April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.
Search
Close this search box.
April 14, 2024
Search
Close this search box.

Linking Northern and Central NJ, Bronx, Manhattan, Westchester and CT

Strategies to Reduce Stress and Anxiety in a COVID World

It is a confusing time. We live in a world where we are constantly being bombarded with information and misinformation. When the current pandemic began, this became even more pronounced. This creates a lot of stress and potential for worry.

There are many who, even before the term COVID-19 became a household term, struggled with anxiety or mood symptoms. For some, this has led them to feel prepared to tackle a threat that is now knowable. For others, it adds an additional burden to be processed and managed with the previous stresses they are already juggling.

Some people may be experiencing significant worry and anxiety when presented with this invisible “enemy,” which creates a sense of vulnerability never experienced before. This is in addition to all the other challenges, including isolation, job insecurity and extreme changes in many other areas of life. In addition, it has become routine to hear about loved ones or community members becoming sick or dying. You may be someone on the front lines, or have a family member on the front lines. We are exposed to horrific news stories with the click of a button. The list goes on and on.

As a clinical psychologist practicing during these times, I would like to add my voice to what has already been written by my esteemed colleagues on how to cope. While the suggestions can apply nowadays to managing shifts in mood and anxiety, they are equally applicable to other types of triggers too. I would like to offer some suggestions.

Strive for Balance

We all need to practice self-care now, more than ever before. Sit down and make a list of your hobbies and interests. What are things that “fill your bucket”? What are some activities that help to boost your mood? How often are you engaging in these things? In response to the increase in stress and worry in our lives right now, we should respond by trying to promote stress reduction, exercise, eating well and optimizing sleep. Lifestyle can make an enormous difference in balancing our lives and promoting wellness.

Notice Your Shifts in Moods

Our brains are meant to scan our environments and cue us when it senses “danger.” When there is physical danger this can be very helpful. Many times our brains give us timely, helpful information. Other times, especially at times of heightened anxiety, our brains can go into overload and keep putting out signals and not give us time to “catch up” and judge these signals to make sure they’re on target. If you notice an uptick in anxiety (or change in mood), there can be ways to slow down, reflect on the messages, and come up with some thoughtful responses to manage the incoming signals. Sometimes it’s enough to acknowledge the signal but continue what we are doing because there is no action required, or perhaps we realize that the signal itself was a “false positive.”

You can learn how to handle the incoming messages and how to use these signals more productively. It can be beneficial, when receiving a lot of signals from the brain, to use that experience as a cue to engage in self-care. This means that stress can cue you to take care of yourself and take a break from what’s happening inside your mind and your body.

This may also be applied in another way. Sometimes we can be talking to someone, watching the news, or searching online and become overwhelmed or triggered in these moments. If you use shifts in moods as a gauge, you can change the channel or topic, and this can change your emotional experience. Trying to practice this can feel empowering. There can be a value to know how much is too much, and to know when and how to set limits, and when to pull back or shift direction.

‘Do Now’

We are being bombarded by so many different things at the same time. This can lead to feeling overwhelmed, directionless or shut down. It can be helpful to ask, “Is there a ‘do now’?” Is there a friend to reach out to? A doctor to call? A child’s teacher to connect with regarding something at school? If yes, go ahead. Channel the feelings into a productive action. As described above, anxiety often creates an experience where questions create more questions. This leads to more worry and unease. If this is happening, slow it down, or try to gently disengage, knowing that the loop is a losing endeavor.

Social Support

While we are told to distance ourselves from others, what is required is physical distancing. At the same time we are all in this together. Social connection can be an incredible buffer and outlet. Make sure to connect with someone who validates you and is on the same wavelength; however, it is also important to know when to change the subject if you become uncomfortable with the conversation. You may want to talk to a loved one about something you’re experiencing, or you may want to hear about them as a distraction from your own experience. Know what you want before you connect, and which person is likely to provide the experience you’re looking for.

Self-Compassion

Remember we’re all going through an unprecedented experience. Acknowledge when it feels hard. Be aware that it may take a while to build up a set of strategies that work for you, and it may be a trial and error process to get there. Coping is like building other types of muscle. It takes training and a lot of work. Think about previous experiences that have been hard and which you have survived. Learn from those situations. Be kind to yourself in these moments when it gets hard. Think about the long run and how to learn from experiences that didn’t go as you had hoped they would. Accept that there might be missteps along the way.

These strategies can be a way to take a break and handle all the information we encounter. Practicing the strategies discussed above will have benefits in the here and now and, as well, for the years to come. The key is to manage your experience and to keep the worry and anxiety contained. We are all in training for a marathon we never wanted to run, and we are in this together.


Alana Balaban Fisher, PhD is a Licensed Clinical Psychologist. She owns the practice Cognitive Behavioral Solutions, LLC located in Teaneck, NJ. She works with individuals over the age of 16. She can be reached at (201) 490-9675.

Leave a Comment

Most Popular Articles