So we are three months into this pandemic here in the US. Three months ago no one thought it would last this long, we thought maybe we'd be inconvenienced for a month or so. Ha! Little did we know! It's certainly looking like we are in for the long haul with lots of unknowns about how things are going to be for the next 12-18 months (or more).
If you've never experienced anxiety you likely have had a taste of what people with generalized anxiety disorder deal with on a daily basis. Constant worrying about "what if" scenarios, feeling overwhelmed, trouble sleeping, racing thoughts, and difficulty concentrating among other symptoms. During the pandemic, worries about jobs, children's education, managing childcare, financial concerns all without our normal routine and social supports - it's a recipe for a lot of stress and the anxiety can take over if you let it. I'm going to give you some tips on what to do when your thoughts are starting to spiral out of control.
1. Don't Catastrophize
You are probably thinking, "But Kelly, we are in a pandemic!" Yes, but by exaggerating the importance of negative events (the definition of catastrophizing) you are giving weight to situations that are completely out of control. We don't panic every day about getting in a bad car wreck right? That wouldn't be helpful when we have to drive everywhere and the majority of the time we remain safe. It would only serve to make us worried and stressed. So for pandemic purposes, don't let yourself get caught up in catastrophizing your future - chances are, although the worst case scenario certainly is possible, it's not likely and you are just wasting your time, energy, and mental space on some very unproductive thoughts.
2. Don't fall into the habit of emotional reasoning
Emotional reasoning is when we assume feelings reflect fact, regardless of the evidence. The idea here is “I feel it, therefore it must be true.” This can lead to self sabatoging behaviors. An example might be, "I lost my job. There's no point in even trying to get a new one since so many people are laid off right now and there are so few jobs." Well, we don't know for a fact that there is no job available for this person since she assumed there weren't any but didn't know that for fact. What if there were jobs out there for her but because she let her feelings dictate her behaviors she may be missing out on a great opportunity. Don't make decisions based on your feelings - look at the data and facts to guide you.
3. Get rid of the mental filter
Mental filtering is the tendency to focus on negative events while neglecting the positives. This is SO easy to do when there is so much negativity in the media as well as concerns about the pandemic. However if you only focus on the negative you may be missing out on some of the good stuff. For example your kids' extracurricular activities are probably non existent right now - you could be worried about them losing sports skills, friends, music lessons, school progress, etc. If you only focus on the things they are missing out on of course you will be anxious and worried! However if you try to include the positive, your anxiety will likely be lower AND you will enjoy this whole pandemic life more. For example, looking at the extra family time being spent together or the extra outdoor time they are getting certainly helps neutralize the negative thoughts. Which leads me to my final tip:
4. Focus on what YOU can control
This is a big one. There is so much out of our control right now that it's overwhelming. You can spend your time worrying about the news, if you can take that trip you've been looking forward to, or if your kids can go back to school this fall. But worrying about things outside of your control is a total waste of time. Instead, focus on specific things you can control. For example, sticking to your routine, eating well and exercising, making a contingency plan if your kid doesn't have school, calling the airline to see if you can get a refund....you get the idea. There is so much in our lives that is outside our control and this pandemic is a terrific example of that. None of us could have predicted this six months ago. But I find that people who let go of the unknown and focus on specific tasks or situations that they can actively control feel less anxiety, more empowered, and are tolerating the stress of this pandemic better than those who don't.
This pandemic is hard. Life is hard. But you have the ability to challenge negative thinking patterns that may be causing you anxiety or keeping you in a rut. You have more control than you think - it just takes a little practice and before long, you can manage those unhelpful thoughts that are holding you back.