• Stefanie Dominik

Life is Really Hard Right Now! Managing Stress and Anxiety During the Coronavirus/COVID-19 Pandemic

Updated: May 8, 2020

Life is really hard right now! For many of us there's this global, ubiquitous feeling of anxiety, uncertainty, and ungroundedness. No therapist can simply make that feeling go away for you, but I CAN hold that feeling alongside you and support you in caring for yourself as best you can. Fear is adaptive- it's a wonderful tool, and we've survived as a species because of it. And at the same time, you deserve to feel your fear balanced out with love, connection, and rest.

Stay reasonably informed. Keep yourself informed enough to make safe and responsible decisions, but be wary of spiraling into a black hole of distressing information. Notice if you are reading essentially the same information over and over again or if you're cherry picking only the most distressing content to consume.

Remind yourself why we're implementing practices like social distancing and shelter in place. It's not because the world is ending and we need to go into apocalypse mode. We're doing these things in order to slow the spread of the virus, so that those who develop serious illness will have access to the high-quality healthcare and resources they need. It's an act of love for fellow humans.

Maintain consistency and predictability as much as possible. Keep to daily rituals like mindfulness practice, cooking, or whatever activities are staples in your usual routine. Try to start your day every day- take a shower, listen to happy music, go for a walk. And also end your day every day- disconnect from technology for a few hours, stretch, savor your dinner. If you are able to work from home, keep a consistent schedule, perhaps even working in the same place in your home every day. With so many feelings of uncertainty, it's important to maintain predictability when possible.

Acknowledge the uncertainty. The reality is that there is a lot we just don't know and so much that's outside of our control. Acknowledging doesn't mean you approve of the situation or that you're giving up. It just means you're saving yourself the frustration of fighting what you can't control. In doing so, you free up more energy to put towards the things that actually are within your control.

Have a clear plan. Talk with your various circles- work, family, friends, partners, etc- to develop clear plans that help everyone to feel as safe as possible. Discuss plans for preventative measures, preparations for social distancing, as well as plans for if you or another member of the circle becomes ill.

Stay connected. According to Stephen Porges, a psychiatrist at the forefront of neurobiology research, safe connection with others stimulates certain neural pathways (the "social engagement system") which trigger our nervous system to achieve a more calm and regulated state. You can activate your social engagement system by staying connected to important people in your life (perhaps via facetime and interactive videogames or smartphone games).

Think outside of yourself. Another way to activate the social engagement system is to help others. While it might make you feel good to stock up on a year's supply of toilet paper, it will make you feel even better to offer some support to those who can't afford to stock up on food/supplies, those who will shoulder a disproportionate financial burden in the coming weeks, and parents who are struggling to juggle childcare. Ask people you know how you can offer support in whatever way you can whether it's financial assistance, lending a compassionate ear, or helping them find supportive resources. Even just by practicing recommended social distancing and shelter in place protocols, you are literally saving lives! You can find additional ways to help others via the mutual aid section of the Chicagoland Area COVID-19 Resource List.

If you find yourself- along with LITERALLY MILLIONS of other people- in a position of needing help, know that it's okay to ask for support! It's okay to need financial help. It's okay to need virtual therapy right now. It's okay to need daily phone/video check-ins with friends or family. Now is not the time to shame yourself for needing support. (It's actually never a good time to shame yourself for needing support but that's a whole other story...) Once again I present to you the amazing Chicagoland Area COVID-19 Resource List.

Give yourself compassion. We're all figuring out how to cope with this as we go. Don't expect yourself to be perfect or to have it all together right now. Give yourself permission to not be okay, and ask yourself what you can do to feel just a little bit more grounded or comforted.

And of course, hold the small things (with not so small benefits) you can do throughout your day to take care of yourself:

  • Take movement breaks to stretch, exercise, or go for a walk

  • Go outside and get fresh air

  • Make time for new or old hobbies

  • Self-soothe with your five senses (essential oils, a soft sweater, etc.)

  • Find ways to be creative with art, coloring, music, etc.

  • Practice EFT/acupressure tapping

Additional resources to help you smile, slow down, and breathe:

7 Hours of Jasper Lake (put on headphones and make it full screen!)

R/aww Subreddit

Monterey Bay Aquarium Live Cams

Yoga with Adrienne

Room to Breathe Virtual Yoga

Meditations for Self-Compassion

Insight Timer Meditations

Ideas from Pinterest

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