How to Manage Stress and Anxiety: A Guide from Our Therapists

News of the novel coronavirus and COVID-19 has shaken up our community, the country and the world. We are all receiving information on preventative measures to keep ourselves as healthy and safe as possible, but it’s also important to acknowledge the stress and anxiety we are all feeling.

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Our behavioral health team compiled this guide to support our Eden Health patients and our partners in HR on how to get rid of tension and help their colleagues manage increased levels of stress and anxiety.

Take a deep breath and acknowledge stress and anxiety

The virus itself is new and is creating many uncertainties, so some anxiety is normal. But the important thing is to be proactive in finding ways on how to stop stressing out. 

Limit your caffeine intake

Anxiety is a normal reaction to the unknown, but caffeine in coffee, tea, and soda can increase the physical reaction to anxiety. Caffeinated drinks are actually not effective stress reducers despite having short-term calming effects. 

Make sure your diet is healthy and immune-boosting

Drinking plenty of water, eating a healthy diet of fruits and vegetables, and taking probiotics will all help keep your immune system functioning at its best. It's probably the most effective way on how to stop stressing out on a more physiological level.

Exercise

Cardio can be one of the best activities to help with anxiety, and lower-impact exercises like yoga can regulate breathing and encourage relaxation. Search Instagram or your favorite gym/studios for online classes or tips.

Remember to engage in self-care

This is a stressful time and more reason to engage in soothing activities for your body and mind. These activities don’t revolve around groups and are great for individual leisure time.

  • Take a bath or hot shower
  • Read a good book
  • Watch an old favorite movie
  • Have restful nights of sleep by creating your ideal sleep environment (e.g. white sheets, lavender scent, and calm lighting)
  • Get support from a therapist, your medical provider, or family and friends.

Use evidence to ground yourself when feeling overwhelmed

Our thoughts can quickly turn to fear (for example, “Maybe I'm sick. Do I have the virus?”). One helpful way on how to stop stressing out is to use evidence/facts to ground ourselves. This is called Productive Worry, such as asking yourself enabling questions like "What can I do?"

Here's an example: “I am displaying zero symptoms, so I am doing well. If I do have the virus, I will reach out to my medical provider and get help. 80% of people have mild symptoms and recover.”

To ground yourself when facing the unknown, it’s important to turn to trusted resources, such as the CDC and WHO. In New York City, NYC Health provides local information.

Keep in mind, it’s good to keep yourself updated, but too much information and too often can become overwhelming and anxiety provoking, stressing you out as a result. This can also create unnecessary fear. Finding a balance is key: reading the news 1-2 times a day can be just right. We recommend not reading the news or checking social media before bedtime to ensure a good night of sleep.

Remember that you’re not alone

When we experience difficult emotions like anxiety and fear, it’s easy to feel isolated and alone in those feelings. It can be helpful to remember that lots of other people feel worried and scared, and as human beings we all experience these emotions from time to time. No emotion can last forever, however, and the way you’re feeling right now will eventually pass. Have some compassion for yourself and all the other people who are experiencing anxiety and fear.

Focus on what is happening right now

So often during times of anxiety and stress, we jump to thinking about the future or possibilities which could occur. Therapist Lori Gottleib recommends focusing on what is happening “right now” to ground yourself. You could try ending your sentences with “right now” to emphasize this. For example, “I’m feeling anxious right now” and then acknowledging that you won’t feel this way forever and that things will eventually change for the better.

Use calming techniques to calm your body and mind

When figuring out how to stop stressing out, many experts recommend calming techniques like meditation to keep your mind under control. 

Even something simple like breathing can do wonders in making you feel better instantly. Use the 4-7-8 breathing technique (see this guide to learn how).

Guided imagery helps to quickly de-stress and get into a soothing mindset.

Try progressive muscle relaxation if you’re having trouble falling asleep. In this technique, you tense and then relax every muscle group in your body, from your toes up to your head. As you go, take time to notice the feeling that occurs when you stop tensing your muscles - does it feel warm, tingly, relaxed? Make a note of this before moving on to the next muscle group.

Sing or hum! Activating your facial muscles can promote feelings of relaxation and safety.

Be Prepared

Have a supply of food and necessary medications. Buy items that you think you might need in the event you are asked to stay home for quarantine. Do not panic, but buy essentials that will make you feel secure and comfortable. In New York, as well as many other states, residents are on PAUSE or have been asked to shelter in place. This is for our safety, but we can still go outside for necessities. 

Plan out activities and ways to keep busy. If working from home, keep a routine and a work space. Separate work life from home life. FaceTime with friends and family. Watch movies and read books. Exercise! Start a new hobby or pick up a forgotten one. If you have children, create a routine for their virtual schooling and play time.

Connect with Others

Being apart from friends, family and coworkers for too long is difficult. Not socializing and visiting our favorite places such as movie theaters, restaurants, friends’ homes and workout classes has been isolating and lonely at times. If you live alone, it’s normal to feel lonely, sad and scared. However, we encourage you to connect with people in creative ways!

Here are some of our top ideas to get you started:

  • Create or find a virtual book club
  • Watch movies or TV shows together via Facetime or Zoom or Skype
  • Enjoy live workout classes
  • Have a virtual game night- charades, pictionary, 20-questions scattergories

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