In the middle of a worldwide health pandemic, we not only have to protect ourselves from COVID-19, we also have to protect ourselves from daily mental health challenges. Some of these challenges that seem to be prevalent in many of our lives today are stress and anxiety. So, if you are feeling stressed or anxious, you are not alone.
A June U.S. Census Bureau study found that more than one-third of Americans reported anxiety and depression related to the COVID-19 pandemic, three and four times higher than last summer. And 53% of U.S. adults who participated in a Kaiser Family Foundation Tracking Poll in July reported that their mental health was negatively impacted because of worry and stress from the coronavirus. That number jumped from 39% in May.
The results of these surveys aren’t such a big surprise because our bodies are biologically geared to respond to stress as a way of keeping us safe from danger. But where things start to become unhealthy is when stress turns into anxiety. How do you know when this happens?
Stress comes from an external source, such as encountering a bear, upcoming deadlines or an argument. The stress in your body leaves after the situation is resolved. Anxiety, on the other hand, is the internal response to stress that remains after the threat has passed — like continued worry that a bear will hurt you when you go outside. This anxiety can affect your body, your relationships and all aspects of life.
But COVID-19-related anxiety isn’t just about statistics and science. It is personal. It is unprecedented. And it is something we’re all going through together.
As someone who has suffered from anxiety my entire life, I knew that I would have to revisit my own toolbox of self-care and compassion during this time. You may be a long time sufferer of anxiety or you may be new to this…. Either way, here are some helpful lessons that keep me going and help to combat my anxiety.
1. Be kind to yourself.
It is normal to feel stress and anxiety right now, so don’t be so hard on yourself if you are struggling. Remember that you aren’t alone in this process. Once your brain is aware you aren’t isolated, it will be easier for you to accept the situation.
2. Focus on what you can control.
Anxiety spreads like a virus, so focusing on what you can control (such as wearing a mask) and letting go of things you can’t control (others who choose to do unsafe things) will help stop your anxiety from growing. One way I practice this is by limiting my social media intake. You’ll feel so much lighter once you release the burden of worrying about how the outside world is reacting.
3. Find the positive in your day.
Did you know that research shows it takes three positive thoughts to negate one negative thought? Finding gratitude in the small things can look like going for a walk outside and noticing the smell of blooming flowers. Write down three things you are grateful for each day in a journal to remind you of all the positive things in your life. Try not to repeat your answers in your gratitude journal. Find something new to be grateful for each day.
4. Preserve a sense of normalcy.
Make sure to maintain your daily routine as much as you can. Sleep, exercise, work, social interactions are all things that you can – and should – do to keep anxiety at bay. Some might need modifications, so try going for a walk in the morning before it is hot instead of going to the gym. Instead of going to dinner with your best friend, you could schedule that time to talk on the phone and catch up just like you would have at a restaurant.
5. Use your mental health toolbox.
You already have tools needed to calm your anxiety; you just need to use them. Exercise, such as yoga, is a great way to reduce stress in your body. Mindfulness activities, such as the five senses exercise, can keep you in the present moment. Surround yourself with positivity by talking to people you know will uplift you. Also, please consider talking to a licensed therapist who can help you grow your mental health toolbox, you don’t need to do it alone.
In all of this, remember that we will get through this…. and, with the proper mental wellness tools, we can come out of this stronger and more resilient.
Talli Goldman-Dolge is the CEO of Jewish Family Service.
She is a very visible and vocal advocate for mental health awareness and programs in the San Antonio community, and is involved in similar activities on a national scale. In 2019, she helped form the San Antonio Mobile Mental Wellness Collaborative, a unique group of six mental health nonprofits who provide a holistic approach to mental wellness to school districts.
Talli earned a B.S. Degree in Drama Therapy and a M.S. in Education and School/Community Counseling from SUNY (State University of New York). She has an outstanding history of leadership and service in the mental health community, as well as in previous positions with the Witte Museum and Walt Disney World.
Growing up in a family actively involved in Jewish affairs, Talli exudes passion for the value of Tikun Olam (repairing the world).