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Calm your anxious mind during the COVID-19 pandemic

Coping when anxiety about the novel coronavirus is high

Concern about the novel coronavirus, COVID-19 Opens New Window, has left us dealing with heightened fear about our world as we know it. Whether we’re staying at home or on the front lines, we all are experiencing various levels of stress or anxiety related to the pandemic.

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In small doses, fear, worry, stress and anxiety are natural, and sometimes motivating. Left untamed, however, they can lead to panic and destructive behavior. For example, anxiety around lack of goods can lead us to compulsively stockpile certain items, like toilet paper or food. Scrolling through news or social media can have a negative impact on your mental health, which can leave you feeling moody or depressed. And the disruption of good habits, like exercise, work or school can leave you feeling out-of-sorts. And if you have an underlying health condition that makes you vulnerable, you may be especially concerned.

For the most part, you have no control over life’s weighty issues. What you can control, however, are your thoughts, associations, and lifestyle. Start with these tips:

  • Avoid your triggers. Carefully note what sets off your anxiety and limit your exposure. For example, if you find yourself extra anxious after you've scrolled through social media, limit your time or stop using it altogether.
  • Once you spot it, stop it. Avoid going to a place where worries consume you. Imagine a light switch turned to “off," a stop sign, or anything else that tells you these types of thoughts are off limits.
  • “Reset” your mind with positive affirmations. Keep motivational or spiritual reading material close by, or repeat a phrase such as “be at peace” to help you calm down.
  • Limit your exposure to news. Being engrossed in the 24-hour news cycle has no constructive purpose, and in times of uncertainty, it can only lead to anxiety and fear. Stay informed, but limit yourself to a few credible sources of information, once or twice per day.
  • Cut yourself a break. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, be kind to yourself. A certain amount of stress is unavoidable in uncertain times.
  • Avoid worst-case scenarios. To point your thoughts in a better direction, try these three statements External Site.
  • Remember that worry is unproductive. The world will not change because you worried or because you were unhappy. It’s OK to seek joy in the face of adversity.
  • Combat loneliness. Your happiness is directly related to your influences. As much as you can, spend your time with positive, uplifting people. Of course, this is difficult if you are isolated at home. Still, do what you can to stay connected. Pick up the phone. Write a letter. Try these tips to combat the effects of loneliness and social isolation.
  • If you’ve got to worry, set limits. Focus on lowering the intensity and length of worrying, rather than ridding yourself of it altogether. For example, give yourself permission to worry “for just five minutes.”
  • Get going. Worry is undirected energy. Put your energy into something positive and productive (see tips below).

When doing your part means staying home: 7 short-term coping strategies

  1. Create a schedule

    Kids aren’t the only ones who thrive on routine. Having some consistency in your day can help you feel more regulated and calm — and can make a potentially scary situation feel more predictable. Keep consistent bedtime and morning routines. Make time for exercise. Sit down for lunch at the same time each day. Spend time on projects that require brain power, and smaller projects that give your mind time to rest.

  2. Tackle home projects

    While staying at home all the time may not be the what you wished for, now is the time to get those "someday" projects done. Clear out the backyard. Review your budget. Clean out your refrigerator. Organize your photos. Sort through the storage room. Cleaning out clutter contributes to outer order, which can give you a sense of calm.

  3. Take time to do things you never get a chance to do

    Read that book or make that recipe you’ve never had time to try. Reach out to an old friend you haven't connected with for a while. Binge watch that show, the one with 10 seasons, you’ve always wanted to see. Now is a good time to learn a new language, plan a gardening project, or simply try those bath salts you've never got around to using.

  4. Keep a COVID-19 journal

    Keeping a journal can help you process the experience and find meaning in it. Plus, keeping a historical record of the pandemic will remind you that there will be a day when this event will be in the past. There are several types of journals you can try. For example, a one-sentence-per-day journal, a photographic journal or a gratitude journal.

  5. Help, if you can

    During times like these, communities need help. Donating your time or money can give you a sense of purpose and control. If you're able to, find ways to help, like running errands for an elderly neighbor, donating to a food bank, or sewing masks for volunteers or health care workers. Or, try virtual volunteering External Site.

  6. Get up off that thing

    Movement is so important for energy, mood, and immunity. Go for a walk or try these at home HIIT exercises or stretches. You can also try personalized, online health and wellness classes External Site with Blue365®.

  7. Find humor when you can

    In a crisis, humor can be a powerful coping mechanism. As long as it’s in good taste, laughter can truly be the best medicine. Maintain a sense of humor External Site with these tips. Funny GIFs and memes can provide some much needed fun to your day.

Two long-term coping strategies that may lead to a better well-being

  1. Meditation

    Meditation may be the most powerful way to de-stress and quiet the mind. Through deep breathing, quiet contemplation, and narrowing of focus, just a few minutes of daily meditation can be effective at reducing overall stress levels. Research suggests meditation may help reduce blood pressure, lower your risk of cardiovascular disease, and ease anxiety and depression, among other health benefits. You can even try one of these meditation apps External Site as a long-term strategy to stay calm.

  2. Deep breathing

    Pausing throughout the day and guiding your body through slow, relaxing breaths can help reduce stress levels. Sit or lie down, close your eyes, imagine yourself in a relaxing environment, and slowly take deep breaths in and out. Aim to do this for five to 10 minutes at a time, working your way up as you become more focused. If you need help, try a mindfulness app External Site.

    Three breathing exercises to try

    See image description

Asking for help

If your anxiety persists or gets worse, consider scheduling a virtual visit through Doctor On Demand®. Wellmark members can use their smartphone, tablet or computer to see an experienced doctor who can treat common conditions like the common cold or physical injuries, as well as mental health conditions like anxiety, depression and more. Before scheduling your visit, log in or register for myWellmark® Opens New Window to check your benefits.