Managing anxiety in a time of crisis

I have started to write this at least a dozen times, which has become a bit of a pattern for me in the few weeks that I’ve been sheltering-at-home. I start on a project, I get a little bit in and suddenly my mind is racing, I start to feel jittery or overwhelmed and I find myself wandering off in search of something else. My mind keeps returning to the things that are the most worrisome and over which I have little control.

During times of crisis, I tend to over-function. Brené Brown describes this reaction perfectly in Rising Strong: “I won’t feel, I will do. I don’t need help, I help.”

Since the COVID-19 crisis began I’ve been working extra hours in my coaching practice, for a corporate gig and in my board role for a local mental health and advocacy organization. I’ve attempted to plan for every possibility and support every person. I’ve created large scale building and landscaping projects in my backyard. I’ve stocked up the pantry to the exact point where it feels like I’m prepared but also responsibly not hoarding. I’ve been cooking nonstop for days and I’m exhausted. Clearly this isn’t working for me.

This situation isn’t new; I’ve dealt with anxiety and depression for my entire adult life. Usually I’m able to see this coming and slow the roll a bit faster. What I’m finding particularly challenging right now and what I’ve heard from others with anxiety is that many of the strategies that we usually go to aren’t readily available right now.

This has gotten me thinking about what strategies are available to us in our current situation. What can we do to take care of ourselves and try not to judge ourselves based on productivity? How can we walk the line of recognizing when we’re catastrophizing while also practicing self-compassion around the fact that we are legitimately worried about things? Here are a few strategies that have worked for me in the past. I have a feeling they will make next week feel more manageable than this one.

  1. Limit what comes in

In times of crisis, it can be so tempting to have information coming in at all times, whether that means having a television or radio on, getting news alerts on our phones or just spending hours scrolling social media. Having up-to-date info is important, especially in times of crisis; but it actually only takes a few minutes a day to scan some reputable sources and get caught up. Anything beyond that is likely to produce more anxiety.

  1. Adjust your expectations

Stress and anxiety can hinder productivity which can send many of us into a shame spiral. This is great time to remember that you’re a person, not a product. This may not be a great time to push yourself to perform. Choose reasonable, achievable things to accomplish each day. Do your best and then acknowledge yourself for what you get done (and let yourself off the hook for what doesn’t).

  1. Practice self-care without self-judgement

Taking care of yourself is important, especially when you’re stressed. Make sure you’re covering the basics like food, water, sleep and exercise first. Remember that nothing needs to be perfect. If you ate a bunch of Cheez-Its and skipped your online yoga class and then later pretended it was because you had a work meeting (oddly specific, I know) then just chalk it up to an understandable response to stress. Treat yourself like you would treat a dear friend.

  1. Gratitude and Community

One of the things that I keep coming back to in my head is how truly blessed I am to be home with my immediate family, riding out this crisis with a full pantry and a steady income. I know that there are many, many people all over the world who are facing a far more difficult situation. Focusing on the stories that are inspiring and finding tangible things to do on a regular basis, such as donating to a local food bank or checking on a neighbor or friend who lives alone, can be a great way to ground yourself in what is real and good in this moment.

Remember: We may be home alone, but we are not in this alone. We can do our best to show up for ourselves and each other.

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