We are in unprecedented times. The COVID-19 virus is a global pandemic, causing tremendous suffering and death. Society is forced to adapt to social distancing. We are forced to work, play, and do everything in our homes. The number of COVID-19 cases are increasing, further solidifying our social isolation.
Natural ways to respond to this pandemic are feeling anxious, overwhelmed, and depressed. We all feel these things. How long will this social distancing last? How do I juggle work with school for my kids? How do I find work when so many are in the same boat?
The truth of the matter is, this sucks. Plain and simple. However, there are some positive things we can do to help cope with anxiety, stress, and depression. These five techniques are tools I use when working with my clients in counseling. They won’t make this pandemic stop any faster, but they can help you get through it.
Challenge Pessimistic or Maladaptive Thoughts
Anxiety is fueled by thoughts. When we are thinking things like, this pandemic will last forever, I won’t be able to find a job, my kids will never recover academically from this, or we will run out of toilet paper, our anxiety spikes. The first thing we can do is challenge these pessimistic or maladaptive thoughts.
Deconstruct each statement and challenge it. This doesn’t mean to say the exact opposite, because sometimes that statement won’t be true. Simply challenge the pessimistic thought. Doing this helps create doubt and disbelief in the negative thought.
Let’s take the first statement for example, “This pandemic will last forever.” Do we know it will last forever? What have the CDC, WHO, and medical community said about how long this pandemic will last? Have pandemics in the past lasted forever?
Wuhan lifted its two-month lockdown on March 22nd so we know this social distancing will not last forever. This seems like it’s lasting forever, but in reality, there is an end date.
Let’s challenge the statement, “I won’t be able to find a job.” Have you been able to find work in the past? What skills or abilities do you have to earn money? If you can’t find a job similar to what you had, where else can you work?
Here are a few tips in challenging negative thoughts.
Is it true?
What happened in the past?
Take out absolutes like “always”, “never”, and “every time”.
By challenging thoughts that are not productive or helpful, we reduce our anxiety. Some statements will cause anxiety no matter what, but for many anxiety inducing thoughts, this technique really helps.
Practice Mindfulness & Deep Breathing
Sometimes we have too many anxious thoughts to challenge. When we are overwhelmed with anxious or depressive thoughts, doing some mindfulness techniques can be helpful.
Deep breathing is a mindfulness technique that does two things. It helps lower our heart rate, which reduces anxiety, and it helps redirect our attention to something other than our anxious thoughts.
Steps for Deep Breathing
Find a comfortable sitting or lying down position.
Take a slow and controlled long breath in through your nose. Fill your belly with air.
Hold the breath for a few seconds.
Slowly breathe out through your mouth. Let out all the air in your belly.
As you breathe in again, put your hand on your belly. Feel your belly expand and deflate with your breath.
Repeat steps 2 – 4 three more times.
As you breathe, focus on the words peace and calm. Imagine you are inhaling being at peace and calm. Imagine you are exhaling tension and stress. Spend at least five minutes focusing on breathing in peace and calm and exhaling tension and stress.
Practicing daily mindfulness can improve managing anxiety and stress. Check out this article for 6 mindfulness exercises you can try today.
Journal & Draw
Journaling is a fantastic way for us to think through overwhelming thoughts. Simply use a blank sheet of paper or a Word document and write down your thoughts. Be completely unfiltered. Allow yourself to fully think through and process your stress, fears, worries, and anxiety. It’s satisfying to let out your thoughts, and outside of counseling, journaling is a great way to do that.
Drawing can also be a great way to think through something. You don’t have to be an artist. Just giving your mind the space to explore thoughts and feelings by putting them on paper is healing. The art doesn’t have to make sense. It doesn’t have to mean anything. You can even through it away after if you want to. The point of art, and journaling, is to give yourself the space to fully process your thoughts. We usually don’t give ourselves the time for that. Try that during this pandemic and see if it helps.
Focus on Positive Self-Talk Statements
We constantly make comments to ourselves about the world around us. We usually say positive or negative things about how we are acting or thinking. How we think can have a direct link to how we feel.
Positive self-talk is thinking about the positive truths about a situation rather than focusing on the negatives.
Here are some examples of positive self-talk statements regarding this pandemic.
“Although money is tight, my family and I have food and shelter.”
“I can’t control what this pandemic does, but I can control how I respond to it.”
“It’s unfair for my kids to be isolated from their school and friends. However, I can use this time to learn more about their academics, interests, and strengthen our relationship.”
“I might get laid off. But I have valuable skills and will be able to find work in the future.”
“Based on what I know about my family and myself, we are strong and resilient. We will get through this.”
We might not believe these positives to be true. You might not believe you are strong and resilient. The more you focus on the positive outcome, the more you will believe them, the more they will happen. Then they will become true.
It can be difficult to implement positive self-talk statements in times like these. Sometimes it seems like there are no positives. But the more you practice, the better you will get at positive self-talk statements.
Improve Diet & Exercise
Our mental health is connected with our physical health. Giving our body healthy, nutritious foods helps improve energy and helps to cope with depression. It’s easy to veg-out on a bag of Doritos, but try an apple instead. What we put in our bodies is what we will get out. If we put crap in our bodies, we will feel like crap.
Consistent exercise can help manage blood sugar levels, blood pressure, weight, cognitive skills, and stress. Although we can’t go to a gym these days, we can do other things to get our heart rate up. There are many exercises you can do at home. Running or riding a bicycle are great work-outs and they get you outside, which gives you a boost in Vitamin D!
Even if it’s out of the ordinary for you, take at least 30 minutes out of your day to do some exercise. It’s natural to feel discouraged if it’s not part of your normal routine.
It’s a great way to manage anxiety, depression, and stress.
This pandemic is absolutely crazy. Use these techniques to help improve your mental health. They are proven to help. If you want additional support managing anxiety, stress, and depression, call me to set up a counseling appointment. 214-433-2721