Between sheltering in place, COVID-19 concerns, and an ever-evolving 24/7 news cycle, it’s easy to become drawn into a sense of panic and worry—even if anxiety is not something you typically experience. To be sure, the pandemic is concerning and it’s important to stay informed and follow experts’ guidelines to stay healthy. But it’s equally important to focus on self-care and mental health-sustaining practices so this anxious time doesn’t consume you.
To minimize anxiety and its side effects—such as irritability, insomnia, headaches, and muscle tension—experts from McLean Hospital recommend these strategies:
- Stay informed with trusted sources. These include the Centers for Disease Control, World Health Organization, and Center for the Study of Traumatic Stress. Each provides timely updates and information that will help filter out what has been sensationalized for the news. “Using these guidelines as a foundation, while acknowledging that you won’t be able to get 100% certainty in an evolving situation, may help you continue to live your daily life,” said Nathaniel Van Kirk, PhD, coordinator of inpatient group therapy at McLean and the coordinator of clinical assessment at McLean’s OCD Institute. And try to limit your overall exposure to COVID-19 related news.
- Keep calm. When it comes to anxiety and frightening situations, we often catastrophize—imagining the worst-case scenario—and overgeneralize, thinking that terrible outcomes are much more likely to occur. And this is much more likely when the facts themselves are already scary. To combat this, Kathryn D. Boger, PhD, ABPP, program director of the McLean Anxiety Mastery Program, suggests trying to catch ourselves when we go down a path of unhelpful thinking. “We can ask ourselves, ‘Is this thought based in fact, and is it helpful to me right now?’” she said.
- Get ahead of it. Even if children aren’t asking about the pandemic, a proactive approach with a conversation can create a space for questions to be asked and answered. Ask your children what they have heard about coronavirus, how they are feeling about it, and what concerns they might have. Name emotions such as fear to validate their feelings, and be reassuring without being dismissive. Let them know their feelings are real and understandable, while reinforcing that the virus risk is low and it’s preventative through simple hygiene measures.
- Simplify self-care. Go back to basics when it comes to healthy habits. Sleep, nutritious eating, exercise and (remote) connection with people can make it easier to cope. “Maintaining balance in daily life and not letting your day be consumed by the ‘next headline,’” said Dr. Van Kirk, “is important to maintain perspective in the uncertainty of daily life.”
- Have a plan. Keep and rely on a list including needed food supplies and medications, and health care and work contacts. These can help in the moments of crisis when you may not be thinking as clearly. Make sure to keep the items on your list stocked and replenished, and your contacts updated.
Read more helpful tips to beat anxiety here.
To stay up to date on Coronavirus preparedness, please reference our ongoing Partners HealthCare resources and announcement page here.