Even as life returns to normal, you might feel more than lingering uneasiness about the pandemic — especially if you live with an anxiety disorder.
For those of us living with anxiety, the pandemic has added new challenges, to put it lightly. Routines were thrown out of whack. Self-care strategies changed shape. Support structures moved from shared space to Zoom, with little end in sight.
Now, all this appears to be changing again. The
But with that comes additional layers to think about. Travel restrictions. New variants. Social anxiety. Vaccine questions. Lockdown fluctuations. It’s a lot for any of us to take in, anxiety disorder or not.
How can we navigate anxiety about the pandemic and manage a return to “normal” life as the world begins to reopen?
For this reason, it could help to take things slow and be mindful of your emotional capacity. You may get enough event invitations to fill up an entire season, but it’s OK to say no and ease out there gradually.
If it feels appropriate, you might disclose your vaccine status with loved ones so they can make informed decisions about how to engage with you.
On the other hand, if you don’t want to talk about it at all, that’s OK too. Let people know up front that the pandemic is off limits for you. If it comes up, politely change the subject.
Don’t be afraid to set boundaries with your TV and social media use. You can stay informed on what’s happening and still limit your information intake to small doses during the day. With that, be sure to take breaks from content that disturbs you.
Here’s 10 ways to build better boundaries if you’re looking for more info.
When anxiety about the pandemic strikes, you can redirect your attention and come back to the present moment.
A quick way to do this is the “5-4-3-2-1” method. Focus on:
- 5 things you can see
- 4 things you can touch
- 3 things you can hear
- 2 things you can smell
- 1 thing you can taste
If you’d like to try another grounding exercise instead, here are 9 quick mindfulness exercises to get you started.
Research reminds us that physical activity can work wonders on the mind and body by releasing feel-good neurotransmitters, like endorphins.
If you feel like a bundle of nerves, one way to get going is to set a 10-minute timer and take a short walk around the block. By the time you’re done, you just might feel like taking another round (or two).
A date with your creative side can help you process difficult emotions. Paint some old furniture, bead some earrings, or make a coffee mug out of clay, to name a few ideas. If colored pencils are more your style, you can also channel that anxiety into an adult coloring book.
Looking for other ways to use art as self-care? Here are some more ideas.
Who doesn’t love a house that smells divine? Now’s a great time to get into the kitchen and clear your mind. Repetitive motions like washing dishes, stirring a pot, or kneading dough can have a meditative effect.
To take the experience up a notch, try listening to classical music or a motivational podcast.
Research suggests yoga can soothe anxiety by activating the parasympathetic nervous system, your “rest and digest” mode.
If you can get into a yoga studio, consider a restorative yoga class. It often promotes deep relaxation by using supportive props, blankets, and extended rest time in just a handful of poses.
Another option is yin yoga, which tends to be a slow, gentle way to practice yoga. Some people say it feels like a cross between hatha and restorative yoga.
If yoga studios are still closed in your area or you prefer to stay home for now, consider online classes or YouTube. Here are some free yoga practices you can try, each one tailored to reduce stress and anxiety:
Many people have found meditation helps them manage anxiety. Sitting with just yourself and no distractions may sound difficult, especially with all of the pandemic worries floating around. But with some practice, you can become more connected with your thoughts.
Consider a guided meditation for just 5 or 10 minutes a day. Insight Timer, Headspace, and Calm are great starting points. You can also find free guided meditation on YouTube, like this 15 Minute Meditation from Yoga with Adriene.
Research backs meditation as a complementary treatment for anxiety. It works its magic by allowing you to witness your thoughts without judgment, then redirect your mind back to the present moment, so thoughts have less power over you.
Before you go into a social setting, take 5 minutes to prepare for the interaction. You can think about these factors ahead of time as a way to ground yourself and reduce any social anxiety:
- How will you greet each other?
- Will you wear masks?
- Will you sit indoors or outdoors?
- What will you talk about?
- What topics are off limits?
- How long will your interactions be?
When you come up with a solid plan and stick to it, your anxiety may have less things to pick apart.
Coffee (or energy drink) lovers may want to consider cutting back or even switching to decaf. Caffeine can make anxiety worse by promoting that “on edge” feeling or preventing sleep.
Similarly, a glass of wine — or two — at dinner may have some health benefits. Too much alcohol, though, and it can make anxiety and depression worse while interrupting your sleep.
If alcohol has helped you cope with anxiety, you’re not alone. If you’re having a hard time drinking less or quitting altogether, support is available. Consider talking with your doctor about a local 12-step program, like Alcoholics Anonymous or SMART Recovery.
Here are some other resources to look into:
Scheduling even a 10 to 15 minute time slot for some quiet introspection can be a good way to start. Grab a journal and write about the following prompts:
- What have I learned about myself in this pandemic?
- What do I feel grateful for?
- What did I miss the most?
- What didn’t I miss?
- What would I like to work on, moving forward?
By reconnecting with your values, you can help assuage anxiety about the post-pandemic future. You might get a better sense of how to prioritize your time and energy from now on.
If you’re looking for even more journal prompts to get your creativity flowing, here are 64 more.
As places reopen, you may find you now have less time for self-care than you did at the height of physical distancing. Consider planning how you’ll block out time in your schedule so you’re not scrambling to keep up with the faster pace of life.
Self-care doesn’t have to be a big production, either. It’s the little things that add up. Instead of an hour-long yoga class over Zoom, try a 10-minute morning sequence on YouTube. Instead of journaling all afternoon, write down three things that bring you joy on your way out the door.
If you find it difficult to identify your needs, that’s OK — a lot of people do. Here’s how to get in touch with your needs when it doesn’t come so naturally to you.
Journaling can help alleviate symptoms of anxiety. A worry list or a “brain dump” can be a useful practice, especially before bed. The idea is to empty your mind and examine specific worries to see how you can address them — in the morning, that is.
- On a piece of paper, write out everything you’re worried about.
- Cross out what you have no control over, like whether the mayor is going to change the lockdown policy or whetheryour sister is going to get the vaccine.
- Circle the items you do have some control over.
- For each circled item, write out three action steps you could take to address it.
This exercise may reduce your list of worries and help turn your pandemic anxiety into a sense of empowerment.
If you’d like to work with a professional to process and manage your anxiety, teletherapy is one effective option. Here are some resources to help you get started on your search:
- American Psychological Association Psychologist Locator
- Anxiety & Depression Association of America Find A Therapist Directory
- National Center for PTSD
- Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Treatment Locator
- VA Mental Health Services
- Association of LGBTQ+ Psychiatrists
- Black Mental Health Alliance
- Therapy for Latinx
- We R Native
- National Asian American Pacific Islander Mental Health Association
- National Association of the Deaf Mental Health Services
No matter what you’re experiencing right now, know it’s all valid.
There’s no one way to feel during a pandemic. All of us respond differently to stressful events, especially with a pre-existing anxiety disorder in the mix.
Pandemic-related anxiety can be manageable with grounding activities, lifestyle changes, therapy, or a liberal amount of self-love and patience.
With so many things out of our control right now, it’s important to draw attention to what you can control and how you want to show up in the world.
As you emerge from lockdown and re-enter society, don’t be afraid to take things at your own pace. Prepare for social interactions ahead of time and leave plenty of room for introspection. Communicate your boundaries with love, and continue to create time for self-care.
Someday, the pandemic may become a distant memory. The tools and coping strategies you learn now don’t have to be, though. Continuing your own inner work a little bit every day could bring you comfort and knowledge that you are prepared, no matter what the future may bring.