Anxiety during the Pandemic and how to Cope
Updated: Apr 14, 2020
Have you been feeling "keyed up"? Feeling jumpy? Having trouble sleeping? Eating too much or having stomach aches? Have you had racing thoughts? Have you had trouble controlling your worry? Have you had tightness in your chest? Have you had headaches?
Right now we are experiencing a global pandemic. We are staying inside and physically distancing from each other to control its spread. Our sources of information are the internet and media. The virus is killing people, so there is an underlying fear of sickness and death.
Going through this global pandemic is causing people to experience anxiety symptoms.
If you already have anxiety or a history of trauma, you may be experiencing a recurrence or an increase in severity of your symptoms. If you have never experienced anxiety before, read on.
With the barrage of media about Covid-19, our knowledge of the virus' danger and spread, and the quickly changing protocols to control it's spread, our nervous systems are being impacted.
The autonomic nervous system is divided into the sympathetic and parasympathetic systems. In times of trauma, fear, or anxiety, our sympathetic nervous system is keyed up. Our heart rate increases, our blood pressure increases, our "fight or flight" response gets revved up, and we get ready to run away from the bear. To learn more about the nervous system and response to anxiety or fear go here or here. Also I found an informational video you can watch here.
The problem is... we cannot run away from this "bear". This bear has been around since December 2019. And now it is April. And we continue to see new cases of the virus spreading. So we are sitting in our homes, feeling jumpy, anxious, restless and hungry. But we have nowhere for this feeling to go.
So what can I do about it?
To calm down the sympathetic nervous system, we need to involve the yin to its yang, which is the parasympathetic nervous system. This slows the heart rate, slows the blood pressure, and helps the body achieve homeostasis. The parasympathetic nervous system invokes rest, healthy digestion, and expulsion of waste. Our bodies need to rest and slow down to work properly. Here are 5 ways to reach towards your desired feeling of calm.
1. Breathing exercises.
When we take deep breaths, it does a number of things to the body... it lowers the blood pressure, lowers the heart rate, increases the quality of oxygen in our body and blood, and activates our parasympathetic nervous system. No wonder a deep breath feels so good! The key here is to breathe deeply enough to expand the lungs entirely, even reaching air down into the diaphragm. Breathe deeply until you can breathe no more, hold for 3 seconds, and slowly expel all your air. Then repeat.
One type of breathing (my favorite exercise) is called "Box breathing". Breathe in for 4 seconds, hold for 4, breathe out for 4, then hold for 4. While doing this you can trace your finger in the air in the shape of a box... in for 4 is up, hold for 4 is over, out for 4 is down, and hold for 4 is over to complete the square.
2. Stress management.
This is where we are going to work on our boundaries.
-Limit your intake of media. Give yourself a time limit and stick to it. If you are watching the news, scrolling Facebook, etc. and start to feel that you are breathing in a shallow manner, you are starting to have racing thoughts, feel chest pain, feel an increase in your heart rate... STOP! Put that phone/tablet/computer down and walk away. Take a few deep breaths and engage your body and brain in something else.
-Give yourself reasonable expectations. Don't beat yourself up if you do not accomplish everything on your to-do list. If today you kept your kids alive, fed yourself and them, and answered 10 emails, go you!! You did it!
-Just say no. If there is a person that is contacting you and "emotion dumping", let them know when you cannot listen anymore, change the subject, tell them the baby is crying, just say goodbye. Work on your "no's" so you can say "yes" to yourself.
3. Relaxation exercises.
Some examples of relaxation exercises are:
-meditation/prayer- find some quiet space and sit in silence. There are several apps (Calm, Headspace), books, and cds with guided meditations.
-yoga- one of my favorites on YouTube is "Yoga with Adrienne". She has free yoga videos and she has a great vibe.
-taking a bath/shower/go swimming- the water element can cool and relax you, especially if you are feeling hot
It is important to watch your intake of caffeine, sugar, carbohydrates, and other stimulants. These will increase feelings of anxiety. Also, during times of stress we may reach out for things that can numb... like excessive alcohol use, depressant medications or drugs, or overeating. When we feel anxious, taking more depressants can calm this down for a short time, but a few hours later or the next day, the feeling is right back again.
A healthier way to cope is to increase our water intake, drink herbal or green tea in place of too much caffeine. *I'm a mom, I get it, I'm at like a 2 cup a day coffee habit. The key here is just not to over-indulge.* Increase your fruit and vegetable intake.
Exercise can help you burn off some of that excess energy, improves your mental and physical health, can improve your appetite and quality of sleep, and reduce your stress, just to name a few benefits. There are many free workout and yoga videos online. Also, many states are still allowing outdoor exercise. If you have a bike in your garage, why not dust it off and go for a ride? Or go for a run? There are many options. Just get moving. Try for thirty minutes a day, 5 days a week.
These are just a few ways to help manage some of your anxiety symptoms during this difficult time. If you have persistent symptoms that do not improve with these changes, reach our to your therapist, doctor, and/or psychiatrist. You may need medication to help alleviate your symptoms, in conjunction with incorporating healthy lifestyle changes.