Coping with Anxiety During a Pandemic
Everyone deals with some amount of anxiety in their daily lives. Work, family, friendships, and romantic relationships can all cause stress.
But where is the line between normal anxiety and the kind that requires intervention? If anxiety is disrupting your day or making your life unmanageable, then you probably need help from a professional.
Meet Matt Dean, the Director of Operations and a Therapist at The Becoming
Matt says, “Anxiety is when we are living in the future; trying to control it and determine possible outcomes. You’re forced to live in a reality that’s not even real.”
Anxiety can present in many ways: trouble sleeping, obsessive or intrusive thoughts, tightness in the chest, or restlessness. Matt says some of his patients notice they can’t stop shaking or bouncing their legs, or feel like their heart is racing.
Sometimes, severe anxiety can trigger panic attacks or even random phantom pains.
Matt says anxiety is something people regularly come in for; most therapists deal with anxiety patients on a daily basis. But he has seen a definite uptick in cases since March.
Why Is COVID Making Anxiety Worse?
Humans need structure: People like to feel like we’re in control. When confronted with something vast and impossible to manage singlehandedly (like a deadly disease), we spiral.
“So much of our normalcy is gone,” Matt says.
Familiar routines – like driving to work or going out to dinner – have vanished. One might not think they would miss their daily commute, but such routines are comforting. The sudden loss of so many habits makes people feel unmoored.
Job loss: 20.5 million Americans were unemployed as of May 2020. This staggering figure is nearly 6% higher than the worst rate during the Great Recession, which lasted from 2007 to 2009. Families all over the country are struggling to hold onto their homes and put food on the table – while also worrying about staying healthy.
Social isolation: Social distancing is vital right now, but it isn’t without its drawbacks. People are forced to go weeks or even months without close contact with friends and family. For people who live alone, isolation can be overwhelming.
“We as humans are created FOR connection with other humans,” Matt says.
He cites studies of the Romanian orphan crisis: from 1965 to 1989, over 700 state orphanages were erected to house children whose families could not support them under communist rule. In most of these facilities, the children were adequately fed, clothed, and housed. But the children were underdeveloped, and infants often died.
When the government fell, humanitarians descended on the country to help the 170,000 children abandoned under state care. Researchers realized that neglect was the culprit behind the children’s’ developmental delays. Only a handful of adults had staffed many orphanages, and the children went days without adult interaction.
Once the children were regularly held, talked to, and cared for by the volunteers, their health rapidly improved.
“If we need this human connection as children, we need it as adults,” Matt says.
Especially now, when normal social interactions are limited, therapy is a healthy space to make a meaningful connection with another person. Whether you attend group or individual sessions, you can count on your counselor to provide support.
How Can a Therapist Help You Manage Anxiety?
Our world might be significantly different this year than last, but that doesn’t mean one is doomed to a life of anxiety. Licensed counselors work with clients to mitigate stress and create coping patterns.
Here are some of the tools your therapist may use to help you learn to decrease your anxiety:
Core Emotion Work: Matt likes to utilize this technique, also known as the Spiritual Roots system. This theory, developed by Chip Dodd of the Spiritual Roots Foundation, names the 8 “core emotions:” angry, lonely, sad, fear, hurt, shame, guilt, and glad. The research that some of the core emotion framework is based on also inspired the movie Inside Out.
Like in the movie, people are motivated by different emotions at different times. Anxiety occurs when fear is in the driver’s seat. Fear can be rational or irrational.
In a pandemic, people confront rational fears all day:
“Will I catch it? Will my mom catch it? Will we end up in the hospital? Why aren’t people around me taking this more seriously? Why can’t we just get back to normal life?”
Such worries shouldn’t be dismissed outright – it’s normal to worry about one’s health and safety during a public health crisis. But these fears can become so prevalent that it’s impossible to think about anything else. Matt says that attaching language to these Core Emotions can give clients the vocabulary to express their worries and ultimately deal with them.
Mindfulness: You may be forgiven for thinking of mindfulness as a marketing buzzword, given its prevalence in advertising. But mindfulness is much more than a new-age slogan; it is a therapy technique that can help you combat anxiety.
“It’s about learning how to ground yourself in the present,” Matt says.
You can practice mindfulness right now while you read this article. Focus on what’s around you; check in with each of your five senses.
What can you hear – leaves rustling outside, the hum of your air conditioner? What can you smell – your cup of coffee? What can you see? Touch? Taste?
When you take a moment to notice your present environment, you are placing your conscious mind in the current moment.
“Mindfulness is a muscle,” according to Matt, “and the more you do it, the easier it will be.”
Meditation is another mindfulness technique. Matt recommends the Insight Timer app for your phone; it has guided meditations to ease anyone into the practice.
Diaphragmatic Breathing: There’s a reason we teach children to stop what they’re doing and take a deep breath when they get upset. Anxiety causes tension in the body, and this causes people to take shallow breaths. Matt recommends deep breathing as an easy, immediate way to reduce stress. When you notice the symptoms of anxiety creeping-up, stop what you’re doing and breathe. You may find an immediate sense of relief.
Matt also encourages his clients to exercise. Whether you do yoga, CrossFit, or take brisk walks, daily exercise forces your body to breathe from the diaphragm, delivering oxygen to your overwrought brain.
I’m Experiencing Anxiety – What Now?
If you’re suffering from anxiety, you’re not alone. This time of year is generally difficult for people who struggle with their mental health.
After the holidays, therapy appointments tend to skyrocket. Matt estimates the trend will be more pronounced this year because many families cannot gather to celebrate.
Toxic shame still surrounds mental health discussions, which can make a person believe they’re the only one struggling. Matt wants his future clients to feel empowered when they ask for help.
“YOU are the expert in the room on your experience,” Matt says. “If you feel like you need help, listen to that instinct.”
Contact The Becoming Today
To keep up with the post-holiday demand for counseling, Matt will be starting a new therapy group at The Becoming for clients who wish to work on their anxiety in a communal setting. For more information, sign up for our email list.
Call us at 615-544-6600. Our Client Coordinator will get back to you and give you a free consultation. You can also send us a message or request to book a session by clicking the ‘Request Appointment’ at the top of our website.
If you’re looking to work with a therapist, but worried about cost, fear not – The Becoming now accepts insurance! Also, most therapists at The Becoming offer rates on a sliding scale based on income. We also offer telemedicine for Tennessee patients who cannot travel to an office.
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