“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness…” Charles Dickens wrote in his 1859 novel, A Tale of Two Cities. Although this story highlights the economic and political unrest leading up to the American and French Revolutions, for many today—right this very minute—this quote hits close to home and our current reality.
The coronavirus (COVID-19) is here, our stock market is at its lowest in decades and every ping on your phone indicates another virus update, closure or travel ban. If you spend any time on social media or watching the local and national news, it may feel like everything is happening just outside your door—that the world is literally coming to an end.
Some of us are social distancing and working from home all while attempting to keep our kids engaged in educational type activities and not mindless games and streaming episodes. We’re also trying to keep our pantries full of food and supplies, while shelves are bare, toilet paper and hand sanitizer are nowhere to be found and store employees are working around the clock to replenish them.
This is our new, daily reality—and for some, it is overwhelmingly stressful, scary and anxiety-laden.
“The truth is uncertainty is an inevitable part of life, but when pandemics like COVID-19 or acts of terrorism like on September 11 occur, many of us struggle to deal with them in a healthy way,” says Adeola Adelayo, MD, a practicing psychiatrist with Banner Behavioral Health Hospital in Scottsdale, Arizona. “While we are treading through many unknowns currently, the best thing we can do is to not overreact—which for many, even those without anxiety disorders, can be hard to do.”
Our brains just don’t like uncertainty—not one bit. They are constantly creating and updating a set of rules on how our world should work. They always assume the worst, create hundreds of untested stories and are quick to jump to conclusions.
So how can you calm your spinning head and reduce you and your loved ones’ anxieties as you—and billions of others—try to navigate this difficult time?
Managing Anxiety in Uncertain Times
Dr. Adelayo provides some tips that can help ease your heart and mind through challenging times:
1. Focus on the facts
Follow reliable sources, such as the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) and Banner Health, for the latest information on COVID-19. Knowing the facts and what you can do to lower your risk can be helpful in reducing stress.
2. Talk it out
Talk with people you trust about your concerns and how you are feeling. It’s particularly important for kids of all ages to talk through what they are hearing with a trusted adult.
“Children and teens react on what they see and hear from their parents and other adults,” Dr. Adelayo says. “Take time to talk to them about COVID-19, provide them with facts and reassure them they are safe. If you have an anxious child, limit the family’s exposure to social media and the news.”
3. Limit news and social media
Incessantly listening, watching and following the pandemic can add to anxiety and uncertainty. With endless posts from concerned and worried friends and family and repetitive news stories on TV, try to limit time to a couple times a day.
“It may even help to remove all your app notifications and schedule time to get news updates,” Dr. Adelayo says.
4. Take care of yourself
“While some may have to still work from home, take this opportunity from going, going, going and focus on you and your family’s well-being,” Dr. Adelayo says. “If you can, go for walks together, stream a fitness class, read a book and take this time to refocus. Schedule/calendar in “mandatory fun time” so you can take your mind away from work and current events.”
Make sure you are also eating healthy, getting plenty of rest and avoiding alcohol and drugs, which can make anxiety worse.
5. Take it day-by-day
Since we can’t predict the future (yet) and shouldn’t hold onto the past, focus on the here and now. Being mindful can help you focus on what is right in front of you—what you can control today. It can also help you recognize moments when you begin to feel overwhelmed.
6. Seek help and support
If stress or anxiety is getting in the way of your daily activities, call your health care provider to get support. To find a licensed behavioral health professional in your area, visit bannerhealth.com.
However, if you are contemplating suicide or self-harm, contact the 988 Suicide an Crisis Lifeline (formerly The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline).
“Yes, these are uncertain times for us all, but finding opportunities in difficult times every day—even small silver linings—are going to get us through this time,” Dr. Adelayo says. “Be prepared as best you can, follow the CDC recommendations, but take time to breathe and spend priceless time with the ones you love.”
These may feel like the worst of times and an age of foolishness but hold steady. Through this difficult time, we can refocus on what is most important in life and become stronger and more resilient as a country.