Changes in routine, frightening news stories, social isolation and uncertainty are all feeding our internal worry monster in these difficult times. That worry monster, who often hibernates during calm, stable times, thrives on a constant cycle of negative news stories, dire predictions and uncertainty. Now, fully energized, he is ramping up worst-case-scenario thinking, and feelings of anxiety and panic. If you are struggling to tame your worry monster, the following tips will help you to keep him in check.
1. Focus on the things that you can actually control. Stephen Covey, author of The 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, suggests that focusing on things that are not within our control is ineffective, creating circular thinking that makes us feel helpless and increases anxiety. Although there is so much in this situation that is completely outside of our control, we are still in charge of many of our daily decisions to establish a routine, wash our hands, take a walk, connect with family or make something delicious for dinner. When you catch yourself worrying about something that is completely out of your control, “change the channel” in your brain to focus on those things that are within your control.
2. Get exercise, fresh air, and sunshine. It is well-established by science that getting physical exercise and spending time in nature are both effective in reducing anxiety. Scientists have found that regular aerobic exercise has been shown to decrease overall levels of tension and stabilize mood. According to some studies, regular exercise may work as well as medication to reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression, and the effects can be long lasting.
And it may not be so bad that the gyms are closed for now. Did you know that working out in nature helps to reduce anxiety even more than going to an indoor gym? A hike in the woods or a walk through a meadow can be calming, provide perspective, and slow the activity in the part of the brain linked to negative thinking.
3. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation. Connection to our network of friends and family is known to be one of the greatest determinants of emotional well-being. We are so fortunate, while we have this mandate of social distancing, that we have so many ways to connect with people at a distance, whether it’s 6 feet or 600 miles! Some neighborhoods are having block parties where they bring their lawn furniture out to the street and arrange themselves 6 feet apart to connect with their neighbors. Support meetings are being held through Zoom and other electronic platforms. Extended families are having
FaceTime gatherings and friends are connecting virtually for a glass of wine. An added bonus is that strong social connections actually boost your immune system!
4. Look for the silver lining. Even in incredibly trying times, with illness, loss, and economic stress, we can find the small spots of light. Many people have expressed appreciation for the enforced slowdown and increased family connection. Small acts of humanity and kindness are cropping up everywhere. People are trying to support their small local businesses, performing live music from their balconies and going out into the street to applaud their healthcare workers. We often see the best of humanity in the worst of times. Spend a few minutes each day searching for and being grateful for the positive, whether it’s the forsythia blooming outside your window or your spouse’s comforting demeanor. When we experience gratitude, our brain releases dopamine and serotonin, which enhance our mood and reduce anxiety.
5. If the anxiety is interfering with your ability to function, reach out for professional help. Most therapists are now offering tele-health, through telephone or video-conferencing. You can talk to someone from the comfort of your home who can offer support and strategies for managing your anxiety and calming that worry monster. Most insurance companies are now covering tele-health in the same way that they have covered in-office sessions in the past. Please feel free to contact me for a free consultation. During this crisis, I am available 7 days a week at 732-380-0012 or at firstname.lastname@example.org.