Originally published on April 5, 2020
Where We Are Today: Coronavirus Anxiety
It goes without saying that the past few weeks have been difficult for everyone — anxiety-sufferers and the calmest of us alike.
For those who struggle with anxiety on a regular basis, the outbreak of this virus has made it hard not to feel like our greatest and most incessant fears have finally come to life.
Even for those of us who normally identify as cool and collected, the uncertainty associated with lockdown, potential job loss, and economic downturn have been enough to cause great fear, even panic.
So, whether you find yourself in the first category or the second, in this post, I’m going to provide five ways you can mitigate anxiety and stay sane during this global pandemic. So, without further ado, let’s jump in.
1. Stay Off the News
I know it sounds crazy, but you have to trust me on this one. The news is not your friend right now. Yes, it’s good to be informed. But when you’ve already locked yourself inside your house — only breaking your isolation to make a quick, cautious trip to the grocery store — how much more is there to be informed about? Getting sucked into one negative news story after the other and endlessly contemplating potential virus destruction are only going to fuel your anxiety.
During this time, we have to remember that news outlets are businesses, first and foremost. While they certainly want to keep us informed, they also want to make money. And they can’t do that by pumping out normal or boring headlines — only attention-grabbing and emotional stories will garner the clicks and views required for raking in large revenues. Sure, sometimes emotional stories are uplifting or inspiring, but, more often than not (especially during the times of Coronavirus), they’re just attempts at fear-mongering.
Don’t get me wrong. It’s not my intention to peddle conspiracy theories against all media outlets here. I’m simply trying to get the point across that what most of these outlets are selling right now is angst, and that’s the last thing you need if you want to keep a cool head during this outbreak.
Another big problem with the news these days is that it’s everywhere. Turn on the TV and boom — there is it. Open Twitter, Facebook, or LinkedIn and there it is again. Scroll through a group chat with your friends or family and, maybe unexpectedly, it appears once more.
Thus, during this virus, we have to be very careful with what information we let into our heads. For once fear penetrates our minds, it can be very difficult to drive out.
While it might not be the easiest thing in the world, I recommend that you avoid negative forms of media for the next few weeks. That includes local news stations, doomsday-pushing Twitter accounts, and cynical family members. Negativity is contagious. You’ve got enough going on during this lockdown — don’t give pessimism a chance to bring you down further.
2. Move Around Often
Think of your emotions like you would a river. When that river is flowing downstream, it’s hard for pests and diseases to accumulate in it. However, as soon as that body of water starts to stagnate, it becomes a breeding ground for insects, bacteria, and waste.
The same goes for our minds. When we’re constantly on the move, negative thoughts and feelings rarely gain the foothold they need in order to affect us. But when we’re spending every day on our couches, fear and anxiety slither in and disrupt our mental well-being until we make the conscious decision to do something about them.
While there are many ways to get out of the anxiety spiral, one of the most effective is to stand up and move around frequently. This could mean going for a short walk every hour and/or engaging in a strenuous workout daily.
Personally, I recommend both — quick walks will help clear your mind for a few minutes, while longer workouts will reset your outlook for longer periods of time. This lockdown comes with all sorts of anxiety, large and small, and both of these forms of movement help us walk back fear and move closer to calm.
Of course, one of the biggest problems with this virus is that it’s trapped us in our houses or small apartments. As such, we can’t go to the gym, the mall, or any other place where we might normally get some exercise. While that’s most certainly frustrating, we can’t let it serve as an excuse for not moving around at all. Our mental health is just too important for that.
Even in a small apartment, you can still run up and down the stairs, do jumping jacks, sit-ups, push-ups, wall sits, yoga, and the like. Don’t let those negative thoughts build in your mind — fight the urge to sit on that couch for more than just a TV show or two.
3. Listen to Uplifting Music
There’s a reason why people love listening to music so much — it’s one of the few things that influences our mood so heavily. Now that there aren’t any coworkers or bosses to tell you otherwise, it’s time to let your favorite music blast, and maybe even start humming or singing a few tunes.
There really is nothing like uplifting music. It helps put a spring back in your step, distracts you from anxious thoughts in the present moment, and serves as time portal back to happy memories.
Though it’s a fairly simple tactic, we can’t overlook its effectiveness. When we’re stuck inside with little to distract us from our anxious thoughts, our favorite music can help take away some of the pain. Something as simple as a playlist of your most-loved songs can provide a pick-me-up any time you’re in need of one.
4. Connect with Friends and Loved Ones
One of the other hardest parts of being in lockdown is the isolation that comes with it. For me, isolation really means being alone with my mind. Unless I’m intentionally embarking on a meditation session, alone time with my mind is not usually a good thing.
All of us, introverts included, need to interact and connect with others on some level. It’s what’s helped us survive over the course of human history, and it’s practically wired into our DNA. When we don’t connect with others for long periods of time, we literally go mad; they don’t call solitary confinement one of the worst possible forms of punishment for nothing.
Normally, we can find that needed connection through our workplaces, gyms, and local gathering spots. Of course, during this virus, we’re unfortunately locked out of all of those places, making connection all-the-more difficult. However, that doesn’t mean we can’t connect with others at all — it just means we’ll need to be more intentional about it.
Since we’re not commuting to work for the foreseeable future, we all have a little extra time to go around. Instead of using that time to sit on the couch and fall further into the depths of our minds, let’s go out of our way to call and FaceTime our loved ones — especially the ones we don’t necessarily talk to on a regular basis.
Though it’s most certainly not the same as in-person connection, it’s still a great insulator against lockdown anxiety and an effective way to get your mind off the madness currently going on outside.
5. Stay Out of Your Head
When you boil it down, so much of our experience of anxiety corresponds to the degree to which we attach to the negative chatter in our minds. Once we let our fears grab the wheel, it’s not long before they drive us deep into the spiral of anxiety. That is, at least until we wrestle back control of that steering column.
So far, I’ve provided four specific strategies for mitigating anxiety during the COVID lockdown. The one thing all of those strategies have had in common is that they help us stay out of the deep, dark corners of our minds — the places from which anxiety arises.
Thus, if we’re going to evade anxiety during this outbreak, we’re going to have to be extremely cautious and disciplined with how much we connect to that negative mental dialogue. If we do buy into it too strongly, it’ll ultimately prevent us from hearing any of the positive things in the world that are calling out to us.
On the flip side, however, if we’re able to stay present and distract ourselves from our fears, we’ll be more likely to navigate this virus with a clearer, calmer mind.
Sure, this whole situation is very scary. There’s no denying that. And yes, the news around it is quite startling as well. At times, it feels difficult, if not impossible, to avoid these fearful subjects and stay out of our heads; every extra doomsday headline feels like another nail in our collective mental coffin.
Yet, if all we’re doing is focusing on such negativity, then we’re subjecting ourselves to a fate far worse than being trapped in our small apartments. That is, we’re subjecting ourselves to being trapped inside the daunting recesses of our our minds. And that’s really no place to live, because not only do our minds not always represent reality, but also because those recesses can often be quite hellish places.
Everything’s Going to Work Out in the End
In order to implement what I’ve outlined in this post, it’s going to take hard work, discipline, and focus. But we must put that effort in because our only other alternative is to rest on our laurels, let our minds take over, and fall prey to our fears.
I’ve already mentioned here that the degree to which we experience anxiety can often be attributed to how strongly we connect to the negative chatter in our minds. Of course, anxiety is not one purely one-dimensional however, meaning there are almost always a number of other factors at play as well.
One of those factors is the degree to which we let uncertainty affect us. Of course, in times like these, collective uncertainty is at a record high. Few, if any, of us know whether we’ll be employed in two months or how the economy will fare next quarter. Yet, regardless of how much uncertainty there is in the outside world, we can always generate certainty within ourselves.
As such, I’d like to close this post with one final strategy for keeping anxiety at bay during this virus. That strategy is the building of a new belief, the belief that everything’s going to work out in the end. I know it’s not easy to believe right now, but if we can buy into this idea, then we’ll open ourselves up to another, even more valuable tool for mitigating anxiety during this critical time.
For as you recite that line to yourself and begin to believe it, you might find a funny thing happening inside your mind. That is, you might realize that your confidence in such a statement helps alleviate your future fears and brings you back to the present moment. That moment is the place where all certainty resides, and it’s also the place from which all joy arises. And we all know how much we could use some certainty and joy right now.
If you recite this belief this often enough, and with enough conviction, then you might even be able to create a new cycle of thoughts and feelings that powers you through this lockdown — one that replaces fear and even protects you from it during the coming weeks. For, let’s face it, that’s what we’re all really looking for during these desperate times.
I know we might not be able to see the end of this thing right now, but trust me, that end will come, regardless of whether we spend this time calmly or anxiously. So, why not implement some of these strategies and navigate these uncharted waters with the clearest minds we can? That’s my strategy, and I’m sticking to it. I hope you do too.
Thanks for reading! Curious to learn more?
Then grab a copy of my book, Get Out of Your Head: A Toolkit for Living with and Overcoming Anxiety.* It covers many of the topics I discuss in my blog posts, as well as a few new, key frameworks for managing fear. Check it out if you’re looking to level-up your anxiety-alleviating skills.
Or, if you’re not yet ready to jump into a book, jump over to some of my previous articles on managing anxiety:
*Disclaimer: The above link is an affiliate URL, which pays me a small commission when readers make purchases through it.