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Managing COVID-19 Anxiety

HELPFUL INFORMATION/TIPS ON ANXIETY FROM A FORMER PSYCHOTHERAPIST (School of Rock Philadelphia Owner, Lisa Riley)

Anxiety is a feeling, a sense of fear and apprehension that puts an individual on alert that they may be exposed to discomfort or danger. Anxiety’s purpose is to provide protection by heightening an individual’s sense of awareness which enables them to prepare for possible threats. Anxiety is experienced physically in the body. Most commonly reported as stomach in knots, tightness or heaviness in the chest/shoulders, headaches, shakiness throughout the body, and racing/pounding heart. Think of it as a person’s internal alarm system.

Anxiety is a normal human response to an abnormal situation. A global pandemic is an abnormal situation, and experiencing discomfort and unease at this time is perfectly normal. It’s unrealistic to expect anxiety to just go away on its own. Instead of investing into this unrealistic belief, a person’s energy would be better channeled into developing tools to better cope with and minimize the anxiety.

YOUR BRAIN AND ANXIETY

There are two sides to your brain, the left side and the right side. We function best when the left and right sides of our brains are in balance. The left side controls our ability to be rational, analytical, put things in sequential/linear order, and speak.The right side contains our emotional, primitive and survivalist parts.

When an individual experiences intense anxiety the left side of their brain starts to go offline, leaving the right side, the emotionally reactive and irrational side to be in charge of their thoughts/actions. This makes expressing yourself, making good decisions, and implementing effective coping strategies difficult, because the part of your brain that is in charge of doing thosethingsisshutdown.T hewaytobringtheleftsideofyourbrainbackonlineistoremove any physical tension from your body. In other words, to get your body into a physically relaxed state.

We have all been told when we are anxious to just think differently, change the thought or belief that is upsetting us. However, when experiencing anxiety, the part of your brain that can do that isn’t fully present, therefore making it difficult to change your thoughts. Before you can change your thought or belief, you have to first make sure that your left side of your brain is “online” by removing the physical tension in your body.

WAYS TO REMOVE TENSION FROM YOUR BODY

Start observing yourself when you are not feeling anxious. Think about when you are most relaxed and calm. Pay attention to what you experience when you are doing different activities.

Try some of the following:

Creative outlets:

playing an instrument, drawing, painting, dancing, cooking, writing, etc.
For example, If you are a guitar player, notice how your body feels and what you are experiencing physically while you are playing your guitar or holding a pick. Experiment with yourself, next time you are feeling tension in your body, play the guitar for 10 mins and see how you feel, but be mindful to play a song that doesn’t frustrate you to play.

Yoga:
favorite poses, shifts energy and creates sense of body control

Breathing Exercises:

when scared our immediate reaction is to hold our breath in our chests, A simple exercise to do is breath in for 4 seconds and out for 6 seconds, try singing and vocal warm ups

Meditation/Visualization:

Safe place imagery. Identify a real or imagined place that you feel most relaxed in. Create a detailed scene that includes all the senses (what sounds do you hear, what smells, how do things feel/textures/heat/cool, what do you see), is anyone with you. Name your safe place and visualize it whenever you start to notice tension in your body. The most common safe place imagery used is the beach, but get creative and choose something that best represents where you feel calmest.

EFT/Tapping:

technique where you tap on a series of different acupressure points. You can find resources online for EFT/Tapping (Emotional Freedom Technique). Try doing a series of 3 rounds of tapping all the points. Before each round, start by saying “Even though I am feeling anxious, I am okay”. As you tap on each point, state “I’m okay”.

Bilateral Stimulation:

Rhythmic patterns to help balance left and right brain activity, make alternating left and right side movements(walking, tapping on your knees). Drummers hold a drumstick in each hand and alternate hitting a drum with each stick, keyboard players can alternate hitting keys with fingers on each hand.

Sensory Tools:

calming smells, listening to calming sounds, rubbing certain textures.
Some common sensory tools used are lotions, candles, lip balms and spices with scents that you find soothing. Explore how you respond to different smells, and notice how your body feels after you take a deep inhale of the scent. Listen to certain songs or use a sound machine. Touching and rubbing certain textures like fleece or stuffed animals, or petting your dog/cat. Playing with slime/putties and squishees works too.

ADDITIONAL COPING STRATEGIES AND TOOLS TO MANAGE ANXIETY

Control:
The only thing in life we have control over is our own behaviors and actions.
People mistakenly assume we have control over our thoughts and feelings. We don’t, but we do have control over what actions we take in response to a thought or feeling. Anxiety is caused by our belief that we are supposed to be able to control everything. Ever have a random intrusive negative self thought like “It’s never going to get better”. You can’t control if you have that thought, but you do have control over the action you take in regards to that thought that will determine your mood. If the action you take is to go eat a pint of ice cream and hide in your bed for 5 hours, you probably won’t experience immediate relief, and may end up feeling worse. However, if the action is to reach out to your support system and get a reality check or some feeling validation you will probably experience some relief quickly and your anxiety will decrease.

Thoughts:

A thought is just a thought, it’s what you do with it that matters. The longer you keep a distressing or uncomfortable thought in your head, the more distorted it becomes. Find safe ways to release your thoughts by verbally sharing with a member of your support system, or writing about it. Some people find it helpful to write out the thought on paper and then throw it away.
You may hear others tell you to change your negative thought to something positive, but sometimes that can be difficult to do. Instead of changing the negative thought into something positive, first just try to neutralize the thought without any self judgment. “Although I’m feeling uncomfortable, at least I am aware of this and can share it with John”. By approaching the thought without judgment it enables you to gain insight into what’s causing the thought which will then allow you to start problem solving in a rational manner.

Stop Sign Exercise:

When you notice that you are having an uncomfortable thought, visualize a stop sign. The stop sign represents Stop, Think, Act. The stop sign will act to disrupt what you are experiencing, identify the thought you are having, and the action you need to take in response to the thought.

Stay in the Present:

Try to keep yourself focused in the present, and avoid getting caught up in “If Onlys” and “What Ifs”. “If Onlys” takes you out of the present and puts you back in the past which has already occurred and you can not change. “What Ifs” brings you to the future, which hasn’t even occurred yet. Both of these can cause unnecessary distress, so it’s best to channel your energy into staying in the moment.

Distraction:

This is an incredibly effective tool. Engage in an activity to distract you from your thoughts. Super simple, but it really works.

Trying to suppress anxiety is like expecting your body to not get hungry after not eating for two days. The key to managing anxiety is to identify unnecessary anxiety and utilize tools that help reduce its impact. Situational anxiety is overcome by confronting it. Avoidance only intensifies it. If you notice that your anxiety is becoming disruptive to your ability to successfully function in major areas of your life (work, school, relationships) then you should consider seeking professional help.