In the midst of this worldwide pandemic, our lives as we knew it completely turned upside down in a matter of weeks.
Entire cities, regions and even countries are shutting down.
No one knows for sure when life will return to normal again.
The uncertainty is causing people to wonder how to deal with anxiety and stress during a crisis like this.
While we can’t control what’s happening in the world, here are some practical tips to help you navigate through the turmoils inside your mind.
How to Deal with Anxiety and Stress During a Crisis
1. Separate the facts from your thoughts and feelings.
Given that the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic seems to be the root cause of all the unsettling recent events that have been unfolding in the world, it’s easy to think that the COVID-19 is the culprit behind our feelings of fear, worry, and stress.
But did you know that it’s NOT the COVID-19 itself that is causing our feelings?
Viruses like COVID-19 and its associated pandemic exist as a fact of our human lives.
Multiple pandemics from the Black Death during the 1340s to the Spanish Flu of 1918 have historically plagued the human population.
The existence of the COVID-19 pandemic is a neutral fact. It just is.
So what’s the real culprit behind our highly charged emotions surrounding COVID-19?
Our thoughts about COVID-19 is what actually drives our feelings.
And this is great news for us because as humans, we have the innate ability to control our own minds.
That’s not to say it’s easy to do, or there is some magical switch you can just turn on and off.
The primitive part of our human brain responsible for our fight-or-flight response is highly engaged at a time of crisis like this to ensure our survival.
It’s just doing its job to keep us alive, the way it did back way back when we lived in the caves.
The key is to use the more advanced part of our brain and our consciousness to become aware of our thought patterns and catch ourselves when our thoughts start going down a path that does not serve us.
The Thoughts About the Fact
Most of us have been very blessed and fortunate to live in a time of peace and prosperity during our lifetime.
If you think about it when the news first emerged about the coronavirus in China and other parts of Asia back in 2019, what were your thoughts and feelings then?
If you live outside of Asia, most likely you didn’t feel fear, worry, anxiety or stress.
My thoughts as a New York City dweller was that it was far away, and recent viruses such as the SARS and MERS seemed to have come and went without major interruptions to our lives in the US.
Fast forward to today, New York City and the US has become the epicenter of the COVID-19 outbreak.
The fear and anxiety surrounding COVID-19 is at an all-time high here.
Across the globe, there are many different thoughts and reactions to COVID-19.
Same world event of COVID-19 – but many different thoughts that lead to different feelings about the virus.
Once we learn to separate the facts from our thoughts about the facts, we can then move closer to neutralizing our feelings about the fact.
Even if it’s just for a moment, to reduce the wave of emotions triggered by thinking about the fact or circumstance.
We learn that being the victim to a circumstance is an option.
An option you are able to consciously decide by choosing your thoughts about the circumstance.
What about the fear of death?
Statistically, 80% of us are not immuno-compromised and should survive the pandemic.
However, our fear of not surviving the pandemic is much greater than our chance of survival.
Death was always a given. The possibility was there the day we were born.
Roughly 150,000 people die on average each day across the globe.
Most of us live up to our life expectancy. But we forget that it is a privilege not all of us are blessed with.
Death is just coming to the forefront now due to the ease of COVID-19 spread and the high death count in such a short period of time.
We want to grieve the deaths appropriately, and at the same time, recognize that it is a natural part of the human experience and don’t let the fear of it go into overdrive.
Mastering this first step of identifying the neutral circumstance and separating it from its associated thoughts is key to how to deal with anxiety and stress around the circumstance.
Once we have the ability to neutralize our circumstance then we move forward with digging deeper into our thoughts and feelings.
2. Become an observer of your thoughts.
So why do we react so quickly to certain circumstances or triggers?
Our life experiences are composed of the thoughts and feelings we have accumulated throughout our lives.
Early influencers such as our parents, caregivers, other family members, and teachers, can leave indelible impressions in our minds.
Some of the thought patterns we learned from our early years are programmed deep into our minds at a subconscious level that they generate almost automatic responses.
We have on average 60,000 thoughts a day.
Most of the time we are not fully aware of our thoughts that are causing our feelings.
Practice writing down your thoughts, or do what is called a thought download. Spend 10 quick minutes on this daily.
Especially when you feel emotionally hijacked, take long and deep breaths for a full minute, and then sit down to write your thoughts for 10 minutes.
Watch your thoughts become sentences on a piece of paper, or characters typed out on your computer.
Physically separate your thoughts from your mind and body.
Just do a brain dump and keep writing.
Then take long and deep breaths for another full minute.
And read the sentences you just wrote.
Become an outside observer of your thoughts.
Just as physically cleaning and decluttering your home environment gives you a sense of calm and restoration, mentally cleaning and decluttering the thoughts in your brain can do the same.
Review your thoughts with curiosity and compassion. Resist the urge to judge but rather seek to understand.
Once you’ve processed your thoughts this way, you’ll gain a deeper appreciation of why you feel the way you do.
3. Get in touch with your feelings
The goal in understanding your feelings is not to resist or push it away.
We need all of our emotions.
We want boredom to contrast excitement.
We need sadness to contrast happiness.
Allow the emotion to take over your body.
What do you feel? Give it a name.
Where do you feel it? Tune in to your body.
Once you realize that feeling an emotion is nothing more than tuning into the vibrations in your body and that you are physically safe in the moment, you will become less afraid of feeling your emotions over time.
4. Spend equal time dwelling on the negative and the positive.
It’s easy for our thoughts to spiral down a negative path given all the media hype surrounding the COVID-19 pandemic.
On the one hand, we need to stay informed about the health latest policy changes and recommendations.
It’s important to respect and follow the guidelines, not just for the sake of your own health, but for the sake of those around you as well.
Wash your hands for 20 seconds throughout the day, stay at home, and wear face masks in public and etc.
On the other hand, the media dramatizes and sensationalizes the news so that they can get our attention and get more eyeballs or clicks on their content.
It’s just the reality of their business model and how they make money.
For every news story about an unexpected lost life of a healthy person that may stir up fear about your own chance of survival, don’t forget to read an encouraging story about someone beating the odds against the virus.
Re-program your mind to look for the positive by practicing gratitude.
Spend 5 minutes a day to writing down 3 things you are grateful for.
In summary, here are the 4 practical steps on how to deal with anxiety and stress when you feel like your entire world is turned upside down:
- Separate the facts from your thoughts and feelings to neutralize the event or trigger.
- Become an observer of your thoughts and review these thoughts with curiosity and compassion.
- Take the time to allow and feel your emotions instead of resisting them.
- Balance the negative with an equal amount of positive.
The uncertainty surrounding the pandemic can leave you feeling stuck on what to do next and prevents you from moving forward in life.
But this is also the perfect opportunity for us to level up our game on life and practice skills that’ll help you weather any storms that may come our way in the future.
Your life experiences depend largely on your thoughts and feelings about what’s happening around you.
You have no control over the existence of COVID-19, but what you do have control over is your thoughts about it.
How do you want your life experience with COVID-19 to be when you look back 5 to 10 years later?
As uncertain as we are about what next week, next month, or even the next 6 months will bring, pandemics come and go.
This too shall pass.