How To Manage Anxiety During the Pandemic
None of us were really prepared for pandemic life. Even the most introverted person, who is used to (and generally prefers) staying inside without much impromptu socialization, is starting to reach the point where they want face to face human connection.
All of this isolation takes its toll on us, and can make even the calmest person feel some anxiety. If you were struggling with anxiety prior to the pandemic, you’ve likely noticed that it has significantly increased over the course of the last year or so.
While there is light at the end of the tunnel, PYM would like to help you cope with a few tips on how to manage your anxiety during this time of increased stress.
What is Anxiety, Anyway?
In the human body, there are certain triggers that were designed to keep us safe from harm. Believe it or not, anxiety is actually one of those triggers.
Anxiety is actually a response to the activation of the body’s sympathetic nervous system, which you may know because of its most famous response... “fight or flight.” Also known as the acute stress response, the sympathetic nervous system (or SNS) triggers this response as a result of a stimulus that it considers to be threatening. This threat can be either mental or physical or, in the case of those with anxiety, real or perceived.
The body’s fight or flight response doesn’t exist on a scale of 1 to 10 -- it’s like a light switch, either on or off. When it’s on, you experience a flood of stress hormones into your system. Those hormones cause your heart to race, your muscles to tense, your pupils to dilate, and your breathing to become fast and/or shallow.
A great example of this is to consider how you would respond if you came across a bear while on a camping trip. Each and every response triggered by your SNS is to help you decide whether you want to run away or fight, and to help your body have what it needs (extra oxygen, improved eyesight, etc.) to do just that.
While anxiety may feel mental, it’s actually a very physical response. The triggers are where the mental health aspect comes in.
Why is the Pandemic Making My Anxiety Worse?
Because anxiety is, at its core, a fight or flight response, the body is at a heightened state of awareness during times of increased stress. It was designed to keep us safe, even though it can become out of control for some. The pandemic has naturally taken away a lot of the sense of safety that we thought we had, and it makes us feel constantly aware of how unsafe leaving the house can potentially be.
It’s also, for all that we’ve learned about it, still a situation that has some element of the unknown. As humans, we work best when we can really wrap our heads around the danger. A bear in front of us? Clear and obvious problem. A virus that can be present on anything but that we can’t see? Possibly even more scary.
This is especially true for people who are in populations considered more “at risk” for contracting the virus. Health care workers, the eldery, those with young children, essential workers, and the immunocompromised, especially if they already deal with anxiety, have seen their normal stress levels skyrocket even more over the last few months.
Why Do I Feel So Tired?
Our bodies were not designed to exist under periods of elongated, or chronic, stress. The longer that the pandemic stretches on, and the longer your fight or flight response stays activated, the more run down your body will feel.
Known as “pandemic fatigue,” this is the result of the constant energy that it takes to power the body through all of this stress. It takes energy, and increased hormone output, to cope with it effectively. Creating those hormones is hard work, and the lingering effects after they have left can also leave you feeling drained (and potentially sick, specifically with increased cortisol levels).
Think of it like fight, flight, or hibernate. Because the pandemic isn’t a physical thing that you can either fight or run away from, your body doesn’t quite know what to do. Instead, it begins to burn out and shut down, in a last ditch attempt to protect you from the perceived harm it interprets.
Tips for Managing Your Anxiety During the Pandemic
Managing anxiety in the middle of a pandemic requires a different skill set than the way most people likely manage their “typical” anxiety.
Gather Actual Information From Reputable Sources
Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on how you look at it, we have an abundance of information right at our fingertips 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. The problem is, not all of that information is reputable or even true.
When it comes to the pandemic, it seems like everyone is an expert. Instead of believing everything that you read and letting that trigger your anxiety further and further, take the time to really seek out trustworthy sources.
Places like the Center for Disease Control (CDC) are good places to start, as they are non-political organizations that publish only thoroughly researched information. This can help you stay informed, and stay safe, without being subjected to unnecessary anxiety.
Practice Self Care
For many people, leaving the house is a luxury. That has naturally led to not taking as much care of themselves as they may previously have done. While it’s nice to just stay in our sweatpants on the couch, it’s not quite the form of self care that you think it is.
Ultimately, self care is about listening to both your mind and your body and acting to protect and care for it in the ways it needs. Whether this means taking a PYM Mood Chew to help manage both the mental and physical effects of stress on the body,* drawing yourself a warm bath and lighting some candles at the end of a long day, or taking the time to turn your technology off and read a book, taking care of your body and mind so that they can take care of you is essential.
Find The Good
Mr. Rogers once said that, after a tragedy, instead of focusing on all of the terrible things happening, it’s important to “look for the helpers.” Reshifting your focus, and trying to look for the light amongst all the current darkness can really help you to put things into a better, healthier perspective.
Anyone with anxiety can tell you how hard it is to not obsess over the negatives. It’s part of why anxiety is such a challenging issue. Working to retrain your brain to see the positive can take time and work, but it is work that is worth it. When you can break that cycle of negative thinking, and learn to see all the good that still exists around you (trust us, it’s there), you also naturally pull yourself slowly out of that acute stress response and back into reality.
That doesn’t mean that the bad isn’t still out there. It just means you’re giving it much less power.
Work On Controlling What You Can
We can’t control the pandemic, as much as we want to. What we can control is how we respond to it, and the choices that we make to take care of and protect ourselves from danger.
When you work on controlling the things you can control, and letting go of worrying excessively about the things that you can’t, you’ll be surprised at how much better you feel. It’s also an excellent way to be able to stop the anxiety spiral when it occurs.
For instance, if you find yourself just sitting on your couch for hours, “doom scrolling” through your phone endlessly, acknowledge it and then change your behavior. Take your dog out for a walk, or sit for a few minutes in quiet meditation. Take a PYM Mood Chew and call a friend. It can be difficult at first, as breaking all bad habits can be, but you’ll learn to get better at recognizing your patterns and changing them over time.
Anxiety is isolating all on its own, but the pandemic has isolated people even more. As we struggle with developing a new routine full of virtual meetings and get-togethers, it can lead to increased feelings of loneliness.
That’s why staying connected continues to be so important, even though we may be doing it differently than we were before. Although we can’t as easily go grab a cup of coffee or dinner with a friend or family member, we can still “see” them and rely on them in different ways.
Reach out if you’re struggling, talk about how you’re feeling and what you’re going through, especially with people who you trust and who you know won’t judge or shame you. Have regularly scheduled virtual gatherings with your family. Find a new normal that works for you.
Anxiety is tough under normal circumstances. With the heightened anxiety so many of us are feeling while we struggle to make our way through the pandemic, coping can be even more difficult. PYM is here for you, and hopefully you’ve discovered a new way to help yourself manage your stress during these unprecedented times. Hang in there -- we’ll all get through this together
*FDA Disclaimer: These statements have not been evaluated by the Food and Drug Administration. This product is not intended to diagnose, treat, cure, or prevent any disease.