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4 COVID Coping Tools to Reduce Anxiety

My cheat sheet to reduce anxiety in COVID times.

Lulia Ardelean/Dreamstime
Source: Lulia Ardelean/Dreamstime

In 2020, sh*tty as it was, I discovered four key strategies that are helping me maintain my mental health and resilience (or regain them as the case may be) now.

I wouldn't say these are 'gifts' of COVID and 2020. If anyone says 'gifts of COVID,' I'll be at the refunds and return counter, thank you very much. Not that I didn't find things to be grateful for—I did. Living where I do (in Canada—the West coast of Canada, in particular), I have a lot to be grateful for. But I still need support to navigate the unrivaled unpredictability this 'new normal' we're all living in brings. Maybe you do too.

1. Meaningful social contact outside of my primary relationship. I love my husband. He loves me. But 'COVID cabin fever' can do a doozie on the best of relationships. Social contact outside my primary relationship is essential to keep marital harmony. If you asked my husband, I think he’d agree.

I have a good friend I meet for a weekly walk and another who I girl-gab with on the phone for as long as we want. It’s for pure fun or to commiserate and validate, or all three. We discover we’re going through the same things and laugh about how we’re methodically dealing with them (or not)! These social contact points inject me with gratitude and new energy and refresh my outlook. Connecting with two of my closest friends every week is my ‘perspective' reset button.

What's important is not only this social contact, but that the contact is meaningful to me. These moments of connections go beyond chatting with a neighbour. It's spending time, whether virtually or physically distanced, with an individual who knows me, where I feel seen. The dialogue doesn't have to be deep but the relationship does.

What meaningful social contact do you have outside of your primary relationship? What can you do to begin to build some in if you don’t have any or enough?

2. Compassion and kindness to myself and others. Let me repeat that: compassion and kindness to myself and others. Oh heck, one more time for good luck: compassion and kindness to myself and others.

These have become the bedrock from which I’m learning to more peacefully navigate the vagaries of life. To stay well or to regain stability, practising mindful compassion has been inspiring and eye-opening. It’s bringing more calm into my relationships, even amidst discord. Most times (not all) it soothes me when I’m lonely or sad. It also helps me recognize and savour happy moments in my life.

If you want a "doable" meditation, I highly recommend the free 40-day Mindfulness Daily by Tara Brach and Jack Kornfield. I just completed it. For a commitment-phobe like me, it was perfect. The daily sessions are around 12 minutes with a short teaching of how it can be applied and concludes with a two- to five-minute meditation practice. It’s made a profound difference in how I relate to others, myself, and the world.

What benefits do you get from being mindful throughout the day?

3. ACT (Acceptance Commitment Therapy) and the book The Happiness Trap have been touchstones over the past few months. I wrote a recent blog post about the tools and concepts that helped me the most: techniques of defusion and expansion to accept difficult thoughts and emotions, and taking action aligned with my values despite what I’m feeling or thinking.

What process do you use to accept difficult feelings and thoughts?

4. Reviewing my financial situation and establishing some financial security increase my resiliency. As counter-intuitive as it sounds, facing my finances squarely in the eye decreases my anxiety and stress (eventually). It gives me a sense of agency and empowerment in a situation that's precarious. I can see the forest and the trees. I learn what I need to do or see that I need to find someone who can help me and that results in feeling some relief.

When the pandemic hit, and I finally reviewed my numbers after several weeks of procrastination, I knew I had to pivot my business services. I expanded to include virtual mental health coaching, peer support, and strategic mental health consulting. And all my conference keynotes are now offered online.

Evaluating my cash flow situation confirmed I needed to take advantage of the government’s financial support for a period of time. Oh, how I am so grateful to live in Canada and for the money our government made available during the early part of COVID. Assessing my finances and making conscious decisions about them, helps me feel more in control and less stressed.

Do you tend to keep your "head in the sand" when it comes to money? What small steps could you take today to review your financial situation to help you feel a little more secure?

My cheat sheet to reduce anxiety in COVID times:

  1. Identify what’s causing your anxiety.
  2. If you have trouble pinpointing the source, ask someone to help you uncover it.
  3. Create a plan with small tasks to address the issue.
  4. Take a small action each day to build a sense of control, reduce stress and move toward a resolution.

Uncertainty has always been part of life. Anxiety thrives on the unknown. With COVID, there’s been more ambiguity than ever. Using these four tools helps reduce anxiety’s hold on me. I can move towards the life I want, despite how I'm feeling. I don't have to wait for anxiety to disappear. I take action and anxiety begins to lessen.

© Victoria Maxwell

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