It’s hard to ignore the unprecedented and precarious problems our world is facing today. As we head into the holidays and winter months, we’re bracing for an epic wave of COVID cases that will continue to escalate at an alarming clip. Our economy is teetering on the brink and people are facing mounting challenges over their financial survival. In my own little world, like many other Americans I’m experiencing Zoom fatigue and post-election stress. We’re all feeling some form of anxiety.
In fact, anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness in the U.S., affecting 40 million adults in the country over the age of 18, or 18.1% of the population every year. Yet only 36.9% of those suffering receive treatment. General Anxiety Disorder (GAD) affects 6.8 million adults, or 3.1% of the U.S. population, yet only 43.2% are receiving treatment. Women are twice as likely to be affected as men. GAD often co-occurs with major depression.
According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the symptoms of GAD may include restlessness, fatigue, difficulty focusing, irritability, excessive feelings of worry that are difficult to control, and problems sleeping.
Unfortunately, there doesn’t seem to be any immediate cures or remedies to relieve our woes in the short term. So, we need to rely on our self-care and coping skills. As many people return to sheltering in place, here are four coping techniques you can do at home to relieve the anxiety you may be feeling.
1. Focus on One Thing
It’s critical to stay focused on one anxiety-provoking issue at a time. I’m often asked by clients “What if I get burned out without a break from Zoom?” “What if my child doesn’t learn what they need remotely?” In each case, I recommend they re-focus on the immediate tasks that are inducing their anxiety. It’s important to eliminate negative forecasting about the unknown and “what if” scenarios. Stay in the moment.
2. Stop Thought Spirals
Most of what is happening in the world today is out of your control. Try to avoid negative thought spirals. Identify when you are in a negative thought spiral by evaluating whether your thinking is beneficial to solving a problem. Beware that overthinking doesn’t lead to problem solving—it leads to thought spirals. When you become overwhelmed by negative thoughts, actively move your thoughts to a more productive problem-solving approach or an appealing topic. Over time, if you’re able to disrupt your behavioral thought patterns, your brain will reprogram and adjust accordingly.
3. Test Your Competence
Remind yourself that despite the uncertainties in the world, you are still an empowered and effective person within your sphere. Commit yourself to facing a fear. Facing a fear that disrupts your homeostatic world is a technique that will provide evidence and help you develop faith in your problem-solving skills. With that comes an enhanced sense of your self-confidence and competence. Leaning into those feelings, despite living in a world that feels out of control, will comfort you.
4. Engage in Self-Care
Break away from your computer and family activities to do something for yourself. Set aside time alone to focus on improving your mental health. Cortisol levels rise with stress, and it’s important to take time out of your day to decompress and give your brain a break. When you do that, you’re able to return to work and family feeling refreshed and calm. You can exercise, which increases endorphins. Listening to music or an amusing podcast can increase dopamine. Engaging in your favorite hobby or reading a book can calm elevated cortisol levels. It doesn’t matter which option you choose. Make the time for yourself every day, even if it’s just 15 minutes.
Reducing and quelling levels of anxiety and generalized anxiety are only possible if you're capable of sustaining an ongoing commitment to improved coping during these historic times. It’s a process that starts with you. Every positive step you take can help improve your mental health.
Singlecare.com, by Singlecare Team, May 6, 2020