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Anxiety and stressful times

Updated: Sep 28, 2020

Accepting the uncertainty

Heightened anxiety levels in these stressful times are entirely normal. Uncertainty is scary, and this is what makes the current pandemic especially challenging. There is so much that we do not know. However, the goal should not be to work on feeling more certain because nothing in life is 100% predictable. Instead, we should strive to learn how to tolerate uncertainty and the state of ‘not knowing’.

Furthermore, as opposed to viewing anxiety as something terrible that we need to get rid of (before we can engage with things that matter to us), we might want to develop a different relationship with it. And, yes. It is not just. Anxiety is uncomfortable, even paralyzing at times, so this is by no means an easy task, but there is a chance it will get us closer to peace-of-mind.

In reality, we do not have much control over our thinking process and emotions. As humans, it is natural for us to try to avoid uncomfortable thoughts and feelings or attempt to control them (e.g., distract, suppress, avoid). We might even try to think positively, but all this would only be a temporary fix because, in order to live a wholesome life, we need to learn how to experience a full range of emotions, and that includes anxiety.

So, to utilize our mental and cognitive capacity for things that matter, we need an approach that offers a long-term solution, and that is to make space for unwanted notions as well.

Hypothetical and practical worry-thought

With the majority of aspects in this situation being out of our hands, there are some aspects that we actually can control. Limiting excessive behaviors (e.g., following news profusely) is one of them. Another is to be skillful and not engage with the worry. This takes practice, but one thing that can help is to divide your worries into practical and hypothetical fears.

Throughout the day (or at chosen times - 12 PM, 3 PM, 6 PM), notice your thoughts and determine if this worry is hypothetical or practical. Practical thoughts have an answer or a solution. In our present case, some examples would be “How can I get groceries for next week?” or “How can I get a protective mask?”

Hypothetical worries, however, are usually those which start with “What if…” and often take us to the land of imagination with no promise of a purposeful solution. In times when the current state of things seems to change by the hour, an attempt to stay a step ahead is an exhausting and futile task. Even though it is tempting to engage with these thoughts, it does not change the way reality unfolds. It is, however, likely to make us feel worse.

Schedule ‘worry-time’

Another helpful technique is to set aside time to worry. Scheduling a ‘worry-time’ allows you to not engage in worry that moment when you find yourself dwelling. Instead, jot down the thoughts and post-pone the worry for a specific time of day. The only note here is that it should not be done too close to bedtime or when in bed. We would not want to associate our place of rest with fearful thoughts or challenge the quality of sleep.

Worry-time should not be longer than 10 minutes. Should you not feel like worrying at the designated time, you do not have to!

Even practical worry that helps us get things done is not something we want to engage in all day. To keep our minds at ease, we can try scheduling a time slot for purposeful worry as well. For example - “I will think about ordering new masks tomorrow at noon.”

Limit the time spent on the news

Following the news amid nationwide pandemic can be beyond overwhelming. On the one hand, we want to be updated to make informed decisions (e.g., how to get groceries, how long should one keep quarantined, what are the symptoms). However, on the other hand, the influx of updates from every possible channel can become too much. Even social media, with the witty memes, though entertaining, keeps our focus on current circumstances that are out of our control.

This is why limiting the time spent reading the news and scrolling through social media can be helpful. It is best to choose a few blocks of time during the day that are dedicated to keeping up with the ongoing events and then switching back to other daily activities. Again, it is not good to get your dose of updates just before bed. Allow yourself some time to relax before going to sleep.

Developing a new routine

What is different about this pandemic is that we are all affected and need to adjust in one way or another. Whether it is working from home while homeschooling kids or coping with job loss, coming up with a new routine or schedule can give us some sense of normalcy and may have several other benefits. It can help us keep our focus on the present instead of worrying about what is to come and, thus, not feel completely overwhelmed.

Even though we have more time on our hands, it can still be challenging to engage with the activities that we set ourselves up to tackle. One tip here is to divide a more significant project into smaller steps. For example, instead of organizing your entire closet, start by focusing on dresses or pants alone. Another good way is to implement a 10-minute rule with some of the more dreadful assignments. This means you would agree to do that task for only 10 minutes (set a timer!), and when the time is up, you can decide if you would like to continue or not. More often than not, when already in the groove of things, we decide to continue. But, even if you choose to stop, you are then more likely to pick it up at a later time since you have already started the process. Sprinkle a few novel activities amongst your weekly schedule. Maybe a different online workout class or an exotic recipe? It is time to get creative!

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