Coronavirus Stressing You Out?

How to manage your anxiety with mindfulness practices.

Posted Mar 12, 2020

Things have escalated quickly regarding the spread of the coronavirus, in addition to new measures being taken across the country in an effort at containment. Understandably, Americans are on edge. The regular activities we engage in are being disrupted, and many of the habits we have developed that enable a certain level of predictability to our lives—and comfort—are being upended.

Here are my tips regarding how mindfulness-based practices can be used to help manage anxiety and stress during this time of uncertainty. Firstly, limit how much social media and news you expose yourself to. While it is important to have updated information, there is also a great likelihood of triggering anxiety the more you expose yourself to around-the-clock coverage. Recognize that while information is power, there should also be an intention or reason behind seeking out the information. It is okay to take breaks and attempt to retain some semblance of normalcy over the course of your day—in fact, this is imperative. So be sure to take time to digitally disconnect so you don’t feel overwhelmed by headlines.

It is also critical to recognize what you can control. In fact, only focus on what can be controlled—which is taking precautions regarding hand washing and engaging in social distancing to the extent that that is possible. Beyond that, trying to predict what will happen or anticipating hypothetical future scenarios will only incite more anxiety and is not helpful. While it is good to be prepared, the unpredictability of this moment also suggests that adaptability day to day based on circumstances is a critical aspect of maintaining one’s sanity during this time.

Right now represents a time of uncertainty, and it will likely get worse before it gets better. Rather than resisting what is happening, we will all be better served to accept that there are certain measures that are necessary to protect ourselves and others—even if they temporarily disrupt or inconvenience our lives. Perhaps the best testament to this I was exposed to was an article written by a woman who had been quarantined during an earlier epidemic who shared that, at some point, she realized she had to surrender to what was happening while she and her loved ones were in isolation. Resisting change as it is occurring only makes it that much harder to handle the present circumstances as they are.

Remember to breathe. Breathe deeply and touch the places on your body that feel stimulated when you find yourself feeling overwhelmed by anxiety and tell those places that you are safe and things will be okay. I frequently check in with myself by taking a deep breath and placing my hands on my heart. I find that even if it is just for mere seconds, this has a calming effect that then enables me to approach whatever I am doing with greater presence and comfort.

This is an opportunity for every person to spend more time with themselves. The social distancing that is being encouraged means that we are going to be spending more time at home—whether with our families, other loved ones we may share space with, or by ourselves. Try to approach whatever your home situation is as an opportunity to have quality time with the people you are home with, or for those of you who live alone, with yourselves. Think about activities at home that you don’t usually feel like you have time for and try to focus on those things—be it reading, quality time with loved ones, writing, spring cleaning, etc. While it may be tempting to binge watch Netflix, it could be more uplifting to also consider focusing on activities that feed both the mind and the spirit.

Lastly, even in this time of social distancing, don’t lose sight of the importance of community. One of the advantages of our technological age is the ability to stay in touch with our loved ones regardless of where they may be on the globe. Check in with others and seek out the social support that you need during this time from loved ones, even if they aren’t in physical proximity to you. If anything, this virus has made it starkly obvious how interconnected we all are and that our health and wellbeing require cooperation between all of us. In times like this, it is tempting to give in to our fears and perceive others around us as potential threats—do not fall for that trap. We are all in this together—the only way we will get through it is to work together and be there for each other. Even if there are masks or screens that separate us from others.

These changes are temporary, and it is important to recognize the impermanence of this experience as it is unfolding. By approaching each negative emotion that is triggered as this crisis unfolds with a more mindful and intentional frame of mind, perhaps we can get through this with our sanity—and humanity—intact.

Copyright Azadeh Aalai 2020