The uncertainty of the COVID-19 pandemic is causing a lot of fear, stress, fatigue, and worry, even in people who are normally unfazed by stressful situations. Some people are experiencing panic attacks; others note increased anxiety about going out as businesses reopen and local restrictions are lifted. Insomnia, exhaustion and confusion are common, with some people reporting COVID anxiety dreams.
Use these tips to ease COVID-19 anxiety and cope with pandemic-related challenges, including getting a COVID-19 vaccine.
The COVID-19 pandemic generates new headlines every day, but you do not have to immerse yourself in the news cycle. Most TV and radio stations replay the same stories multiple times per day, and social media sites often highlight the most sensational and heart-tugging coronavirus-related stories.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) acknowledges that “hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting” and recommends taking “breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories, including those on social media.” Whenever you feel anxious, step away.
There is a lot of misinformation circulating about the coronavirus and the COVID-19 vaccine. Don’t accept as truth everything you see and hear. When you hear disturbing or conflicting information, take a deep breath. Tell yourself, “I don’t yet know if this is true.” Don’t invest emotional energy into a response until you know for certain that information is accurate.
The CDC, World Health Organization, and Johns Hopkins Medicine are reliable sources of information about the virus and infections. State and county public health departments are the best sources of information for local case counts and COVID-19 restrictions.
You can’t control coronavirus, but you can significantly reduce your risk of infection by getting vaccinated, practicing good hand hygiene, wearing a cloth face covering in public, and maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between you and people who are not part of your household. If you or another member of your household is at high risk of infection or complications, you may also want to limit outings.
Taking action to protect your health may give you a sense of empowerment and decrease feelings of anxiety.
Research has shown that spending time in nature can relieve stress and anxiety—and that spending time cooped up inside can increase anxiety. So, aim to get outside every day if you can. A 2019 study published in Frontiers in Psychology found that spending just 20 minutes in nature can lower stress hormone levels in the body. Another study found that a 90-minute walk in nature may slow negative thinking.
If you can’t get outside, spend some time looking out the window or watching nature videos.
Human beings are social animals, and the isolation of coronavirus lockdowns took a serious mental toll on many people. It’s still not a good time to gather in large groups, but regular interaction with other human beings can alleviate anxiety and increase your coping skills. Consider meeting a friend for a walk in the park or hosting a weekly backyard barbeque for the family. If you"re both fully vaccinated, you can meet indoors!
Note: Spend time with people who lift you up, not those who drag you down. Avoid those who drain your energy or exacerbate your anxiety.
According to the CDC, even one session of moderate-to-vigorous physical activity reduces anxiety. So, when you’re feeling particularly stressed, take a break and move. Go for a run or a bike ride. Dance. Weed your garden or play chase with your kids or dog.
Regular exercise can decrease your overall stress levels, and studies have shown that most people experience significant benefits when they get about 20 minutes of activity at least 3 days per week.
Money is a one of the biggest sources of stress for Americans—and that was before the pandemic caused record levels of unemployment. Unfortunately, you probably have little control over whether you have a job right now, and you may be facing unavoidable expenses, such as medical bills.
Denying or avoiding your financial difficulties won’t help, though. Instead, develop a plan. Shave expenses where you can. Contact your mortgage company or landlord, bank and credit card companies and ask for accommodations. Apply for government relief programs.
Faced with the uncertain trajectory of the pandemic, it’s easy to think, “Things are never going to get better,” but that’s not exactly true. Challenging and reframing your thoughts can help you avoid sinking into negativity.
Do not automatically believe your anxious thoughts. Instead, pay attention. Note what your thought is telling you; then, challenge it. Is the thought accurate? Is it helpful? What would a more positive person think in the same situation? Rephrasing your thought to “things are tough right now, but better days are ahead” is more accurate and less likely to provoke anxiety. A counselor can help you reframe your thoughts if you are struggling. Having access to a safe and effective vaccine should also help you have a more positive outlook for the future.
Mindfulness is simply the practice of noticing, observing and focusing on your present circumstances. When you start worrying about the future, it can be helpful to bring yourself back to the present moment.
One way to practice mindfulness is to sit quietly and focus on your breathing; when your thoughts stray, bring them back to the rise and fall of your chest as you inhale and exhale. You can also take a mindfulness course or use a meditation app to guide your practice.
A 2019 study concluded that art therapy is effective in reducing anxiety symptoms and improving emotional regulation. The women included in the study engaged in drawing and clay modeling, but other studies have shown that the artistic media doesn’t matter as much as the process. Talent isn’t necessary either. Immersing oneself in a creative endeavor can quiet the mind; art is also a way to express and process emotions.
According to a study published in Art Therapy, 45 minutes of creative activity significantly reduces stress.