When the world is having a panic attack, finding calm, quiet and productive feels impossible. During periods of high-stress, like now, with the outbreak of COVID-19, anxiety levels feel at an all-time high. As medical director for Achieve TMS Dr. Shashita Inamdar explains, many events are contributing to global angst: businesses closing their doors, the economy failing daily and many friends and family members around us suffering from illness or job loss.
And though it’s a natural response to a challenging, scary and uncertain pandemic, finding ways to cope and manage your symptoms can provide relief and work-from-home success. Simply ignoring the pit in your stomach and the racing of your heart won’t make it go away: “it is critically important that every professional cares for their mental health just as much as their physical health during these difficult times,” Dr. Inamdar urges.
Here, therapists and psychologists share their top tips for managing anxiety so you can not only do your job—but feel more hopeful, too:
Schedule exercise into your day
No, you can’t go to your favorite yoga studio or bootcamp class. And going for a run is permitted in many areas. However, being active is still an effective way to cut down on anxiety symptoms, according to psychologist Dr. Yvonne Thomas, Ph.D. Many nationwide fitness companies are offering free 30-to-90-day digital memberships—including Daily Burn, Peloton, CorePower Yoga, TITLE Boxing, and others. Popular fitness apps are doing the same, like Tone It Up. All of these are beneficial ways to work up a sweat from your living room. “Exercise can help you clear your mind so you may be able to think in a calmer fashion and be more focused, which can assist you in maintaining your productivity and quality of work,” Dr. Thomas shares.
Talk to a therapist virtually.
While it might feel like an odd time to start therapy, it could be the best choice you make to cope with your anxiety. Whether you are living alone, with a partner or your family, sometimes you need an outside perspective to bring you back to earth. In response to COVID-19, licensed marriage and family therapist Melody Li, LMFT says many therapists are offering virtual or teletherapy to meet the needs of current and prospective clients. “Therapists are also encountering more cancellations right now so this will be an opportune time to get in with a therapist that may otherwise be full,” she continues. “This can be a timely opportunity to get to the root of anxiety patterns and to receive healing by working with a trauma-informed therapist.”
Plan, don’t panic.
For most people, the source of anxiety is feeling completely out of control. And considering, right now, much of your life is up-in-the-air, you may feel scattered. Rather than going into panic mode, licensed professional counselor Kathy Haines, LPC says it’s better to plan what you can, since that gives us back some of our power. “You cannot control what others are doing, but you can control your own environment. You can pay attention to what local and federal health officials are recommending, such hand washing, social distancing, wiping down surfaces, and so on,” she explains. “You can still control how you spend your time, continuing with your normal routine as much as possible, for example, maintaining your exercise or spiritual practices.”
Use music as relief and reprieve.
As you have likely already realized, being at home can feel void of energy. It’s quiet—and sometimes, that’s unsettling. That’s why, Barry Goldstein, a Grammy award-winning producer and composer, and author of ‘The Secret Language of the Heart’ suggests turning up the tunes. “When we take music beyond the traditional use of art and entertainment and implement it in a daily program, we become the DJ of our own life, programming our productivity and limiting our stress and anxiety,” he explains.
While you’re working, listen to up-tempo music to serve as the perfect vehicle to ignite your day, like Mozart Sonata No.17 in C, or ‘Happy’ by Pharrell. Mid-day, Goldstein suggests taking a five-minute musical vacation. “Choose a piece of music from a different part of the world. Close your eyes and just allow yourself to drift into the feeling of the music or get up and move around to it,” he explains.
And to end your day, find some soft, relaxing jams. “If you are taking your busy days into the evenings, it’s time to utilize music as a bridge. Start about an hour before bedtime and begin to play soft and relaxing music,” he continues. “Creating a nightly ritual like this signals to our body that it’s time for sleep, time to slow down, and time to release our daily stresses.”
Just like in your normal everyday life, boundaries matter in a time of crisis, too. If you don’t want all conversations at home (or on the phone or video chat) to be dominated by COVID-19 topics, psychotherapist and author Jenny Maenpaa, LCSW, EDM say that’s okay. She suggests saying something like this to move the conversation in a new direction: ‘I know we are all focused on this right now but I would love to take a break from thinking about it constantly. Can we take the next 10 minutes to talk about how your wedding planning/child’s activities/hobby/book club is going?’ This works because it allows you to remind yourself—and others— that there is much more to your lives than worrying about the outcome of something you can’t control, she adds.
Take a break from the news
While, yes, it is important to remain up-to-date regarding current events, advisories, closures, and medical recommendations, Dr. Thomas reminds professionals they don’t need to be glued to the news, 24/7. In fact, tuning in around-the-clock can only make your level of fret sky-rocket. “Do not overexpose yourself to the information about the coronavirus. By limiting this, you can better manage your anxiety symptoms and be better able to get your work done,” she recommends. “You should stay informed but not to the point you are traumatizing yourself and impairing your ability to do your work effectively.”
Do you know what’s better than keeping everything spiraling in your mind? Putting it down on paper (or in a Google doc, if handwriting isn’t your forte). As license mental health counselor Emiliy Whitehouse explains, one of the reasons for racing thoughts could be your mind trying hard not to forget. So, get it out so your brain can relax. “This record can help you and your mental health counselor explore the connections between your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors,” she continues. “Thought records are a great way to practice challenging irrational thoughts.”
Get creative to stay connected with your community
No, you can’t go meet your best friend for a mid-afternoon coffee. And going out to dinner isn’t an option either. But Li says to not forgo all social interaction since distance can make people feel like they are alone in their fears, thoughts, and anxieties. Though it may take some creativity, there are many ways to stay connected to your friends, family members and colleagues. “Set up virtual dinner parties, happy hours, and dance parties with supportive friends,” she recommends. “This is a time where humor, fun, and togetherness can help ease anxiousness and free one up to be more productive during the workday. It’s important to have events to look forward to.”
That’s right: a giggle is a good thing! Haines suggests doing what you can to avoid dark dramas or thrillers, and rather watch funny movies, television shows or comedy specials. Choose hilarious books, and call up the one friend who always makes your side ache in joy. Though it won’t make the problems go away, it will provide a much-needed break and positive outlook to boost your mood and perspective.