How to manage anxiety during a pandemic: 6 tips for staying calm
Do you want to know my tactics for how to manage anxiety? For those with anxiety like me, dealing with a pandemic can be particularly challenging. In fact, I’ve found that being in lockdown was less anxiety-inducing than the lead up to the lock down and now our emergence from it. Despite the unpredictability, we humans are adaptable even though we may not think we are. I’ve compiled a few ways on how I managed anxiety during this period which you might find helpful.
1. Understand what you can and can’t control
As a self-confessed planner who enjoys predictability, I had to accept some realities. I couldn’t control losing my job due to COVID-19 or the fact that I had an autoimmune condition. I also couldn’t control the reality that I was a WOC (woman of colour) at a time where there were accounts of racially-motivated abuse directed at people of Asian descent.
However, I could control what made me feel safe, secure and stable during this period. This included staying at home even when restrictions have loosened, researching how other people with autoimmune disease have managed their condition during this period, consulting with my medical professionals, establishing clear boundaries and keeping my mind occupied with activities that bring me joy.
2. How to manage anxiety by reducing media consumption
Before lockdown, I realised that I was monitoring the media several times a day as I was interested in keeping up with all the COVID-19 updates. However, there is such a thing as information overload. Although knowledge is powerful, the more you know, the more you worry, as my husband puts it. I have a habit of ruminating and overthinking. To balance this, I made sure that I only checked the news once a day, generally in the morning just before I open my emails, and only for maximum 15 minutes. I also try to avoid reading comments from major news sources, because they cause me stress. As I’ve heard it said: “Not reading the comments is self-care”. And, yes, there is a Facebook group with that title!
3. Establish a routine
Routines give you a sense of purpose. And they are one more thing you can control. I find establishing a routine helps me focus on the task at hand. It helps the day go by quicker too. Sometimes not everything is ticked off in my routine, but I consider it a successful day if I achieve my biggest priorities, such as walking the dog, eating a healthy breakfast, journaling and exercising. My day’s activities are predictable and within my control.
4. Keep up with exercise
There are numerous benefits of exercise on mental health, and I find it a great way to keep my mind occupied. It also conveniently weaves into my daily routine, is something I can control (I can go as easy or as hard as I want as long as I keep moving) and it forces me to be in the present (see the next point). Triple points! Sometimes my motivation can wane, which is why I make sure I only do about 30 minutes a day and take breaks if I need to between exercises.
5. Be in the present
Living in the moment is my biggest barrier to managing anxiety, as my mind tends to revert back to past situations or worries about the future. Meditation quietens my mind and forces me to be in the present. It is something that I’ve learnt to add to my routine in the mornings. I’ve also found having an audiobook or music on in the background helpful. Cultivating being in the present is something which isn’t easy to do, but with practice you’ll get better at it. A lot of the time it is about experimenting with different things. During lockdown, I went through a decluttering phase as I wanted to continue my journey with minimalism. By removing items that I no longer used or didn’t bring me joy (as Marie Kondo puts it) it took a weight off my shoulders and made me think intentionally about what I owned and what served me for my life in the present.
6. How to manage anxiety by journaling
I’ve been journaling for over a year now and found that there are two types of journaling that have helped manage my anxiety. The first is a gratitude journal, where I write down three things I am grateful for each day. I always write down something which makes my life better: warm socks, a hot shower, a cup of tea. The second is what is known as “Morning Pages”, a term coined by the author Julia Cameron who wrote The Artists Way. The idea of the Morning Pages is to basically a brain dump your stream of consciousness in the morning. You write down whatever is on your mind and make sure to fill in three pages of it. I tend to do this straight after feeding my dog and with a cup of tea in my hand. I don’t need to worry about grammar, spelling, flow or being judged. It is simply all emotions released on a page so that it isn’t occupying room in my head during the day.
You might also be interested in this article by psychologist Paulie Dorrell: What is anxiety? Here are the causes and how to overcome them.
Stephanie Lee is a marketing and communications professional, with an interest in health, patient advocacy, and intersectional feminism. She lives in Western Sydney with her husband and pet corgi.