The New Normal: Managing Anxiety During a Pandemic
Usually, each day we wake up we can predict how our day will go. We have an outlined schedule that we follow, and we adapt to adjustments throughout the day because they are often minor. We establish a routine that makes us feel safe and comfortable. Routines give us a sense of normalcy. Predictability allows us to feel safe. When these two exist together we often feel that we are in control of our lives. In the absence of routine and predictability there is fear and panic.
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) defines fear and panic as follows:
- A marked and persistent fear that is excessive or unreasonable, cued by the presence or anticipation of a specific object or situation.
- Panic is a specific period of intense fear or discomfort.
When COVID-19 became a reality, life as we knew it changed. Our routines and ability to predict what would happen next were drastically altered. Our ability to keep ourselves safe was compromised. Fear and panic became the underlying catalyst for our responses.
“This is a period of collective uncertainty, which results in the inability for everyone to be comforted during this time,” stated Dr. Jennifer Lusa, The Village for Families & Children’s Associate Vice President of Intensive Programs. Often, when one person is anxious another person will assist them in returning to their baseline of functioning by comforting them. But, when society is anxious, who will provide the comfort?
The world is experiencing Generalized Anxiety as a result of the COVID-19 virus. “Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) –despite its name — is a specific type of anxiety disorder. The hallmark feature of GAD is persistent, excessive, and intrusive worry,” says Dr. Deborah R. Glasofer. The image below depicts several of the symptoms of GAD:
We have all experienced some or all of these symptoms since we have been forced to deal with the fact that this virus was in our communities. We had to quickly make adjustments to protect ourselves, our loved ones and the community in which we live. The COVID-19 virus was no longer an international issue. Overnight it became a domestic crisis, bringing with it a surge of fear, doubt, panic and anxiety.
The most recent statistics show that more than 500,000 people have been diagnosed with COVID-19 and more than 25,000 people have died. These numbers will continue to grow, and it is hard to predict when this crisis will end. COVID-19 has left us with more questions than answers. People are left to wonder if or when they will get sick. Will I lose a loved one to this virus? When will I be able to return to work? When will my children be able to go back to school? How long will I be able to survive in isolation? A lack of predictability is keeping us stuck in a state of anxiety. We are holding our breath waiting to live again.
It’s important to create a new “normal” to reduce our feelings of anxiety. We are now adjusting to a life where quarantine, social distancing, virtual meetings, virtual connections, working from home and home schooling is now par for the course. To alleviate feelings of anxiety it is important to establish new routines and predictions based on our current circumstances.
“The antidote to anxiety is predictable, routine, structure and consistency,” explained Dr. Lusa. “Therefore, it is important for people to do what they know how to do. It is important to live and not be paralyzed by anxiety. It is important to live authentically in the moment, without holding your breath and waiting for tomorrow. It is important to enjoy what you have so you can enjoy today.”
To live authentically in the moment; we must practice gratitude. Gratitude is a demonstration of appreciation. It allows us to be at peace with the circumstances around us.
“I don’t have to chase extraordinary moments to find happiness — it’s right in front of me if I’m paying attention and practicing gratitude.” – Brené Brown
So, let gratitude guide your path. And allow yourself to let go of the way of living you once knew and embrace the new way. Begin to love again, breathe again, find joy in the small moments, find ways to stay connected to those you love, eat healthy, exercise, be of service to others, develop new routines, be spiritually grounded, and practice self-care daily. You may start to find that there are some real benefits to this new way of living: benefits we can carry with us once life does get back to normal.
American Psychiatric Association, (2013). Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (5th ed.) Arlington VA American Psychiatric Publishing
Glasofer, D.R. (2019). An Overview of Generalized Anxiety Disorder. Very Well Mind. https://www.verywellmind.com/generalized-anxiety-disorder-4157247
COVID-19 World News. https://covid19data.com/
More About Coronavirus: Psych Central Coronavirus Resource
Young, Y. (2020). The New Normal: Managing Anxiety During a Pandemic. Psych Central. Retrieved on August 5, 2020, from https://psychcentral.com/blog/the-new-normal-managing-anxiety-during-a-pandemic/