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Coping with Covid-related Anxiety

During these times, you (like me) might be perseverating on some of these questions:

How will I continue to juggle working from home and managing my kids' home schooling on an open-ended basis? Is my job stable? Have I been exposed to Covid? If I lose my job because of Covid, how will I provide for my family? How much more time will I stay safe while quarantined with my abuser? How will I afford my bills? If I go to a protest, will I be assaulted or picked up in an unmarked van? How can I keep being a present parent when my own self-care 'cup' hasn't been filled in months?

We are all burning out. And without being able to access our own normal self-care routines, it's not clear how much longer we're going to be able to keep doing this.

These are all extremely valid, timely concerns. I don't have answers to the political aspects of the questions posed to me, but I can help with anxiety. Anxiety comes in many shapes and forms: PTSD; generalized anxiety disorder; specific phobias and panic disorders; and obsessive-compulsive disorders. Many people are finding that formerly resolved anxiety disorders are once again becoming more problematic as Americans face unprecedented daily, baseline levels of stress.

How do we cope?

Unfortunately, there are no easy answers. But I can help share some strategies that have worked to help cope with anxiety. Though this is by no means an exhaustive list, some of these techniques might be helpful if you're experiencing anxiety:

1. Sleep well - If you're dealing with insomnia, work on bedtime hygiene. Stop any screen time a few hours before bedtime. Take a hot shower and get into comfy pajamas. Put bedroom lamps on dimmer switches and dim all lights to 50% at 8pm. Get into bed early, read a few chapters of a good book, and try to have lights out for a 10pm bedtime. If for 20 minutes you can't sleep, get up and do something productive for 45 minutes, and try to sleep again. Keep repeating until you get to sleep.

2. Eat well - There is value in nourishing your body. Try to avoid processed food and get back to basics. Like Michael Pollan's advice, "Eat like your grandparents did" many people find that cutting back on processed food and eating healthy helps elevate mood, prevents anxiety, and makes them feel better. Drink lots of water and focus on nourishing your body.

3. Exercise - There was a time in my not-so-distant past that if all of my regular coping strategies didn't work, my failsafe was to put on my running shoes and run a few miles. I never, ever didn't feel better after getting in a hard workout. Some of us can zen out with relaxation and meditation to combat anxiety, and some of us need to expel that extra energy with hard exercise. Find an exercise routine that works for you and commit to it daily.

4. Establish (and keep) a daily routine - It's easy to stay up too late and sleep too late because we're not tied to a regular schedule. Or order from UberEats too much, and let our homes fall into disarray because we stop caring and are unsure of the next time anyone might be coming over to see how slovenly we've become. Try to not let this happen. Keep a regular daily routine despite the chaos and uncertainty. Create a family schedule to maintain regularity in uncertain times. Kids will benefit from this routine.

5. Connect regularly with others - A big part of our anxiety comes from the social isolation we're encountering right now; We're programmed to need social connections, and it's hard for us to cope when nearly all of those connections have halted. Moms' nights out, self-care routines, and otherwise connecting with others regularly is physically unsafe. Try to make time to Zoom with other parents, FaceTime them, use Marco Polo, or have socially distant meetups to connect regularly with friends safely. Humans need connectedness, but we can find other ways of doing this.

6. Build an anxiety toolbox - Try several coping techniques, and keep a list of what works for you close at hand for when your anxiety becomes prominent.

Dive reflex - Dialectical Behavioral Therapy promotes the use of the dive reflex. This is a

simple technique involving either submerging your face in ice cold water, or putting cold, wet

compresses on your face and forehead. While this technique can be unsafe for people with

heart problems, I've seen it be extremely effective to help clients circumvent panic attacks and

anxiety. Our grandmothers' advice of "Go splash some cold water on your face" may be

more than an old wives' tale. For more information about the dive reflex, please click here.

Five senses - Spend 30 seconds on each of the following five senses:

What can you see right now? Some clients trace patterns in horizontal or vertical lines in a

room, focus on the colors in the sky, or tune in to a specific image in their field of vision.

What do you hear right now? Quiet your mind and try to listen to the clock in the room. If

you are in a quiet place, what can you hear outside? Focus on what you can hear.

What do you taste? Some clients keep a stick of gum handy or focus on the toothpaste or

coffee from the morning they can still taste.

What can you smell right now? One client kept a bottle of rose essential oil with her because

it reminded her of her grandmother's scent, which was soothing to her. Focus on what you

can smell. Keep a perfume bottle or essential oil handy if that brings you comfort.

What can you feel? Focus on how your feet feel in your socks. Be mindful of how your feet

feel when touching the floor. Which areas of your body are touching the chair you're sitting

in, and how is that supporting you?

Wise mind - This is another DBT technique. Ideally, we'd spend much time in the intersection

between emotional and logical thinking, but this is hard for some of us - especially when we

have a history of trauma or get flooded with big emotions. If you find yourself spending a lot

of time in an emotional (anxious) space, try to go back to rational, logical thinking. For

example, if you've been exposed to Covid and have anxiety about it, remind yourself of the

number of people who have either asymptomatic or mild cases of the virus. Do a bit of

research. While it's still scary, the numbers are on your side. Be a logical, numbers-oriented

thinker, and try to spend more mental space in your wise mind vs. your purely emotional

mind. For more information on wise mind, please click here.

Guided imagery - There are many youtube and Spotify downloads available to help guide

you through anxiety. An app called "Calm" has also helped many clients. My favorite is a 30

minute guided relaxation on Spotify you can find here. If you prefer a CD, Susie Mantell's

'Your Present: A Half Hour of Peace' can be found here.

7. Reframe - Much of our emotional response to adversity comes from how we look at it. Think not about how "I'm stuck inside." Instead think, "I'm lucky to have this time to be quiet and enjoy my family." And instead of "My kids will be behind on learning," focus on, "My kids are learning life skills they wouldn't otherwise have learned if we didn't have this time." Some have accused me of being a toxic optimist, but almost any tough situation can be reframed to focus on the positives.

8. Don't use substances to cope - There are so many funny Facebook posts and memes about parents needing more wine to get through this time. While these are funny, and probably true to a certain extent, many people in substance abuse remission are struggling right now. And people who've never had substance abuse issues are vulnerable to developing substance abuse disorders (SUD) because normal coping skills are not working. Instead of using substances to cope, develop an arsenal of coping mechanisms that work for you and try to not rely on substances.

9. Consider medication - I'm not a medical doctor, and my advice comes only from what I've found to be helpful personally. If you can't sleep because of anxiety, some people find that OTC medications like Benadryl, herbal supplements like valerian root extract or melatonin work well to help with anxiety and insomnia. But if these don't work, talk to your doctor about prescription antianxiety medications and sleep-aids that might help. Consider talking to your physician about a gentle prescription to help with the restorative sleep we all need right now.

If you have any other ideas to add to help others cope during this time, please feel free to add them in the 'comments' section. And if you're struggling, please feel free to reach out to me directly!

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Please be advised that I am not an attorney, nor am I giving legal advice. Please bring these ideas and solutions to your attorney for legal advice before putting these strategies into practice. This

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