Calming Coronavirus Fears: How to Handle Anxiety During the Pandemic
March 24, 2020
What is the opposite of fear? Hope. As our nation grapples with the spread of an unprecedented, worldwide pandemic, declining global economy, and mandated month-long quarantine, many individuals are rightfully anxious, angry and abulic. Should I allow my children to play outside? Should we cancel our spring break plans? How will I continue to pay my bills? When will life return to normal? Why did someone eat a bat?
Consumed with around-the-clock news stories while remaining confined in our homes only adds to our angst and frustration. If not careful, we unknowingly allow our mental state to spiral into a dark place of depression and anxiety or we unintentionally feed fear into the minds of our children. Though we are unable to control the current pandemic, we can control how we handle the crisis.
How do we combat personal anxiety, squelch unfounded fear, and create a calm home environment? Donamarie Oligino, LISW-CP, of Daniel Island Counseling offers her professional insight and sound suggestions for combating personal anxiety and creating a calm home environment.
1. Limit TV and Social Media Time: Because we are bored and cooped up in our homes, many spend way too much time watching the news cycle and scrolling through social media posts. Neither pastime is helpful; in fact, both contribute to more worry and anxiety. The majority of newsworthy stories report the “gloom and doom” of the virus rather than highlight positive success stories. “Limit your time 15 minutes one or two times per day. Less is better. Check in online once in the morning and perhaps once in the evening,” suggests Oligino.
2. Maintain a New Schedule: For many individuals, “fear and anxiety are triggered within them due to the changes in their schedules and routines” notes Oligino. Therefore, maintain a new schedule that includes time for “work, chores, creative play, outdoor time and exercise.” Utilize this time to draw closer as a family and complete house projects together. The sense of accomplishment with these tasks will certainly be beneficial both mentally and physically. Additionally, be sure to schedule exercise into your daily routine. “Research shows that doing 30 minutes of exercise per day can significantly improve symptoms of depression and anxiety,” informs Oligino. Many gyms and online workout programs are offering free, virtual classes. However, a less strenuous workout, such as a brisk walk or leisurely bike ride, is equally effective for mental well being. Oligino also suggests starting a family book club, competing in game night or watching a tv series together. “People of all ages find comfort in having some degree of routine in their lives, and this could be a time when relationships grow” she advises.
3. Stay Connected with Friends and Family: “During this time of social distance make sure to stay connected with friends and loved ones through the use of technologies such as Skype or FaceTime, because social interaction is extremely important for good mental health,” cautions Oligino. Businesses are conducting work virtually, and friends should converse and connect the same way. Self-isolation does not mean one should completely withdraw from friends. Whether phone calls, text messages or virtual dance offs, make it a priority to keep in contact with friends and family.
4. Focus on Self-Care: In order to better care for family members, individuals must first take care of themselves. Based on current research, Oligino recommends getting seven hours of sleep per night, prioritizing exercise, practicing yoga, socializing virtually with friends, keeping a gratitude journal, spending time in prayer or mediation and eating nutritious meals. “Plant-based nutrition has been shown to decrease symptoms of depression and anxiety” while yoga offers “both physical and mental benefits that strengthen both body and mind,” notes Oligino. Numerous free yoga videos are available online and some local yoga studios presently offer live classes through various electronic mediums.
If the weather permits, Oligino suggests taking a daily mindfulness walk. She outlines the following prompts as guidance: Activate all five senses. Take several deep breaths. Think about the different scents in the air. Can you identify them? How does the ground feel under your feet? Notice the foliage and the different colors around you. What can you hear?
Engaging one’s mind through this meditative process promotes relaxation and calms one’s mental state. “If the weather is not cooperative, try a meditation app such as Calm or Headspace or a coloring activity like Mandela to help initiate relaxation indoors” she adds.
5. Grieve Losses: Loss during a time of crisis, no matter how big or small that loss might be, should be acknowledged and grieved. “Grieving honors loss,” explains Oligino. “Stuffing down or avoiding negative emotions only allows them to grow. Express the emotions verbally or creatively through writing or drawing, an especially great activity for younger children.” Many adults will need to recognize the loss of “routine, employment or furloughs, financial security, anniversary or birthday plans, and, more drastically, a loved one or pet,” she notes. The breadth of losses varies greatly; however, each one carries a weight of significance.
High school and college seniors are being deprived of their final few months of school, which includes time with classmates and teachers as well as cancelled events such as senior trips, proms, athletic events and possibly graduation. The sudden dismissal of these hallmark events are difficult for students and their families. “Families and communities must be creative in finding a way to not only celebrate the milestones but also how to bring these significant moments in life to a place where they feel closure,” sympathizes Oligino. In the interim, “expressing feelings will help relieve pain and eventually lead to healing,” she adds. Giving oneself permission to grieve, allowing children (especially seniors) time to grieve, and supporting one another throughout the process, helps alleviate the pain, anger and fear.
At this point, Americans are uncertain how long and how great the impact this virus will have on our nation, our communities and our families. Yet, we find comfort in knowing that on the other side of this pandemic, our country will refocus on what matters most in the world: each other. May we take advantage of time together with our families and discover new ways to grow closer relationally and spiritually. In the words of Nelson Mandela, “May your choices reflect your hopes, not your fears.” If you are someone you know suffers from anxiety or depression, do not hesitate to reach out for help from a trained professional. Many therapists and doctors, including Donamarie Oligino, are available to provide telehealth services from the convenience of your home. For more information, contact Daniel Island Counseling at 843-790-4517.