Southwest Counseling Service: Managing Anxiety in the Middle of COVID-19

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It’s completely normal to feel more anxious than ever in the middle of a COVID-19 crisis—but understanding that fact might not make coping any easier. The fears and anxiety can make us feel like we can’t make it another day, or for some, another minute. We are filled with “what if’s….” and a lot of uncertainty. Try to remember that anxiety is a blend of fear and hope. It is also important to keep the hope part in mind too, and minimize the fear.

That’s why Sweetwater County Prevention Specialists, Dani Deters and Megan Weston, reached out to experts at Southwest Counseling Service for support on how to cope with anxiety during this time.

  • Focus on what we can control:

It is not always easy to accept that things are out of our control, but it is a good time to start trying. According to Bonnie Collins, MSW, LCSW, “if we get wrapped up in the things that are outside of our control, then our anxiety will only increase.”  Here are some prevention strategies from the CDC of things that YOU can control:

  • Wash your hands frequently for at least 20 seconds.
  • Use hand sanitizer when soap and water isn’t available.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, mouth, or nose.
  • Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects that are frequently touched.
  • Stay home and avoid any non-essential travel.
  • Ensure you are standing six feet apart from other when you are out.
  • Visit Sweetwater COVID-19 Information for accurate updates.
  • Limit the amount of information:

There’s a lot of conflicting information online that can influence how you feel about COVID-19, and finding a source that’s reliable is a key way to avoid falling into a stress spiral. Ross Little, MS, LPC encourages us to “have a prescribed amount of time, once or twice a day at most, that you review information. We are inundated with a constant stream of information, and although being informed is helpful, it can also be overwhelming as we attempt to control something that we cannot. Instead, bring your focus back to something you can control; your flow of information.”

  • Take care of YOU:

The experts all agree that the best way to manage your anxiety is to take care of YOU. During a crisis, you can easily forget to take care of yourself while only focusing on negative thoughts. Your first priority, however, should be making sure that you are taking self-care seriously. Self-care is deeply personal and takes many forms, but here are some ways that you can take care of yourself according to Mark Gibson Ph.D, a licensed psychologist for the last 20 years:

  • Exercise!  Get out there and take a walk.  Enjoy the sunshine and fresh air, while also maintaining social distancing guidelines.
  • Engage in appropriate self-care tasks.
    • If you’re stuck at home, take a shower, do your hair, brush your teeth, eat healthy foods, get enough sleep.
    • If you’re running on empty, you won’t be able to be there for family members.
  • Maintain a sense of humor.  Look for the positives in your quarantine partners or co-workers.  It’s easy to see their negatives, but healthier to look for and notice their positives.
  • Routine, Routine, Routine:

Routines and maintaining a day to day structure during times of crisis are some of the primary things in managing anxiety according to Ross Little, MS, LPC. In addition, with children in the household, Ross says, “it is beneficial for children to maintain schedules that include physical activity and scheduled downtime as well”.

  • Try to go to bed and arise at the same time each day
  • Eat when and what you normally would eat
  • Set a timeframe to do different tasks
  • If you are working from home, make a plan to work during your normal hours or make adjustments that will allow you to maintain “your normal” day
  • Create Space to unwind:

When you feel your anxiety creeping in try to make it your cue to turn to some techniques that will help you feel grounded again. There are many different things you can do to ease any worry spirals. If you are not sure where to start, try one of the ways that the experts suggested:

  • A great way to manage anxiety is called a Vagus Nerve Reset says Julie Scott, MA, LAT, LPC.
    • When stressed, use your pointer finger to gently massage the area just below your ear lobe on each side, slightly behind your jawline.
    • You can use essential oils for maximum effect, but this can also be done without oils. Massage for about a half a minute.
    • Then place your pointer finger in the same spot you have been massaging and flick your finger down three times in a gentle motion.
  • This practice can be conducted several times daily. It has a cumulative effect.
  • Thomas Bibber, LCSW educates on proper breathing techniques. “Notice the air flowing in through your nose and down into your lungs as you take a deep breath. Put your hand on your stomach and feel it expand while you take a deep breath. Too many of us breathe shallowly and do not take the deep breaths that we need to. As you exhale, visualize all the tension in your body going out with the air. If you breathe out a few seconds longer than you breathe in, that gives a cue to the part of your brain that tells your body to relax.” This technique has been proven by research to be an effective way of reducing anxiety.
  • Practice mindfulness during daily activities:

Mindfulness is a mental state where one focuses on being in the present moment, while calmly acknowledging and accepting one’s feelings, thoughts, and bodily sensations. You can practice mindfulness while doing daily activities such as washing the dishes, playing with your children, taking a walk, or eating a snack or a meal, says Thomas Bibber, LCSW.

He explains that all you need to do is to keep your focus on what you are doing. If you find yourself thinking of other things and especially of anxious thoughts, turn your mind gently back to what you are doing. It may take some effort and some practice, but that is why it is called mindful practice. The more you do it, the easier mindfulness becomes because the better you will be at it. You will also find yourself happier and more fulfilled in your day-to-day life, rather than wishing you were somewhere or someone else.

  • Mediation apps and YouTube can be great resources for beginners!

Patricia Swan-Smith, LPC wants to remind everyone that you are not alone. “So many of us are struggling to stay in our own skins. Let yourself know it is okay not to feel normal under these circumstances” that are occurring during the COVID-19 pandemic.  Here are some more tips from Patricia Swan-Smith, LPC:

  • First of all, don’t be afraid to reach out for professional help. Often times when we reach out to family or friends, we get advice that makes us feel insignificant, or even crazier than we already feel.
  • Work hard to understand that many of us are on or over the edge. Practicing not taking things too seriously and/or judging others is crucial.
  • Try to get out and go for a drive or a walk. Exercise is an amazing way to clear our heads. For those who are not able to exercise, deep breathing and watching positive pod casts can help.
  • Eat healthy or as healthy as you can. Overeating is deadly for many of us, and so easy to do when we are stuck inside.
  • Ask for help. There are people who are donating money, supplies or conversation to those in need. Call the service organizations, churches and/or counseling centers to see what is available.
  • Avoid use of alcohol or other drugs through this. Many turn to substances when things feel like they are out of control. Adding or feeding an addiction can make things so much worse; in fact for some, the use of substances may end in death, divorce, spouse or child abuse, or even jail or prison. Again, reach out for help if you are unable to deal with all of this without substances.
  • Count your blessings. If we are not out of work or money, have a safe place to live, have food, clean water, and a bathroom; take a moment to really appreciate what we have. There are so many who live without some or all of the above.

Lastly, Patricia Swan-Smith says “As with all hardships and traumas, we cannot control or stop them, but we can make it through them and gain from the experience. There are so many of us who have become such amazing people because of our experiences—it’s not to say we’re glad we went through them so we could become stronger, but rather being able to acknowledge we were heartbroken because of what happened, yet with love, time and perseverance, we were able to mend our hearts and minds.”

  • Stay Connected:

The time for physical       d i s t a n c i n g       is now. BUT we can stay connected—even if we have to self-isolate. Thankfully, with the internet, we can always be connected—but there are other ways to stay connected. Remember, you are not in this alone. If you are feeling lonely or overwhelmed—check out a video created by a Rock Springs native: You are not alone.

  • Be kind, and practice empathy every chance you get.
  • Be Extra Neighborly. Take the extra time to check in with your neighbors—to say hi or see how you could help each other.
  • Create other specials hellos like putting signs in your windows (or a Teddy Bear).
  • Create positive/uplifting/funny videos (like the link above) to send to friends!
  • Call/FaceTime instead of sending a text (seeing a familiar face or hearing a friendly voice can do wonders for your mood.)
  • Eat meals with your family/friends online!
  • Write letters to friends (electronically…or yes, through ‘snail’ mail)
  • Plan the same activities with your friends and then share photos with each other!
  • Virtually teach someone a new skill!
  • Have a video call – book club, dance party, or just to say hi
  • Volunteer for your community (like gathering items in need)

If you are struggling, know that seeking help is a strength—not a weakness. Remember that the anxiety you’re experiencing is normal. But by focusing on what we can control, limiting information, taking care of ourselves, keeping our routines, creating space to unwind/relax, and staying connected, you can care for your mental and emotional health throughout this time.


Southwest Counseling Service
 and Sweetwater County Prevention want to remind you of the following resources:

Together WE can make it through this!

 


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