Pandemic Anxiety is Still Strong
Nine months into the pandemic, we are still experiencing unparalleled levels of stress and anxiety. Even with a potential vaccine in sight, the impacts of the virus on our overall health and wellness continue. The vast majority of the harmful effects come from fear of the unknown, disruption to our daily lives, loss of productivity, and of course financial concerns. While many of us focused on coping mechanisms at the beginning of the pandemic, it is important to revisit our methods, evaluate their effectiveness, and modify our anxiety-relieving strategies as time passes. Coping with stress and anxiety will help you become better able to overcome the challenges this unprecedented time presents.
The Impacts of Stress and Anxiety
When left untreated, anxiety can cause strong mental and physical responses that may include:
- Changes in sleeping patterns and/or insomnia
- Decreases in appetite or increases in eating
- Difficulty concentrating
- Exacerbation of chronic health problems, particularly those caused by inflammation
- Decline in overall mental health
- Increase in substance abuse
The extent of these responses can vary. Yet it is incredibly important to remain aware of your changes in behavior and their possible consequences. For example, one night of overeating is understandable and let’s face it – expected during this time of homebound entertainment. However, when the single night turns into regular, stress-induced occurrences, the health implications will begin to present themselves.
So, what can we do? Now is a good time to revisit mental health and wellness practices, including our guide to managing stress at home or treating insomnia naturally, as well as perhaps discover new and remote assistance options.
Find Your Calm to Defeat Anxiety
Most everyone knows the saying, you can’t fill from an empty cup. The phrase is used often in motherhood, reminding moms to rest, reset, and recharge when needed. It is not exclusive to mothers, though, and should become a common thought for all of us in the coming months.
Finding your calm can mean many things. But at the root of the concept is managing anxiety through deactivating the fight or flight (sympathetic) part of our nervous system and activating the parasympathetic nervous system. Doing so can produce a calm and relaxed feeling in the mind and body. People can learn to trigger their parasympathetic nervous system to immediately decrease anxiety, lift their mood, strengthen their immune system, and reduce blood pressure. Simple methods include:
- Spending time in nature
- Practicing meditation
- Yoga or tai chi
- Deep abdominal breathing (in through the nose, out through parted lips)
Other ways to trigger the parasympathetic nervous system can include gently touching your lips. Your lips have parasympathetic fibers spread across the skin, which can be activated through light touch.
Further, focusing on a single task at hand can help you discover mindfulness. Calming what is known as the “monkey mind” means clearing our minds of chatter: stressful and distracting thoughts. You can begin this by focusing on single-task activities. When reading, just read. When sweeping, only sweep.
Lastly, you can try visualization. Try to imagine yourself in a place you love. Whether your calm destination is on a sailboat or at a mountain stream, try to enlist all your senses in the visualization. If you’re on the boat, smell the salty water, feel the breeze, and listen to the soft clatter of rigging on the mast.
Get Online Help for Your Anxiety and Stress
Just because we are homebound does not mean resources are not available to help us through this time. From at-home workout apps to remote counseling sessions, the outside world is continuing to adapt to our needs.
Apps That Can Help
If you miss the social as well as the health benefits of group exercise, see if your studio or gym offers remote classes. Many yoga studios are offering Zoom classes. Apps such as CardioCast and Peloton are offering coach-based workouts for a variety of exercises, including cycling, running, dance, and strength training. While it is not the same of course, the “classes” are invigorating, filled with positive energy, and good for your health.
If you’re new to meditation, there are plenty of online resources to help you begin your journey. Two apps, Simple Habit and Headspace, are used by millions of people and offer introductions to the practice as well as sessions for beginners and experts, and everyone in between. Set your session for five minutes, or fifty, and watch your mindset change. As stated above, there are many different apps, podcasts, and online videos dedicated to meditation and mindfulness. Perhaps ask a friend or family member if they use or subscribe to any and take it from there.
Online and Other Digital Resources
It’s also important to remember that mental health professionals are only a call, video chat, or text message away. In the same method that many general health practitioners are adding remote appointments to their schedules, mental health experts and professionals have either added remote options to their offerings or completely pivoted to fully-remote access, allowing for safe, fast, and completely confidential appointments. BetterHelp is an example of a remote counseling service, and in fact, has become the world’s largest online counseling service in the world over this past year. The BetterHelp platform includes over 13,700 professional, licensed, and vetted therapists who specialize in anxiety, depression, trauma, grief, relationships, and more. The platform asks you a few questions to start before matching you with a counselor suitable for your needs.
If you believe you or a loved one are in need of immediate crisis help, hotlines continue to receive and process calls. A list of critical care numbers is below:
- Help.org, a community organization dedicated to empowering people suffering from substance abuse addiction with tools and resources to start their personal journey toward recovery: 1-877-600-3767
- Disaster Distress Helpline: 1-800-985-5990 (press 2 for Spanish), or text TalkWithUs for English or Hablanos for Spanish to 66746. Spanish speakers from Puerto Rico can text Hablanos to 1-787-339-2663.
- National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) for English, 1-888-628-9454 for Spanish, or Lifeline Crisis Chat
- The Eldercare Locator: 1-800-677-1116 TTY Instructions
- Veteran’s Crisis Line: 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or Crisis Chat or text: 8388255
- National Domestic Violence Hotline: 1-800-799-7233 or text LOVEIS to 22522
- National Child Abuse Hotline: 1-800-4AChild (1-800-422-4453) or text 1-800-422-4453
- National Sexual Assault Hotline: 1-800-656-HOPE (4673) or Online Chat