that wears down your body with a multitude of physical symptoms (e.g., shortness of breath, racing heart, trembling, dizziness, sweating).
Try “Box breathing” which entails (1) inhaling slowly for four seconds, (2) holding your lungs full of air for four seconds, (3) exhaling for four seconds, and (4) holding your lungs empty for four seconds. Repeat several times. This method is simple yet effective in slowing down a stress response. It just takes practice.
STRATEGY #4: Mindfulness
Mindfulness is a mental superpower of being mentally active, accepting, and open to the moment. In short, we tune in to what we are sensing, feeling, and thinking as it occurs in the present without giving it any judgments of “good” or “bad.” Regarding anxiety with COVID-19, try noticing your thoughts without judgment, attuning to how these thoughts impact your being and breathing as they inevitably fade with time.
STRATEGY #5: Altruism
A plethora of research has consistently supported the notion that focusing efforts to help other people helps cultivate better emotional health. Given the COVID-19 precautions that limit contact, helping may look a little different, like calling to check in on a friend, sending encouraging texts, or sending uplifting videos to others. Altruism reminds us of the good in humanity and why we prosper in a healthy community. Fred Rogers is often quoted saying, “When I was a boy, and I would see scary things in the news, my mother would say to me, ‘Look for the helpers. You will always find people who are helping.’”