Feeling anxious lately?
How many people are noticing an increase in feeling ANXIOUS lately? Perhaps you find yourself constantly wondering “what if....?”, only to have that “what if...?” turn into more “what if....?” thoughts. Maybe you’re having trouble falling asleep or staying asleep because your mind keeps replaying worrisome thoughts, or when you sleep you have more vivid dreams now. Some may feel more irritable with others or have issues with being restless. Perhaps you’re having an increase in physical complaints which only heightens your concerns and creates a cyclical loop of anxiety. Note: never assume a physical symptom is anxiety without checking with a doctor.
If you’re noticing these things, you are not alone! It is a normative response to uncertainty to have feelings of unease and anxiety, and in this unprecedented time of the pandemic it is difficult to predict what will happen next. There are no guaranteed outcomes, and change is coming quickly. The news can feel overwhelming as well and it is challenging to keep track of the latest recommendations before they are revised again. On top of that, losing jobs and/or working from home is understandably stressful and extra complicated if you are also navigating e-learning for children or caring for family members. And there are additional pressures for those who are in a lower socioeconomic status, members of certain minority groups, who have experienced trauma, and people with disabilities. This is an extraordinarily stressful time.
So how can you manage feelings of anxiety amidst this chaos?
First....BREATHE. Let’s practice a breathing exercise that will help your body mitigate anxiety. Sit comfortably with your feet firmly in contact with the floor. Place your hand over your chest, close your eyes, and take 3 slow deep breaths. Did you feel the way your chest rose and fell with each breath? Now place your hand over your bellybutton, and breathe even more slowly, trying to make your bellybutton move with each breath instead of your chest. This take some practice, but belly breathing helps to calm the nervous system and sends a message to your brain and body that you are safe which in turn helps you to relax. This is an easy technique that both adults and children can learn.
Next, be mindful of your thoughts. Ask yourself if there is evidence that what you are worried about is happening *right now*. Often, people project their fears too far into the future and create unnecessary worry for themselves. Instead, focus on what is happening right now – only in the current week (or even the current day if you’re particularly overwhelmed). If you are worried about returning to school in the Fall for example, that is too far away and there are too many unknown variables to be able to make an accurate assessment or plan at this time. Allow yourself no more than two “what ifs...?” and then remind yourself that beyond that, there are too many potential variables to consider right now. People also tend to consider only worst-case scenarios. Instead, practice asking yourself what the best-case scenario is as well, and then realize that a more balanced perspective is somewhere in the middle of those two thoughts. When you focus on a more realistic outcome, you are able to be more rational in your thoughts processes which in turn helps you to feel more in control of the circumstances and less anxious.
Then, remember to identify what is actually in your control. Many of our concerns are not in our control right now, and that feels scary. However, there is usually something that you are able to do – for example, if you’re worried about catching COVID-19, you have control over whether you wear a mask, if and where you go out in public, when you wash your hands, etc. Paying attention to what you *can* do instead of what you cannot can help with lowering anxiety as well by directing your attention to creating feelings of empowerment instead of disempowerment with your current situation.
For a great resource list of ways to manage anxiety, check out this site - https://www.anxietycanada.com/free-downloadable-pdf-resour…/ These are not COVID-19 specific but many of the strategies can be very beneficial. Try a few and see what works best!
Finally, recognize that anxiety in children may look different because they can’t always communicate what they are feeling. For some, it may look like defiance while for others it may look like regressive behaviour. Some children may be more clingy or tearful while others may want more space. Sometimes, anxiety can present as stomachaches or headaches or sleep issues or changes in appetite. Some children and teens may want to “zone out” into technology. It is important during this time to communicate routines and expectations with children as they feel more comfortable knowing what they can expect to happen next, and they feel more secure being reminded that the adults in their lives are able to handle the issues. Help them to recognize and label their emotions, and reassure them that it is ok to feel however they are feeling. A good resource for COVID-19 specific family activities can be found here https://letsembark.ca/time-capsule.
I hope this was beneficial for some. Please feel free to ask any ANXIETY specific questions on this post and I will help as I can. If you are uncomfortable asking publicly you are welcome to message me, or message any ideas for future Wellness Wednesdays too. Remember that this doesn’t take the place of therapy and is not medical advice. And while a few brief interventions can’t solve everything, having a few to use when you’re feeling overwhelmed can be beneficial to help you cope. If you feel you are in crisis or need immediate support, contact the Disaster Distress Hotline at 1-800-985-5990.
Remind yourselves that you are surviving a crisis right now, even if you are not directly affected by the virus. It is ok to take a slower pace, it is ok to shift expectations, and it is ok to acknowledge feeling overwhelmed. Focus on quality of connection with those you love over quantity of accomplishment, and be sure to take regular time for self-care. Let me know if this was helpful!