Anxiety can be absolutely paralyzing, whether you’re someone who suffers regularly or not. You’re probably extremely familiar with the pounding feeling in your heart, the butterflies in your stomach, the complete lack of control, and the desperate need to feel better fast. And if your normal coping mechanisms involved, say, happy hour with friends, going to therapy, or hitting a workout class, quarantine has definitely put a damper on those plans.
“A really big way people deal with anxiety is through socialization and their deepest, most intimate relationships,” says psychotherapist Matt Lundquist. “Of course, social distancing is preventing that, and alternatively, it’s causing even more anxiety—so it’s two-fold. You have more anxiety, but you can’t fight it in your normal way.”
Don’t worry, though: All hope is not lost. Below, several experts provide actionable tips you can try today to help fight the increased anxiety you might be feeling due to the state of the world right now. And definitely try a few from this list to see which ones resonate with you. It might take time to find your groove, but don’t worry—it’s a process.
Find One Ritual to Stick to Every Day
“Even if you can’t stick to your routine in the exact same way, finding one thing you can do every day that you used to do will provide a sense of familiarity and structure,” says psychologist Dr. Sheava Zadeh. “So for example, if your routine was you woke up in the morning, got a cup of coffee and then made your bed, do that. If you like going to the gym at a certain time, find an online workout you love and do it at that time.”
In this way, you can sort of trick your brain into realizing that even though things may be out of control right now, there are certain aspects of your life you can control—and this helps you feel safer than you normally would in times of crisis.
Exercise as Much as You Can
“Just because you can’t go to the gym, that doesn’t mean that you can’t get moving,” explains Lundquist. “Online classes and walks may not be the same as getting to the gym, but any movement can help get anxiety out by producing endorphins and giving you something else to focus on for a little while.”
If you consistently relied on exercise pre-pandemic and found that it’s no longer serving you the way it once was, Lundquist recommends switching up the type and duration of your workouts. So, if you previously relied simply on HIIT workouts, maybe try calming yoga or a walk in the park. “Sometimes, it’s simply going through the motions that helps,” he elaborates.
Go Exploring in Nature
“Nature has such a calming effect,” says Zadeh. “Research has found that when we’re exposed to nature, it actually lowers our blood pressure and tension levels.” If only for a quick walk in the park or some time in your backyard, being in nature for a few minutes will get rid of that cooped up feeling and help you realize that even with everything stressing you out, you can still have a little respite from the world when things are getting too much.
Even if you might have had a short meditative practice pre-pandemic, relationship expert Monica Parikh insists that you need to step up your game right now—even if it’s a walking meditation or something you can only commit to for a couple of minutes a day. “Meditation allows you to develop an awareness of your feelings and your thinking patterns,” she says. “Anxiety is mostly fueled by negative, future thinking patterns: In meditation, you figure out what your thinking patterns are, and begin to change them.
You can also focus on day type compartments—like focus on today. You can’t keep thinking negatively about where you’ll be in six months, because that’s anxiety, but you can control today and what’s here right now.” By meditating, you can therefore change your thinking patterns from negative thoughts about the future to proactive thoughts about each day, thereby reducing anxiety.
Observe Your Triggers
"Observe what triggers your anxious feelings, and start managing them differently,” says Elizabeth Gillette, LCSW. “For example, if you read the news every morning, and find that afterwards you’re antsy and have a hard time focusing, think about what it might be like to set a timer and read for only five minutes. It could also be, for example, that that time of day is not ideal for you, and shifting to checking the news in the afternoon might be a game changer. (Side note: Reading the news while caffeinated can create an entirely different, more intense anxiety experience. Proceed with caution.) Noticing what sets off our anxious feelings can help us address them more effectively.”
This takes a great deal of self-awareness, because oftentimes, you know you’re triggered only after the fact, without realizing what actually caused it. However, by self-reflecting and journaling, you’ll soon see that certain activities trigger your anxiety more so than others. In this way, you’ll be able to proactively change them.
“If we actively look, we can always find some good in our day,” says clinical psychologist and author Dr. Lori Whatley. “We are not in the best of situations, but it’s also not the worst for most of us: For example, my good today was that I woke up to birds singing. Our anxiety soars when we only see the negatives.”
You can either say your words out loud, write in a gratitude journal, or just mentally think them to yourself, but it’s essential to try and find some joy so that your anxiety doesn’t consume you. By focusing on the little things you have to be grateful for, you can train your mind to focus on those, instead of the issues you know you can’t control.
Evaluate Your Relationships
“Emotions are contagious,” says Parikh. “Move some of those relationships to the side if they are negative, or if you find that interacting with these people increases your anxiety. It isn’t selfish: In fact, it’s to protect your own emotional health. Bolster your relationships with people who are positive, who’ll help you get into the mind space that you need to be in. And this extends to social media, too: Unfollow the people who are negative.”
The more you allow yourself to be in the presence of people who lift you up instead of bring you down, the more you’ll be able to see the world through their eyes… and even though that may not change any of the facts of your situation, it’ll help you see that there’s a way out, despite what your anxiety might be trying to tell you.
Socialize Online, But Within Reason
Honestly, Zoom calls are great, but we all have to admit that they’re more draining than regular hangs—especially since you feel like you need to be “on” all the time. “Quality time is better than quantity,” says therapist Shira Myrow. “Human beings thrive on structure and connection, but right now, there’s been an erosion of separation between work time and family or personal time. Psychological boundaries are dissolving, and this can cause tremendous anxiety as we’re losing the shape and definition in the flow of our days.” So, Myrow recommends making specific timelines regarding how long to chat with people for, and realizing that some days, you may just want to cancel and veg out so you don’t have to deal with the world—and that’s perfectly okay.
Be Critical of Your Thoughts
“When we’re really stressed or worried about something, we don’t tend to be curious—we tend to be reactive and emotional,” says Dr. Kevin Gilliland. “So, before you decide what you’re going to do or not do, just step back and look at yourself with a little distance. Be critical of your thoughts—literally critique them. Review them for accuracy, and if they’re almost always extreme, then discard the ridiculous ones and settle on some reasonable ones.”
Gilliland explains that when we worry, our mind looks for evidence to support that story, even if it’s completely false. “There is always a grain of truth in worry, so it’s pretty easy for us to find an excuse so that we could act or not act, call or not call, and enjoy life or live in a corner,” he elaborates. “I just want us to be fair when we collect information concerning something that we’re worried about. Pick up all the information you see—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Then, step back and see what story it tells. I bet it’s not all good or all bad, and I bet it’s not even catastrophic. It might even be manageable.”
Remind Yourself This Isn't Forever
“When we are in the midst of a global crisis, we can feel consumed by the information we receive,” says Gillette. “The truth is, we are in a really difficult place right now, but one guarantee is that the situation will eventually shift. Notice what has changed over the past week or month. What has improved? How have you changed to adapt to the situation?” By focusing on the fact that even your most intense emotions have an end, you can better manage the situation.