Using Psychology to deal with Crisis: How to Manage Worry and Anxiety During COVID-19
We are dealing with a very challenging time as COVID-19 has come to dictate the way many of us live our lives. Social restrictions are impacting the way we make decisions as well as limiting our ability to make choices with autonomy.
Many of us are dealing with problems we’ve never had to face before – finding ways to work from home, figuring out childcare and home-schooling, or finding ways to pay bills while being unable to work. These are very real challenges that can naturally make us feel a great sense of worry and unease.
In times like these, we see a range of emotional and psychological responses.
Some individuals may take things too lightly which can lead to a neglect of precautions for themselves and family, putting them and others at risk of contracting or spreading the virus. The more common reaction however, seems to be worry, panic, and fear. It is important to know that these are normal and adaptive responses to stress.
Fear is a survival mechanism and without it, we would have never made it as a species. If we encounter a dangerous situation, it’s fear that makes us leap into action. Without fear, we would not survive long.
Worrying is also adaptive and in many ways, beneficial.
Short-term worry can be productive if it helps you plan and solve problems. Worrying is the brain’s way of thinking about future problems in order to find potential solutions should those problems arise. However, when worry becomes uncontrollable, it can turn into rumination.
Rumination is a persistent and repetitive worry in which we revisit the same information repeatedly without finding an answer. Rumination goes beyond trying to solve a problem or deal with a stressor. It creates internal turmoil that may lead to anxiety.
Individuals with anxiety have a tendency to get stuck continually thinking about the worst possible outcomes.
This sends their fight-or-flight system into overdrive creating a cascade of physiological responses that cause further anxiety. People with anxiety understand that the worst-case scenarios they envision rarely comes to be, but that is not enough to stop them from worrying. Their mind gets stuck in an endless loop of creating situations to prepare for. The assumption is that “if I play out all possible events in my head, then when they occur I will be ready.” Not only is this emotionally exhausting, it eventually takes a toll on our mental health.
The truth is that we just can’t foresee everything that will happen to us, so it’s impossible to plan for every potential outcome.
Another issue that causes a great deal of worry and anxiety is an intolerance for uncertainty.
Humans like predictability and we function best with structure. When we feel things are under our control, we feel a sense of safety and assuredness.
When things seem uncertain, we start to feel out of control and wonder whether we will be able to cope with future demands or threats.
With the COVID-19 pandemic, there is a great deal of uncontrollability, unpredictability, and uncertainty. All sense of structure has been disrupted. We don’t know what will happen, when, or how. When we cannot find answers, our anxiety increases and we become emotionally and psychologically compromised.
Knowing that worry is the mechanism our brain uses to create and deal with stress can gives us the upper hand.
If anxiety is caused by uncertainty and lack of structure, then we can ease are distress by implementing those very factors. What follows is a list of items you can implement in order to help you and your family manage anxiety and worry during the COVID-19 pandemic. The first thing you want to do is to create your own structure. This can be done in many ways but here are a few ideas. Implement a daily exercise routine. The goal here is not necessarily to attain a particular health goal. The purpose is to give you something to put on a schedule and do every day. The health benefits are an added bonus. Research does also show that regular moderate exercise boosts immune system functions and reduces the risk of infection compared with a sedentary lifestyle.