Senior Health

This year has been a rough one so far. Right now, the COVID-19 pandemic has many people feeling intense anxiety, in addition to turning our daily routine and lifestyle upside down. Many things that keep us relaxed like religious gatherings, outings with friends, or fitness classes have been suspended for the time being. Images of empty supermarket shelves, empty streets, and hospital patients are making it difficult for many people to remain calm.

About 18% of American adults, about 40 million of us, suffer from an anxiety disorder. In times of crisis, it can become more difficult to manage anxiety. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with an anxiety-related disorder, you may be feeling stressed or anxious these days. Some symptoms of anxiety are feeling irritable, having difficulty sleeping or concentrating, and experiencing changes in sleep or eating patterns. If you are feeling anxious or stressed, or know someone who is, here are some ways to manage anxiety in this high-anxiety era.

Reach Out to Friends

It’s important to stay connected with other people, especially when you’re anxious or stressed. Call or text friends and family members, even if you can’t see them in person. Hearing their voices will reassure you that they’re okay. Sharing your feelings will help you manage those feelings. Ask your friends and family if they need anything. Helping others can give you a sense of control when a stressful situation makes you feel helpless.

Don’t Saturate Yourself with Information

Information is at our fingertips now, and it’s easy to access a constant stream of bad news on our phones, computers, and TVs. That flood of information can cause anxiety and stress. Dr. Steven Taylor, clinical psychologist and professor at Canada’s University of British Columbia, calls this constant chase for more information “going down the Internet rabbit hole.” Dr. Taylor recommends setting a time limit on your news intake and your social media consumption. If you’re concerned about missing an important announcement, let your friends and family know you’re limiting your exposure to news, and that they should contact you if there’s an emergency. Use your extra time to get some exercise, chat on the phone with friends and family, read a book, or cook an interesting dish.

Imagine the Best Case Scenario

This is a technique borrowed from cognitive behavioral therapy, or CBT. In CBT, anxiety sufferers focus on their thinking and identify negative thought patterns that increase their anxiety. They learn to control those thoughts and replace them with positive, helpful thoughts. In CBT, replacing negative thoughts with positive ones is known as a countering technique. If you find yourself imagining the worst case scenario, try replacing that thought with a better outcome.

Stick to a Routine

When your daily life gets interrupted, that can lead to stress and anxiety. Create a routine you can stick to. Include exercise, time outdoors if possible, healthy eating, and rest.

Try Breathing and Grounding Exercises

Take a technique from yoga and meditation and take a few deep, mindful breaths. Yogis recommend the 4/7/8 formula. Inhale while you count to four, hold your breath and count to seven, and then exhale fully while you count to eight. This grounding exercise gives you something to focus on, calms you, and lowers your blood pressure.

Download an App

Many smartphone apps have been developed in the past few years to help people manage anxiety. One free app, called Flowy, provides a game-based way to manage panic attacks. Flowy helps users relax and control their breathing. Headspace and Calm are two other free apps, designed to guide meditation, encourage rest, and decrease stress.