I Need A Hug! 6 Ways to Handle the Anxiety of a Pandemic

by Kelly Simmerman

Take care of your body and connect with others

All of us have felt anxiety at one time or another, a big test, public speaking, or social stress. However, some people experience anxiety more than others. Disproportionate amounts of anxiety can sometimes be caused by an underlying issue, most commonly, an anxiety disorder that effects 40 million adults in the US. Let’s face it, anxiety is peaking in all of us, right now, reaching mountainous levels. Whether or not we have been diagnosed with a disorder, it’s a crazy time.

I know for myself, I have either been on the brink of crying and wanting to climb in bed and pull the covers over my head to downright anger about a pandemic that is out of my control. All the fallout that has come from Covid and all that we haven’t even seen or imagined is heartbreaking. From human loss to job loss to businesses closing permanently, the effects are tremendous and can do a real number on our emotions.

Let’s back up and look at something. How common is anxiety when NOT in a pandemic?

An estimated 31% of all adults will experience an anxiety disorder at some point in their life. (Anxiety and Depression Association of America, 2020)

Anxiety disorders are more prevalent in women than in men in the United States and around the world. (NIMH, 2017) (Our World in Data, 2018)

Specific phobias are the most commonly occurring anxiety disorder, affecting over 19 million adults in the U.S. (ADAA, 2020)

There is a good bit of us who suffer from some sort of anxiety even before Covid struck. Unfortunately, we don’t have any good numbers to compare then and now. It’s all too new, but there are some warning signs to look out for. The CDC (Centers for Disease Control) says to take action if you or a loved one or friend are showing signs of acute anxiety.

Look out for these common signs of distress:

Feelings of feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration

Changes in appetite, energy, and activity levels

Difficulty concentrating and making decisions

Difficulty sleeping or nightmares

Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes

Worsening of chronic health problems

Increased use of alcohol, tobacco, or other drugs

If you or a loved one experiences these feelings or behaviors for several days in a row and cannot carry out normal responsibilities because of them, please seek professional help.

Photo by Tyrell James on Unsplash

Recently, my family enacted a few nights per week as “no alcohol nights” as we were drinking wine just about every night. It was hard at first. We had become too accustomed to a happy hour at home and then moving into wine with dinner. It was more a habit than anything. Instead, we have reading nights or card game nights, alcohol-free. It feels really good and healthy.

Here are a few more ideas:

1- Take care of your body Eat healthy, well-balanced meals, exercise regularly, and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol, tobacco, and other drugs.

2- Connect with others– Share your concerns and how you are feeling with a friend or family member. Maintain healthy relationships and build a strong support system. And when you need it, ask for a hug from a family member in your home. If you live alone, connect via Zoom or Facetime and talk about your feelings. I know this feels really vulnerable, but like Nike says, Just Do It.

3- Take breaks– Make time to unwind and remind yourself that strong feelings will fade. Try taking in a few deep breaths or even try meditation. Do activities you usually enjoy — reading, playing the piano, watching old favorite movies. Try Belly Breathing. Belly breathing is easy to do and very relaxing. Check out this basic exercise anytime you need to relax or relieve stress.

Sit or lie flat in a comfortable position. Put one hand on your belly just below your ribs and the other hand on your chest. Take a deep breath in through your nose, and let your belly push your hand out. Your chest should not move. Breathe out through pursed lips as if you were whistling. Feel the hand on your belly go in and use it to push all the air out. Do this breathing 3 to 10 times. Take your time with each breath. Notice how you feel at the end of the exercise.

4- Stay informed, but don’t overdo it– When you feel that you are missing information, you may become more stressed or nervous. Watch, listen to, or read the news for updates from officials. Be aware that there may be rumors during a crisis, especially on social media. Always check your sources and turn to reliable sources of information like your local government authorities.

5- Avoid too much exposure to news– Another of my tactics — shut off the news! Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories. It can be upsetting to hear about the crisis and see images repeatedly. Try to do enjoyable activities and return to normal life as much as possible and check for updates between breaks.

6- Seek help when needed– If distress affects activities of your daily life for several days or weeks, talk to a counselor, or doctor, or contact the SAMHSA helpline at 1–800–985–5990 or text TalkWithUs to 66746. For those with deafness or hearing loss can use their preferred relay service to call 1–800–985–5990. It will help, I promise.

More Resources:

Exercise for Mood and Anxiety, Proven Strategies for Overcoming Depression and Enhancing Well-Being, by Michael W. Otto, Ph.D., and Jasper A.J. Smits, Ph.D. (Oxford University Press, 2011)

The University of Michigan. (2018, June 28). Stress Management: Breathing Exercises for Relaxation. Retrieved from https://www.uofmhealth.org/health-library/uz2255

Anxiety and Depression Association of America. (2018). Exercise for Stress and Anxiety. Retrieved from https://adaa.org/living-with-anxiety/managing-anxiety/exercise-stress-and-anxiety

Centers for Disease Control https://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/campaign/tips/diseases/depression-anxiety.html

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