Well, here we are: COVID-19 restrictions have reached its peak. When I heard our Governor say the words, “State Lockdown,” I’ll admit, I grasped my breath and felt my chest restrict for a moment. Anxiety and fear kicked in.
Some of us are taking this in stride and with ease. View it as time to slow down, regroup, and have quality time with our spouse and kids. For some of us, our body freezes and our thoughts ruminate, “What now? What am I going to do? What if…?”
Feel trapped, restless, and on edge. Or, feel depressed, have no energy, and want to sleep all day to escape from everything going on around us.
It’s easy in moments of difficulty and overwhelm to AVOID. Avoid interacting, avoid planning, avoid looking at the budget.
It’s like that project that has a deadline but too overwhelming to approach. So, it sits in the back of your mind, eating at you. You can’t sleep, you can’t relax, and you get easily annoyed or irritated by everyone or everything around you. And when you’re in that anxious state long enough, you feel fatigued, discouraged, hopeless, or begin to beat yourself up for not acting on things. Depression sinks in.
I get it. Facing the unknown is so hard and scary! But,
if we can move towards fear and overwhelm, rather than avoid,
the fear and hopelessness starts to subside.
There really is truth to “facing your fears.” And the steps to do that are subtle, brief, and can be done anywhere and with most anything. Here are a few:
- Remind yourself: We’re all in this together. You’re probably hearing this all over in the media world. Heck, I keep spreading it myself on my Facebook page, Instagram. Probably to remind myself too. But it’s true. YOU ARE NOT ALONE. Repeat this to yourself throughout the day. Knowing others are going through the same thing can bring some relief and sense of togetherness.
- Be as present as you possibly can. This is the key to stop ruminating thoughts. It’s sounds ridiculous and easier said than done, yes. There is so much unknown in our immediate future and planning is a necessary action. Nothing wrong with planning at all. But you can’t plan when you’re in overwhelm. And planning out of fear isn’t good either. Intense emotions lead to bad and unnecessary decisions, or not facing them at all. Present moment exercises help to reduce emotions, clear the mind, and make rash decisions.
Present Moment Exercises
- Deep Breathing: inhale through the nose for 4 counts, and exhale out through the mouth for 4 counts. Repeat 2 to 3 more times.
- Close your eyes and notice any sensations in your body. Easy way to do this is notice anywhere where your body makes contact with something (feet on the floor, legs on the seat, etc.)
- Close your eyes and listen to sounds near or far
- Go for a walk and notice the what you see, hear, feel, or touch
- Be present with an ordinary chore: Cooking, sweeping, dusting, gardening, washing dishes, folding laundry. For example, when washing dishes, pay attention to how the water feels on your hands, the softness of the soap, look at the tiny bubbles of the lather, the sound of the water from the faucet or the clatter of the dishes.
- Counting: Count backwards from 10 to 0 slowly and repeat two or three times.
- Physical movement. This is one of those times that internet is a good resource. Movement is important to beat depression. Depression feels lethargic, numbing, or stuck in negative thinking. Movement wakes us up to the present moment. There are lots of great Youtube exercise videos including Yoga. Go for a walk, hike, jog, bike ride.
- Allow your emotions. The key here is to shift your focus away from thoughts and shift your attention to what you are feeling emotionally and where you feel it in your body. I cannot emphasize enough the importance of recognizing, allowing, and accepting your emotions and sensations just at as they are. Yes, I’m asking you to do the very thing you’re trying to avoid. It’s a paradox, I know. But it’s the only way to “face your fear.” Think of this exercise the same way you attend to a child when they’re upset. When you give them attention and allow them to cry, they calm down. This is the time to do that for you. Isn’t this time for some self-care and compassion?
- Control what you can and let of what you can’t. Anxiety often comes from trying to control everything in attempt to prevent something. But if you try to control everything, you’re bound to miss something or make a mistake. You can keep yourself and your family safe, clean, wash your hands, stay in doors or far from others, make a plan. We can remind others to do the same, but then we have to let go. Do you.
- Now you’re ready to plan. There is so much unknown. That is a fact that we must face. What are unnecessary expenses you can pause or adjust such as retirement contributions, or contact phone or utility companies to see if they can work with you? It’s in this step that you may need to repeat the above tools over and over, take breaks, and take one task at a time. That’s okay! Be kind to yourself.
- Plan a daily routine. It’s easy to want to sleep in or stay in your pj’s when working from home. But this can cause sluggishness and continue the feeling that something is off. Keeping structure is especially helpful to ease kids’ anxiety as well. We can’t predict what will happen out there, but we can predict how our day will go, what tasks we want to get done, what our mood is like, change our focus or perspective. Again, this allows us some control in uncertain times.
- One day, One step at a time. This in AA know this all to well. A motto they live by. Taking sobriety one day at a time and if one relapses, then he/she tries again the next day. This is true for so many experiences in life. When you’re trying to lose weight, starting a new project, and many others. Balance between planning for next month, but then break it down into manageable steps.
If you find these tools aren’t working and your anxiety and depression feels stronger than you, counseling can help. A therapist can help create a safe place to get your thoughts and emotions out, practice these tools with you, and get a real sense of how powerful they can be. Meeting with a therapist is also a step of action towards moving forward. Talking out loud in a safe place not only helps release all that you’re carrying inside, but it then allows space to identify what the next step is. Many therapists, including myself, are switching to telehealth services in order to continue to provide support while also practicing physical (social) distancing.
Facing reality is hard but it also brings acceptance, which eases anxiety and wakes us up from depression. Acceptance allows possibility to move forward.
If you would like more information about my therapy services, please look through my website or contact me for a free 20 to 30-minute consultation. Consultations can be done via phone. Telehealth services now available.