4 Tips to Manage Anxiety in a Stressful World
Lifestyle

4 Tips to Manage Anxiety in a Stressful World

Allison G.
Dec 18, 2020

There is no sugarcoating it – the COVID-19 (coronavirus disease 19) pandemic and other recent global events have made the world an incredibly stressful place to live. If you feel overwhelmed and burdened by life right now, you should know you are not alone. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), how you respond to stress during the COVID-19 pandemic or any other major world event can depend on many factors, including your (1):

  • Social support from family and friends
  • Financial situation and employment status
  • Physical and emotional health conditions
  • The community you live in With so much uncertainty around the state of the world, it is important to try and manage your mental state as best as possible. Sticking to healthy coping mechanisms can help you, those you care about and your community stay strong. Here are some general tips for managing anxiety during these times: ## Tip 1. Do Not Fully Isolate Yourself from Loved Ones We need to follow public health guidelines and maintain social distance, but this does not mean people should be withdrawing socially. Maintaining relationships and a stable social support network are an important part of fighting anxiety. Set up time with people you trust to talk through your concerns and how you are feeling. This can do wonders for your emotional health, which is closely tied to your overall physical health. According to the National Institutes of Health, it is especially important to make concerted efforts to stay connected if you (2):
  • Live alone or cannot leave your home
  • Feel alone or disconnected
  • Recently experienced a significant loss
  • Are a caregiver
  • Feel you lack an overall sense of purpose You can keep up social interactions even if you are in self-quarantine or mandatory quarantine. Video calls like Facetime, phone calls or text messages can help you and your loved ones stick together while apart. ## Tip 2. Stop “Doomscrolling’ Many of us are guilty of this pattern – get into bed, turn off the lights and open Twitter for “one final look” at the news stories. The headlines we find are usually laden with despair – kids are not back in school, small businesses are suffering or shuttering altogether, or the coronavirus death toll has reached a new grim milestone. This anxiety inevitably snowballs. (3)
    This destructive habit is so common a new term has entered our lexicon to describe it. “Doomscrolling” – the act of incessantly looking at our phones to consume the bad news – is harming our collective mental health. Trying to stay informed is one thing – but boundaries are important. Mental health experts recommend the following for limiting negative screen time:
  • Set a timer. Decide how much time you should be reading the news each day and stick to it.
  • Stay cognizant. Every time you reach for your phone, try to think of why. What information are you specifically trying to find? If you don’t have a specific reason to look at your phone, it may be better to just not.
  • Keep it positive. Try and balance your consumption of the news with efforts to connect with people on a positive. Forward a funny meme, send a text to catch up with a friend – anything other than doomscrolling. ## Tip 3. Take Care of Your Body You need to take care of your physical health to support your emotional wellness fully. Eat Well The stress of the pandemic on its own is enough to fall into bad eating patterns – especially for those who work from home. “Stress eating” is a common response to difficult situations, but bad dietary habits can exacerbate your anxiety. It is a vicious cycle. Some tips for making mindful food choices amid the pandemic include (4):
  • Make a daily meal plan and stick to it.
  • Plan your grocery list and buy less processed, high-sodium or sugary snacks. If you don’t buy these foods, they won’t end up in your cabinet.
  • Stock your fridge with healthy foods, including fruits, vegetables, whole grains and healthy fats.
  • Share healthy recipes with friends and family and cook together virtually.
  • Plan out and enjoy an occasional “cheat” meal – times are tough, you should enjoy comfort foods in moderation ## Keep Up with an Exercise Routine Staying active is one especially important strategy for both your physical and emotional well-being. The physical benefits of exercise, namely cardiovascular health and maintaining a healthy weight, are well-documented – but physical activity can also do wonders for your stress levels. The general recommendation for a healthy exercise regimen is moderate aerobic exercise of at least 30 minutes three to five times each week. Aerobic exercise can be jogging, biking, walking or even dancing. Aim for consistency, find a workout buddy – do whatever you need to do to stay engaged.
    Research has provided some evidence that physically active people generally have lower levels of anxiety and depression than their sedentary counterparts. Regular aerobic exercise has been associated with a decrease in overall levels of tension, elevated and stabilized mood, better sleeping patterns and higher self-esteem (5). ## Practice Mindfulness It is easy to get caught up in the “what ifs” and unknowns of the pandemic, which breeds anxiety. Taking the time to stop, relax and focus on your breathing can improve your stress levels and increase your overall productivity. Mindfulness is the act of focusing on the moment and shutting out the ambient noise of life. Breathing exercises, meditation and yoga are all activities that can support mindfulness – but mindfulness can be anything if it involves the following three components (6):
  • Paying attention to the present moment
  • Making a conscious effort to do this deliberately and with resolve
  • Keeping the attitude that you will stick with your mindfulness experience, whether it is pleasant or unpleasant Stop, take a breath, observe your feelings and then proceed – your levels of anxiety will feel more adequately managed.
    ## Tip 4. Talk to a Mental Health Professional You may find your typical coping mechanisms may not be enough. The ever-growing sense of anxiety, uncertainty and isolation are all causing people who have not previously sought therapy to do so now – and this is a smart idea. Speaking with a counselor or therapist about your feelings and concerns can help you effectively deal with the pandemic and any other mental health issues you may be struggling with. (1)
    Connecting with a therapist may feel intimidating right now, but the pandemic has created an environment where access to care is more convenient than ever. Many therapists and counselors are now set up with the ability to provide telehealth services. You can connect with these professionals by going through your traditional insurance channels, or you can download one of the many mobile apps that instantly connect you with someone virtually. You can get the help and support you need even if you are unable or uncomfortable with in-person treatment.

Coping with Stress: The Takeaway

Coping with stress in a healthy way is of paramount importance to your health – especially during a global pandemic. Sticking to stress management mechanisms can help you avoid falling into bad and unhealthy patterns, which during times of disease outbreak tend to include (1):

  • Sleeping or eating pattern changes
  • Trouble with sleeping or concentrating
  • Exacerbation of already-existing mental health conditions
  • Worsening of chronic health problems
  • Increased use and abuse of alcohol, tobacco or other substances Effectively managing your stress can improve your ability to survive and thrive during challenging times, which will ultimately pay off for your health outcomes down the road.

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