There are real, concrete things you can do to manage your anxiety. It’s not all about “thinking positive” or anything as simplistic as that. Anxiety is a physiological response to a stimulus. Since the stimulus we have right now is fear of the plague, we as a world are being presented with anxiety from which we cannot escape. So if you’re playing tug-of-rope with your anxiety and trying to stay strong enough to not fall over, your best option isn’t to instantly get stronger. Your best option is to put down the rope.
Stand back, and look at your anxiety as if it is an object outside of you. You- what makes you, you – are not your anxiety. You’re not even your thoughts and feelings. You are an entity that experiences anxiety, thoughts, and feelings, but those things come and go. They don’t live inside you. They’re ephemeral and temporary. They come, and we can’t change that. But we can help them leave.
If that doesn’t make any sense to you, that’s okay, I’ve got easier steps below. Putting down the rope is a rather advanced technique, so don’t worry about it right now if it doesn’t make sense.
Let’s get you ready and empowered to deal with the stress of COVID-19.
It can be daunting to be faced with feelings as big and powerful as fear, depression, loneliness, or anxiety, especially if you’re not used to them. Usually, I write primarily for the mentally ill crowd, but this article is aimed at those who haven’t had much experience with needing to change the way they feel. I want to make this easy and simple, and honestly, it can be. You just have to do the coping tasks instead of dismissing them.
If you have racing thoughts, get a book, sit on your bed, and read. It doesn’t matter what you read as long as it has nothing to do with disease or politics. Don’t read on your phone or computer. Read a real book with pages you can touch. You can even turn to any page and start reading, what matters is that you’re taking in continuous words, which slows down your thoughts. I could write a whole article justifying each part of all these instructions, but you’ll just have to trust me that this is hard-won information.
If you have thoughts that you’re fixating on, writing is your friend. You may actually get upset while you write, but it will be a catharsis, not just pain without purpose, and it will help you calm down afterward and stay calm, so don’t be afraid of any feelings your writing induces. Write your feelings and thoughts. There is no wrong way to do this. You can write in any size, in any direction, in sentences that would only make sense to you, in phrases that are misspelled or incomplete, or any other variant of writing style. If you cry, know that you’re crying with purpose; you’re processing difficult feelings, which are the feelings produced by the thoughts on which you keep fixating. This can cleanse you internally. Writing as a regular habit is always healthy for you, but in times of emotional crisis, it makes a huge difference very quickly. Again, this will only work if you actually do it.
If you very suddenly feel short of breath, weak, dizzy, have a pounding heartbeat and feel terrified that you’re about to die, you are probably having a panic attack. Fill a large pot or bowl (or get someone to help you fill a pot or bowl) with ice water. Plunge your face into it and stay in the water for a count of ten. Then come up, take one slow breath, and plunge again for a count of 15. This activates the dive-reflex, which is a mammalian trait most strongly found in marine animals. It slows your heart rate and respiration in order to prepare the body for going underwater. After you slow down a little, take an ice cube in each hand and hold it until it hurts. (Please just trust me.) Then put one hand on your belly and the other hand on your chest, and count your breath, with a 10 count inhale and a 15 count exhale, which also slows heart rate. Continue to feel your breath in your belly and chest, paying attention to how it rises and falls. While you breathe, look around you and start naming things based on a category. I usually choose a color; for example, “The cupboards are white. The ceiling fan is white. The sugar container is white. The ice in the bowl is white.” And when you run out of things in that category, pick another one and do it again. Do this for as long as you need to, using a full sentence every time. You can freestyle if you want. Just talk. Say things about the room you are in. This is one version of grounding. Panic attacks don’t kill people, but a grand majority of people who have them firmly believe they are dying when they have their first one. If you start to panic or are having the physical symptoms of panic like shortness of breath, weakness, tremors, dizziness, abnormal heartbeat and visual disturbances, please look up this article again if you are able, and follow the instructions.
If you feel anxious, follow the steps I described above to treat panic attacks. Panic attacks are anxiety taken to the extreme, so the same solution applies to both them and regular anxiety.
If you’re dealing with boredom, you may be very uncomfortable. Being bored is very similar to the first phase of being depressed, it just usually goes away in a shorter period of time. When nothing sounds appealing, that’s just how things are going to feel for a while (so put down the rope and just observe the feeling of boredom as separate from you, knowing that it is temporary and is just something that’s happening right now and will be replaced with something else later). However, you can take advantage of your boredom to get things done. If you’re going to feel poorly, you may as well use that time. Sweeping or doing the dishes are great things to do with your boredom. If you just can’t be productive, try to find something to do that may help you get into flow state. Playing a videogame, watching TV, doing a craft (you can sew medical masks!), or calling an old friend are all good options for battling boredom. You may find that you’re not able to focus, and that’s normal and understandable. This might just be a time when you Are Bored and can’t escape it. If this is the case, try the activities I listed anyway, with the goal of just letting the time pass. The goal should not be “cure my boredom” if that’s something you’re already fairly certain you can’t do. The goal should be “pass the time”.
If you’re past boredom and have moved into depression, I’ve got a guide for you here: How To Survive Depression.
If you think you may still be able to feel some joy, that’s great! There should always be hope for you to find joy. Put on music in your bedroom and sing and dance. Other options for joyful activities include drawing/coloring, playing an instrument, singing loudly, calling a friend or relative to catch up, playing a new computer game, cooking or baking a new recipe, or any of the other activities listed here, in my Coping Skills You Didn’t Know You Needed article.
If you’re afraid, that’s okay. It’s natural for the times we live in. Call someone you love. Hearing the voice of a loved one will remind you that this loved one is currently still alive, and they still love you. Other options include writing a letter to your future self, zoning out with Netflix or games, or making a long list of all the things you’re grateful for today.
If you’re lonely, reach out. Social media, phone calls, and texts are all right here for you. If you don’t have anyone you can reach out to at the moment, write a letter to someone you trust or trusted in the past. You can mail/email it to them or not, depending on what feels best to you. If you can’t think of anyone to write to, write to me. Use the Contact page listed on the menu at the top of your screen, and I can respond to you by email.
For the age we’re living in, regardless of what mental health struggles you’re experiencing, I have an assignment for everyone who reads this article: write a love letter to yourself. Write a letter addressed to the self you are when you struggle, and say the things you most need to hear when you’re having a bad time. I’m going to write a short example below:
I love you, and I want to remind you that you are a beautiful person who brings light into the lives of so many other people. You’ve been through hell and you’re incredibly strong. I’m proud of you for how hard you’ve worked to get where you are.
I know you’re struggling right now, so I need you to know that you’re going to get through this. You always come back to yourself, even if you go very far away for a while. You always come back. You are so much stronger than you know right now, and I’m proud of you for how well you’ve been handling all the things coming your way. Please know that you’re a good person. You may not be able to see that right now, so you’ll just have to trust that when you were stable, you knew that you are a good person, and you went far enough as to write it down so that future you could know it, too…
Et cetera. This love letter should be kept, and read whenever you feel bad about yourself. You have to trust that your brain isn’t telling you the truth and you need to trust the stable self you were when you wrote that letter. I wish everyone in the world would do this.
Stay active in your coping skills, and be mindful of your mental and physical safety. You are the person most likely to save your life.
And remember, according to the laws of logic, it is always possible for things to get better.