Adjusting to the New Normal of COVID-19
Updated: Apr 23, 2020
A lot has changed since the last blog post on Managing Your Anxiety During the Coronavirus Outbreak
The global stats on #COVID19 have risen dramatically, with 196 countries reporting 416,686 cases. But it seems we're not only contending with a physical health crisis, but an anxiety epidemic as well. This is unsurprising. The changing circumstances surrounding the management of the spread of the virus create perpetual states of uncertainty and change, which we inevitably perceive as threatening or dangerous. We've been asked to shelter in place, work from home, and keep our distance. These requirements also mean changes to our daily routines, and/or increased demands on our capabilities (eg. parents becoming teachers for kids now at home all day).
Our flight/fight response to these changes causes our anxiety to elevate, which can usually be managed by checking our thoughts for thinking errors (exaggeration, doomsday thinking, jumping to conclusions, all-or-nothing thinking, etc), and/or engaging in activities to distract from these thoughts. These strategies are still effective, but in a constant state of uncertainty, it may be difficult to rationalize one's thinking when one perceives all their fears are founded.
We're in this together - and maybe for a while
It isn't clear (yet) for how long we'll be dealing with COVID-19. The world has retreated indoors, and most have made the transition to working from home where possible. This is now the new normal. When it comes to managing our uneasiness or anxiety about what is happening, it helps to acknowledge and accept our current reality. This means that although you may not like how things are - although it is far from ideal - it is worth accepting it is what exists now. This is important because our states of distress tend to increase the wider the gap between our ideal and our reality. By shifting your focus away from the ideal and on what is, you are able to reduce your feeling of angst and frustration. In other words, your mental well-being will be significantly impacted by your willingness to accept and adjust to your reality. And remember, acceptance does not mean you endorse what's happening - it simply means that you acknowledge what is.
This cannot be emphasized enough, but keeping focused on the present (not the past nor future) is critically important for your mental health during this time. The main reason is that your rational thinking skills will likely be compromised if you focus your attention on thoughts or matters outside of your control. This leads to panic behaviour (such as hoarding bathroom tissue), which may be unhelpful in a time where careful planning and judgment may be required. Until we figure out time travel, you cannot control a future that has not yet happened, nor can you go back to change the past. Focusing on these will widen that reality vs. ideal gap, exacerbating your distress. In staying present, you would be asking yourself:
- Is what I'm thinking about happening now, or is it something that I think may happen?
- If it's something that I anticipate will happen, can I make a plan for it? Do I have the resources to prepare adequately?
- What can I focus on that would be helpful to me right now?
This doesn't mean that you can't plan for the future, but if you find yourself down the rabbit hole of worry, this is a sign that your thoughts have crossed the line from preparing for action, to going into an anxiety spiral. When this happens, take a break, take a breath, and refocus on matters which are in your direct control.
Don't forget to take care of yourself
In the middle of the chaos it is easy to forget about your needs. However, this will likely perpetuate feelings of distress, depression, and anxiety due to an overload on your emotional and mental capacity to cope with stress. Take care of your physical needs by:
- ensuring you are getting adequate sleep
- being mindful of your diet, and ensuring you are getting the right proportion of nutrients according to your health and dietary needs
- incorporating physical activity into your daily routine.
Although we have to maintain #socialdistancing, it does not equate to social isolation. A major part of self-care is connecting in a meaningful way with others, and thanks to technology, we are not short of ways to do this. As regularly as is necessary, make sure you are keeping in contact with family and friends. If you are sheltering in place with your family, schedule at least one family activity per day (eg. dinner time together, family movie, board game, tickle time, etc).
Be intentional about having happy moments
A long underestimated factor when it comes to managing uncertainty is actually being intentional (therein creating control) when it comes to our daily lives. At a time like this it may feel as if everything is left up to fate, but that doesn't have to be. It is very helpful to remove uncertainty by establishing a daily schedule or routine (for yourself and/or with your family). By doing this you establish some sense of control and expectation, decreasing anxiety and distress.
And when you create this schedule, be intentional about including activities that bring you joy, relief, or a sense of balance. Whether it's playing a game with the kids, doing yoga, reading a book, having a Skype concert...whatever it is for you, include it in your daily plan - and do it. At a time like this everyone needs to feel a spark of hope, joy, or relief. Be purposeful in making this happen for yourself.
If you would like to discuss your therapeutic needs, and would like to explore the possibility of starting therapy, feel free to contact me by calling 416-688-5274, or by booking a free initial consult at heartspringtherapy.ca/book-online. Video therapy sessions are available.