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COVID-19: Coping With Anxiety During This Difficult Time

More and more I’m watching news coverage on the Coronavirus and experiencing butterflies in my stomach. I’m worrying and having trouble sleeping, and it seems I’m not alone. COVID-19 has us all sensing danger, resulting in anxiety and fear. When we are triggered, the stress response kicks in and we either fight, flight or simply draw into the self and shut down.

The news and social media are saturated with information on this virus. We track it daily as it invades every aspect of our lives, threatening to creep ever closer to us, our family and friends. Each of us are coping by doing our part to keep this monster at bay in hopes of protecting our loved ones: we stay home, isolate, wear masks, and abide by social distancing orders.

But seclusion from each other and community has its price. Not being able to touch someone on the shoulder, shake their hand, hug and meet socially can negatively affect the human psyche. The sensation of non-sexual touch helps us bond, feel positive feelings, and engage a sense of trust. Healthy touch releases feel-good hormones.

Human beings weren’t created for isolation and aloneness, although spurts of solitude can be very healing, therapeutic and enriching. Solitude can be a great time to step back and reflect, pray, grow, and learn to be alone with the self; this is healthy, but we were never meant to endure a long-term breech in relationship.

The title to Thomas Merton’s most popular book, “No Man Is An Island,” says it all. We need community. Scripture tells us to encourage each other, meet together, and bear each other’s burdens. Even animals find strength in numbers. Through this current social isolation, is it any wonder we’re feeling down?

So, how do we cope with this challenge?

I have seen the phrase many times this week, “This too shall pass,” and it will, but what do we do right now with the anxiety, sadness, and loneliness within the isolation that this virus has caused?

Trying not to dwell on the negative sounds good, but it’s hard to do. Zig Ziglar coined the phrase, Stinkin’ Thinkin’, and said, “Every day we need a check-up from the neck-up to avoid stinkin’ Thinkin’ and hardening of the attitudes.”

These negative thoughts can be debilitating if left unchecked. They can cause us to further withdraw and shut down emotionally.

One way to battle pervasive negative thoughts that creep in and repeat themselves are to examine our thoughts and behaviors. Shift that stinkin’ thinkin’ from negative to positive through journaling what you are thankful for, reaching out to others through phone calls, Face-time and Zoom, even snail mail, and connecting with your community through on-line groups. Of course, stay informed, but balance your brain’s input of negative information by watching and talking about uplifting things as well.

Practice deep diaphramic breathing several times a day; three seconds in through the nose, eight seconds out through pursed lips, and don’t forget to let that belly expand. Exercise (YouTube has a variety), draw, cross-stitch, put a puzzle together, read or listen to the bible on audio, or do some therapy baking … be creative and use whatever you have in the pantry.

No journal ideas? Well, write down five things you’re thankful for every night before bedtime.

And, don't forget to pray.

Jason M. Satterfield, Ph.D., encourages folks to write down what surprised, moved, and inspired you today; this helps change habits of mind.

None of us can reach out and change this virus, no more than we can change another person. We can only change ourselves, how and what we think, and what we do with our time. We will get through this.

It is true, this too shall pass. Keep reminding yourself of this and actively learn and implement the techniques to change the negative to a positive.

Psalms 94:19 “When anxiety was great within me, your consolation brought me joy.

I would love to hear how you are putting a positive slant on your circumstances.

Lori C. Helms M.A., LMHC

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