After nearly two months of the COVID-19 shutdown in the U.S., shelter-in-place orders, social distancing and isolation, and all of the health, safety, employment and financial uncertainty and worries we’ve been facing, it should come as no surprise that most of us are dealing with “coronavirus anxiety.”
According to a recent Thomas Jefferson University survey, 40% of people had anxiety symptoms at levels that would warrant treatment.
Another survey by Motherly found 74% of moms say they feel mentally worse since the pandemic began.
As a mom with Generalized Anxiety Disorder, anxiety is something I deal with every day, so if you’re experiencing anxiety, I understand how you feel.
Although there may not be a lot we can do to change our circumstances, and that lack of control only makes anxiety worse, there are several ways to manage it each day.
HOW TO COPE WITH CORONAVIRUS ANXIETY
In April, I appeared on the “Dr. Ward Bond’s Life Changing Wellness,” podcast to talk about “Natural Ways To Cope With Anxiety.” Click on the player to listen to my interview.
"Dr. Ward Bond's Life Changing Wellness"
Or you can read my tips here.
1. START THE DAY ALONE AND IN QUIET
Before you read the news, check your email or look through your Instagram feed, start the day off alone and in quiet.
With everyone stuck at home, there are no boundaries anymore and sneaking away for just 5 minutes of quiet time seems impossible.
Although it may be hard to get out of bed in the morning, try to get up 10 or 20 minutes before your kids and make time for yourself.
Do something that helps you feel grounded and starts the day off on a peaceful note.
For me, that’s my “First 20”, which is 20 minutes in the morning to read the Bible and devotions and to pray.
You could also use this time to meditate, practice Yoga, watch an inspirational video, do a visualization exercise or listen to music.
In fact, according to a May 2018 meta-analysis in the Journal of Advanced Nursing, music is an effective way to reduce blood pressure, heart rate, anxiety and pain in people undergoing a biopsy.
Listen to what makes you feel happy and calm, whether that’s top 40, 80’s or Christian music.
2. EAT REAL, WHOLE FOODS
In my 20’s, when I started to cut out processed foods and focus on more whole foods, I noticed that my anxiety levels significantly improved.
Although you’re probably stress eating lately, try your best to limit or avoid ultra-processed foods, caffeine and sugar.
Instead, focus on anti-inflammatory foods including fruits and vegetables, nuts and seeds, fish and seafood, and beans and legumes. Get a good mix of protein, fiber and healthy fats at every meal which will stave off hunger, keep your blood sugar levels steady, give you energy and can help prevent anxiety.
Also, experts say approximately 90 percent of serotonin is actually made in the gut so consider fermented foods like fermented pickles, kefir, kimchi and miso, which boost gut health.
While a glass of wine can definitely take the edge off when you’re experiencing anxiety, it can have the reverse effect too and make you feel anxious when the effects wear off.
3. GET MOVING
Between balancing work, distance learning, and everything else you have to do at home, carving out time for a workout may seem impossible.
Yet exercise decreases muscle tension, releases endorphins, and boosts serotonin and endocannabinoids—the same chemicals found in cannabis.
Pick workouts that get your heart pumping, whether it’s running, a brisk walk, a Peloton ride, or a Zumba video.
Since the gym has been closed, I’ve been doing Les Mills’ Bodycombat videos, running, walking, and bike riding with my kids.
No matter what you choose, make sure it’s something you enjoy and can stick with.
Also, it doesn’t have to be all or nothing. If you can only fit in a 15-minute HIIT workout for example, it’s better than nothing.
4. PRIORITIZE SLEEP
There’s no doubt that coronavirus anxiety has made adequate, quality sleep tough to come by.
According to a March 2020 poll, 76.8% of people said that the coronavirus crisis has affected their sleep and 48% say that anxiety is the main reason it’s been harder for them to fall asleep.
Not only can anxiety cause sleep problems, but research suggests lack of sleep can also lead to anxiety disorders.
According to the National Sleep Foundation, we should get 7 to 9 hours a sleep a night, but turning in just 30 minutes earlier can help too.
Also, the quality of your shut-eye is just as important, so keep these tips in mind:
- Make your bedroom dim and consider using blackout curtains or shades.
- Keep your bedroom cool: set the thermostat to between 60 and 67 degrees.
- If you don’t have babies/toddlers/kids who wake up during the night, use a white noise machine, earplugs, or a fan to block out outside noise or a snoring partner. I like the Homedics line of white noise machines.
- Power down your computer, phone and other electronic devices 1-2 hours before you plan to go to sleep and take them out of your bedroom. Also, avoid using them if you wake up during the night.
- Have a relaxing bedtime routine: take a bath, diffuse essential oils or read a book to wind down.
- Avoid drinking alcohol or eating 2 to 3 hours before bedtime which can disrupt sleep.
- If you wake up during the night, it can be tempting to put on the TV or check your social media feed. Instead, go into another room or do something relaxing like reading or coloring.
5. BREATHE AND STAY PRESENT
When my anxiety ramps up, my husband says, “are you taking your deep breaths?” I usually roll my eyes, because I wish breathing was a cure-all for anxiety, but he’s right to remind me.
Breathing does help quell anxiety because it calms the sympathetic nervous system—which is responsible for the flight or fight response—and activates the relaxation response of the parasympathetic nervous system which brings about feelings of calm.
Here are two quick deep breathing exercises that can help relieve anxiety:
1.Box breathing: exhale for 4 seconds, inhale for 4 seconds, hold it for 4 seconds, exhale for 4 seconds.
2. The 4-7-8 technique: breathe in for 4 seconds, hold it for 7 seconds, and exhale for 8 seconds.
I also find progressive muscle relaxation, which involves tensing all of the muscles in your body, then releasing and repeating it a few times helps lower my anxiety.
Although it can be tough to sit still long enough for meditation when you’re anxious like I am, I’ve found it to be really helpful for anxiety.
In fact, a March 2014 study in JAMA Internal Medicine suggests 30 minutes a day of meditation may improve symptoms of anxiety and stress.
I recently took a 4-week meditation class through my local Yoga studio, but you can also find free meditations on YouTube, or download an app like Headspace or Calm.
6. TRY COGNITIVE BEHAVIORAL THERAPY (CBT)
Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) is an effective, non-drug, therapy you can practice with a therapist or do at home. It helps you identify your feelings and thoughts, dispute your irrational thoughts, and re-frame your thinking so you can be free of anxiety.
You can learn CBT with the help of a virtual therapist like TalkSpace, or on your own.
I’ve used the “The Feeling Good Handbook,” by David D. Burns, MD for years and it’s been extremely helpful.
7. USE ESSENTIAL OILS
Aromatherapy using essential oils may help relieve anxiety and promote relaxation in some people. I like lavender but bergamot orange, chamomile and ylang-ylang are also good choices. The key is to find one that works for you.