What You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health and Reduce Anxiety

What You Can Do to Improve Your Mental Health and Reduce Anxiety

January 11, 2021

As the situation around the coronavirus continues to evolve, we’re living life differently and learning as we go, it is more important than ever for people to examine their mental well-being and recognize when they may feel anxious, sad or depressed. 

Stress levels were high before the COVID-19 pandemic, but now they’ve skyrocketed. We all need support. Misleading or inaccurate information and data can be a source of further anxiety and fear.  Now is a time to be kind to each other — and to ourselves. Practicing self-care is more important than ever — and so is focusing on things you can control while letting go of things you can’t. 

During this crisis we have to concentrate on two important things - protecting ourselves from COVID-19 and anxiety.  If your anxiety, fear, and worry have been overwhelming, try putting these strategies into practice.  There is light at the end of the tunnel - the vaccine should provide hope for the future.  

Media Distancing: To stop the spread of COVID-19, we’ve had to practice social distancing. But to stop the spread of anxiety, we must distance ourselves from the media. Those who are the most anxious about the Coronavirus are those who are consuming the news from social media, online, and traditional outlets which are 24/7 and mostly negative.  Uncertainty and an active imagination tend to produce catastrophic thoughts.  Stop online searching and checking the latest news about the virus (as well as your investments). Any vital information you need to know, you will find out.  We are not panicking about the flu because it is familiar and the media is not giving it attention.   

Take Action vs. Engaging in Worry:   Whether you are worried about contracting the virus, your struggling business, or being unemployed, the more your mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you feel.   You can choose to take action to problem-solve instead of drowning in negative thoughts.   Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions. Turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Spinning your wheels with questions that don’t have answers will take you down the rabbit hole of fear. Instead, find creative measures to get you through this storm until you can get back on your feet. Much of anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in our ability to handle challenges. Push yourself to take one uncomfortable step at a time.  With financial stress these steps might include seeking out loans, asking for help, paying portions of bills, cutting back on spending, and finding creative ways to make money including selling items online. The goal is to stay afloat until the storm passes.

Focus on Present Odds: All deaths are tragic, but we must maintain proper perspective. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. The Infection Fatality Rate (IFR) is the chance of death once you have the virus. The CDC has determined the Infection Fatality Rate of Covid-19 for various age groups:  

  • 003% for 0–19 years, 
  • 02% for 20–49 years, 
  • 5% for 50–69 years, and
  • 4% for 70+ years.

Remind yourself of the current odds, which are very good. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low. For children and teenagers, the risk is incredibly low.  

Do Not React to Physical Symptoms: If you or others cough, it does not mean they or you have the COVID-19.  Allergies, bronchitis, post-nasal drip, and the cold are more common and a more likely explanation. Accept uncertainty as you do in other areas of life and assume what is most likely. Looking for symptoms reinforces your worries and will increase anxiety. If you are also worried about your investments, stop checking those as well. 

Focus on New Ways of Enjoying Life: Although we have no control over the national crisis, we must focus on where we do have control – our response to the crisis. This is an opportunity to try something new and do things we haven’t had time for. Organize a messy room, paint a fence, clean the garage, edit the photos on your phone, etc.  Try online games such as Chess, Canasta or Mah Jongg or take an online class.  . Consider starting something new: genealogy, gardening, photography, knitting, drawing, cooking, woodworking, video editing, ballroom dancing, etc.  Focus your attention on creating and accomplishing, not on the virus or being unemployed. 

In an article for Psychology Today, author Kristen Fuller, M.D., describes JOMO (The Joys of Missing Out) as the emotionally intelligent antidote to FOMO (the fear of missing out). JOMO is essentially about being present and content with the decisions you make for your life. According to Fuller, “You do not need to compare your life to others, but instead, practice tuning out the background noise of the ‘shoulds’ and ‘wants’ and learn to let go of worrying whether you are doing something wrong.” When you free up that competitive and anxious space in your brain, you have so much more time, energy and emotion to conquer your true priorities.

Engage inStress Reduction Activities: Focusing on what you are grateful for, exercising your body, and relaxing your mind will help give you the peace you desire. Guided meditation, yoga, exercise, and a gratitude journal are all practices that lower stress. Select one or two, learn about them so you do them correctly, and practice each day. If you and your loved ones are not severely sick or experiencing dire financial hardship, be grateful. Once this crisis has passed, perhaps we will all appreciate what we take for granted: a healthy society, freedom to gather, dinner with friends, a night at the movies, and a simple haircut.

Do Not Go Overboard with CDC Guidelines: Compulsive hand washing until your hands are dry and red, taking off all of your clothes before entering the house, and isolating indoors are anxiety’s guidelines, not the CDCs. People who spray everything in sight with bleach and other harsh cleaners should know that disinfectants can irritate the lungs and is not necessary based on what science knows about transmission of the virus. According to most medical experts, the chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces is very small.  As long as you wash your hands often, there is no reason to clean packages brought to your home, for example, or worry about touching surfaces.

Preserve Some Sense of Normalcy: To the extent you can, maintaining a structure to your day with some semblance of normalcy will help reduce anxiety. Unless you are in a high-risk category you do not need to lock yourself in your home. According to the New England Journal of Medicine, “Public health authorities define a significant exposure to COVID-19 as face-to-face contact within 6 feet with a patient with symptomatic COVID-19 that is sustained for at least a few minutes (and some say more than 10 minutes or even 30 minutes). The chance of catching COVID-19 from a passing interaction in a public space is therefore minimal.” Therefore, wearing a mask when driving a car, exercising in a park, or walking in a quiet neighborhood is not necessary.

Be Kind to Yourself and Have Faith: It’s normal to feel anxious and worried during a national crisis. Reaching out to relatives and friends who are isolated or in need will boost their spirits and yours. If you are unemployed or your business is suffering, your new job is to weather this storm as best as you can until it passes. It always passes. Have faith that it will, despite not having all the answers. Having faith or imagining the worst is a choice. Which one will you choose?  

Seek Out Professional Help: You don’t need to do this alone: If you are experiencing an escalation of anxiety, talk to a professional who can help you through this difficult time. Almost all therapists are using telehealth, so you are not limited to professionals in your area. Medication for anxiety, depression, and insomnia might also be needed and can be prescribed by a psychiatrist or your primary care physician.

Photo by Alex Green from Pexels