It is normal to feel anxious during uncertain times. However, there are tools that we can practice so that our anxieties don't overwhelm us. Remind yourself to come back to the present using a phrase such as "this moment is the only reality" or "one moment at a time."
Our brains don’t like uncertainty and we are certainly in uncertain times. We view uncertainty as a potential threat to our well-being. When a situation is uncertain, we can’t plan and take appropriate actions, and this is unsettling for us. We may try to curtail this anxiety by gathering information via various media outlets. On the one hand this can be very useful. On the other hand, the constant barrage of information can further increase our anxiety.
It’s important to remember that some anxiety is useful. It motivates us to act (e.g., to follow the recommended guidelines). However, when anxiety is impairing or begins to interfere significantly with our ability to function, it’s important to address it.
Here 6 tips I’ve shared with patients and colleagues:
1. Limit your access to all the information (e.g., check a few reliable sources and limit it to once or twice a day).
2. Remember that the mind can fixate on catastrophic outcomes. Note the facts of the current situation and don’t add an additional “story” to the situation (usually these stories start with “what if…”). The facts can be stressful enough.
3. Different individuals have different methods of coping with stress. Think creatively about your coping strategies. For example, can you still maintain social relationships remotely/virtually to some degree? What are other activities you’ve enjoyed in the past and can they be done in your home (hobbies, crafts)? It’s not easy, and it won’t be exactly the same, but it doesn’t have to be black and white—that you either do something one way or not at all.
4. Any form of relaxation or mindfulness can turn off the stress response and allow us to think more clearly and effectively. Pause and take a few deep breaths several times a day. Tell yourself that this moment is the only reality. Take some time to listen to guided meditations before bed, or in the early morning. When the mind wanders to stressful thoughts during the day, practice noting the thoughts and returning to the activity you are engaged in. By doing this, you are not consumed by worries the entire day.
5. Practice gratitude or look for a silver lining. Even amidst the stress can you find things to be grateful for—the opportunity to spend a few extra minutes in nature, the ability to connect with someone in your home, the sun shining through your window. List a few of these in the morning or before bed.
6. Remind yourself that we are all affected by this in some capacity and we are in this together…and that this too shall pass.
If you need additional help, don’t hesitate to contact your primary care provider, a therapist, or your employee assistance program. Many therapists are providing support remotely.