First and foremost, I understand your concerns. Although panic is not helpful, productive worry is. We must face the reality of this situation together. We will all likely know people who will have severe reactions to this virus. Many of us will lose people we love. And all of us will have significant disruptions in our lives – financial, social, medical, etc. We need to plan for the realities of this pandemic and cope with it as best as we can. For many of us, especially those with mental health difficulties, social isolation is extraordinarily painful. Being alone in our fear is extraordinarily difficult – so know that I am here for you.
The key to surviving and thriving in a time like this is to stay in a zone of productive worry. Too little worry makes us stall and not take precautions. Too much worry causes us to freeze or panic, keeping us from acting in ways we must to overcome adversity. Those of us who have faced psychological traumas and who have more sensitive nervous systems may be more prone to freezing than others; so continuing to work towards health may be essential in this moment.
Here are a few tips to help stay in the zone of productive worry:
1. Limit your social media time and your time talking to others about the virus. Try to be aware that often we feed off each other’s anxiety instead of calming each other down. A constant barrage of bad news can create hopelessness and paralyzing anxiety. Try to check in with yourself to see if engaging in these conversations helps create productive plans or leads to a freezing response. One way to tell is if you feel stuck or can’t pull yourself away from a screen.
2. Spend more time with things that calm you. Cuddle your pets, children and/or partners, listen to music, watch a favorite movie, etc. Spend some of your free time re-engaging with hobbies and creative endeavors. Participating in activities that are familiar makes us feel safe and calms down our nervous systems so we can act productively and be resilient.
3. Continue to be healthy and keep active. Stretch, find places in your home to jog in place or do simple exercises. If it’s safe, take a brisk walk or run around your neighborhood. Stay hydrated. Try to keep high protein and plant-based snacks around the house, as carb-loading can make us feel sluggish, and let’s face it – many of us will be snacking due to stress or boredom.
4. Engage with your loved ones. Play with them, make jokes, even use dark humor, connect in any way you can. Offer tips to each other. Share worries, but don’t get caught in a spiral of paralyzing anxiety.
5. Be kind to yourself and others. We are all doing what we can in a highly volatile and confusing situation. Data will change moment to moment, and we will all make mistakes and many of us may lash out from fear. This is all very human. Apologize if you must, but don’t hold on to guilt or shame – as these emotions also contribute to freezing.
6. Continue with your therapy. Although mental health tends to take a backseat in times of strife and economic burden, the best thing we can do for ourselves is to engage in self-care and keep in the zone of productive worry. Taking care of your mental health is essential toward this goal. Many of us therapists are offering tele-therapy options.
Thank you for reading. We are in this with you. We understand your worries. And we are here to help you through this frightening situation. If you would like to consult with a therapist, please reach out to me at firstname.lastname@example.org. I am seeing clients in Colorado and California for video chat based tele-therapy.