Important things you need to know about: Anxiety and the COVID-19 Pandemic

Important things you need to know about: Anxiety and the COVID-19 Pandemic
 
By Alex Lorimer-Carlin and Hagit Malikin,
EPC Student Interns
Welcome back to this month’s edition of Evolution Psychology Center’s blog. Since the beginning of March, all we heard on the news, from our family and friends, and even social media, was dedicated to the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of us may be tired of talking or hearing yet another thing about it, but we would to take some time to focus on the mental health aspect of this situation. Many of us may have experienced significantly greater stress and anxiety than before. What can we do to better cope given the circumstances?
 
Anxiety can be defined as “a feeling of worry, nervousness, or unease, typically about an imminent event or something with an uncertain outcome”.  Have you felt any of these feelings or emotions resonate inside over the past few months? You are not alone. Anxiety is common in every one of us. We all experience it from time to time. This emotion, along with others, is there to guide us and provide us with information about our surroundings. Anxiety lets us know something’s going on, like a “sixth sense,” so to speak. However, given the circumstances surrounding us in the world today, our anxiety has been shifted into OVERDRIVE and many of us may experience difficulties shutting it off. This can result in various other difficulties; from sleep problems, appetite and digestive issues, irritability, as well as feeling on edge all the time and difficulty to relax.
 
Here are some tips to help reduce the anxiety and hopefully provide a greater sense of balance:
 
1) Build a Routine
 
With the uncertainties that surround the current pandemic, some sense of routine is definitely needed. Gardener et al. (2012) suggest that routines are helpful in building a healthier life and reducing anxieties. To build a routine, a person should “…repeat a chosen behaviour in the same context, until it becomes easy and effortless” (Gardener et al., 2012, p. 664). In other words, repeating the same thing, at the same time, in the same way, over and over again, day after day until the behavior becomes a habit, rather than a chore, is ideal when building consistency. Now, many of us work from home, have our kids at home, and leave the house much less frequently. Though our daily routine has significantly changed, we have the opportunity to build a new one. Write out a list that you’d like to follow and try to create this new consistency!
 
2) Breathing exercises
 
Being anxious can feel uncontrollable at times, but how we respond to this anxiety is one thing that we can learn to control. Focusing on our breathing can help reduce anxiety budding within us. Take a look at this breathing exercise from Sheryl Ankrom over at Very Well Mind (https://www.verywellmind.com/abdominal-breathing-2584115). There are many similar contents out there. Don’t be shy to explore the internet and try others. The beauty of such diversity in breathing techniques is the fact there are many choices to choose from. It is very normal that not all exercises will be compatible with your style. The important thing is not to get discouraged, but rather, to continue your journey of exploration.  
 
3) Maintain your connections with friends and family
 
The confinement regulations put forward may have increased our feelings of isolation and loneliness. A part of this anxiety could stem from our internal biology in that we are social beings. On Maslow’s (1943) Hierarchy of Human Needs, “Love and Belonging” falls after physiological (e.g. air, food and water) and basic safety needs (e.g., a place to sleep, clothes to wear, etc.). Once these first two levels of needs have been fulfilled, Love and Belonging (the third pillar) must be tended to. In light of the COVID-19 pandemic, our social needs are even harder to attend to. A phone call, skype/zoom video chats, or even online messaging are all great ways to stay connected. If you’re feeling lonely, this may be a way to reach out to your friends and family.
 
4) Monitor your social media and news time
 
Right now, we have endless stream of data and information being flooded across every available platform, where such sense of endlessness is more than enough to bring our anxiety up. A way to control this source of anxiety is to limit your exposure to media. One way to achieve this is by setting aside a specific time, during the day, to read the news and browse social media. When falling outside of this designated timeframe, try avoiding Covid-19 related content.
 
5) Keeping active, even at home
 
Staying active is important in the fight against anxiety. Going for a walk (and of course respecting the Public Health guidelines) can be a great way to not only get some fresh air, but also the opportunity to change up the scenery. While at home, once again, technology can greatly help. There are many fun workout videos using body weight as well as yoga/pilates videos that could be done at home. Even walking around the room with some good music on could be a way to keep moving.
 
Anxiety is a heightened mental state, but it’s one that can be reduced with some practice and time. It’s a step-by-step process that takes time and work, especially with all the added uncertainties that accompany the pandemic. The important thing is to not give up and to remember that you are equipped with many useful tools. Don’t hesitate to use them!
“The only thing to fear, is fear itself”
U.S. President Franklyn D. Roosevelt, March 4th, 1933
 
 
References
1. Ankrom, S. (2020, April 03). Deep Breathing Exercises to Reduce Anxiety. VeryWellMind.
https://www.verywellmind.com/abdominal-breathing-2584115

 2. Maslow, A. H. (1943). A theory of human motivation. Psychological Review, 50, 370-396

 3. Gardener, B., Lally, P., Wardle, J. (2012). Making health habitual: the psychology of “habit-formation” and general practice. British Jo