We have been living with COVID-19 now for nearly 16 months and there has been an immense amount of progress when it comes to the number of infections across the states decreasing. Through social distancing, mask-wearing, and the high availability of receiving the vaccine, we are beginning to see the world open up again across the country. People are able to see their loved ones after a year of isolation, enjoy restaurants and museums, and even walk outside without the need for a mask (if vaccinated).
While life seems to be increasingly getting back to the pre-COVID days, the psychological effects that the pandemic has had on the population are still very relevant. According to the Center for Disease Control (2020), a staggering 40% of U.S. adults have reported mental health issues and an increase in substance use since the beginning of quarantine back in March 2020.
The leading mental illness that people have reported experiencing is anxiety, and it appears that people are struggling with getting back to “normal” life. If this sounds familiar, there are various coping skills and tips to try to ease the anxiety of our new way of life to be able to enjoy it to the fullest Below are just a few ways to cope with COVID anxiety:
1. GET MOVING
Has anyone ever told you how exercising can help ease anxiety? Being active and finding an enjoyable way to move our bodies has various benefits that directly help in building resilience against anxious thoughts and feelings. Increasing your heart rate raises levels of important anti-anxiety neurotransmitters such as serotonin and gamma-aminobutyric acid. Serotonin is often referred to as the “happy hormone” due to its natural mood-stabilizing components; since getting your heart rate up naturally increases serotonin levels in the brain, regular exercise can aid in reducing stress and anxious thoughts, especially during the pandemic (Ratey, 2019).
2. Get enough sleep
One of the most prevalent symptoms of anxiety is excessive worrying, and now more than ever there is no shortage of worry amongst the population. People who experience intense worrying often ruminate about their concerns while trying to fall asleep; the unease and anxiety that comes with worrying thoughts makes it very difficult to fall and stay asleep (Suni, 2020). When we don’t get enough sleep, we feel even more anxious during the day and often we are too exhausted to engage in anxiety-reducing activities, such as exercise, and then the cycle continues.
If this sounds familiar, you are certainly not alone and there are various things you can do to lessen those worrying thoughts and get a good night’s sleep:
- Turn off your electronics at least 30 minutes before bed
- Write all of your worrying thoughts in a journal at the end of the day
- Sip on some calming tea, such as chamomile or ginger to help you feel sleepy
- Read a couple chapters in a book to get your mind off of your worries
- Listen to calming music or a podcast
- Start a meditation practice – even 5 minutes every night before getting into bed can ease tension and help you let go of your worries
3. Stay connected
While we are finally able to safely be around our loved ones again, many people have become so used to staying home that just the thought of socializing causes major anxiety. On the other hand, socialization increases the hormone oxytocin which decreases anxiety levels and helps us feel more confident and resilient! If going to a public place is too difficult right now, then make sure to schedule in calls and video chats with your friends and family on a regular basis. Try setting a reminder on your phone to get in touch with your friends and family at least once or twice a week. Even a simple “thinking of you” text can make us feel more connected and less stressed! Reaching out to others helps us reroute our focus from our own anxieties to caring for the important people in our lives (Socialization and altruistic acts as stress relief, n.d.).
4. Stay informed, but limit news input
We all need to stay informed on the latest news regarding COVID-19 in order to ensure the safety of ourselves and others. With that being said, looking at the news 24/7 can be harmful to our mental health and cause unneeded stress and anxiety. In fact, people have shown an increase in anxiety and negative emotions after watching only 14 minutes of the news on TV (Johnston & Davey, 1997).
In order to combat news anxiety, there are a few tips and tricks that can really help ease the strain that the news can take on your mental health:
- Set time limits and only look at the news once or twice a day, and not before bedtime!
- Manage your news notifications so that you are only receiving important updates regarding COVID-19 that are important for ensuring your safety
- Subscribe to positive news outlets such as Upworthy or Some Good News. Reminding ourselves that there is good in the world can aid in relieving anxiety and focusing on the positives instead of the negatives.
- Practice lots of self care! Take yourself on a long walk while listening to your favorite podcast, watch a silly TV show, or draw yourself a bubble bath. Self care is more important now than ever before.
5. Ask for help
The therapists at Flourish Psychology can work with you to identify your triggers and find freedom from your anxiety. Schedule a free consult to get matched with a therapist who best meets your needs.