Do you find yourself increasingly agitated whenever you consume news regarding COVID-19? Do you often wonder—whenever you get a glimpse of your friends’ seemingly productive lives through their social media posts—if you’re the only one who isn’t thriving during this pandemic?
If you’ve been feeling a lot more anxious or stressed lately, let me tell you that this is not unusual. You are not alone in feeling this way.
As COVID-19 swept across the country, upending plans, and routines, it left a trail of uncertainty in its wake—enough to cause some mental health issues that need to be addressed.
In fact, according to a recent CDC report on mental health, anxiety and depression are on the rise in the US, with the national rate of anxiety tripling in the second quarter compared to the prior-year quarter (from 8.1% to 25.5%) and depression almost quadrupling (from 6.5% to 24.3%) from a year ago.
Those numbers, along with the far-reaching effects of the pandemic in our personal and professional lives, are certainly cause for concern. So, here are some ways to cope with COVID anxiety and stress.
Deal With It Immediately
You might be tempted to downplay or ignore how you feel, or perhaps you haven’t even realized how anxious or stressed you’ve been until now.
However, consider the impact on your overall well-being if you continue to sweep these issues under the rug. Unfortunately, your anxiety and stress aren’t going to vanish by wishing them away—much like COVID won’t just magically disappear.
You need to avoid the trap of the normalcy bias or that intuitive feeling that you can just fast-forward through the difficult parts of this year or that things will soon get back to how they were pre-COVID.
The normalcy bias is one of over a hundred dangerous judgment errors that scholars in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics like myself call cognitive biases. They result from a combination of our evolutionary background and specific structural features in how our brains are wired.
Instead, we should adapt to the long haul of battling COVID-19 and, with that, dealing with anxiety and depression now and not later. Just think of how your productivity, peace of mind, as well as personal and professional relationships will receive a boost when you choose to tackle the problem head-on.
Anxious and Stressed? Address These Needs Now
Most probably, a lot of the things that are making you anxious or stressed have to do with the uncertainty of the times. You probably feel like you have no control over your life, and this perceived helplessness might lead you to blow even the smallest of issues out of proportion.
There are things within your control, however. And securing these will likely provide a sense of comfort and even purpose—something that everyone sorely needs during these nerve-wracking times.
You’ve probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work. Maslow proposed that certain fundamental needs have to be met so that people can stay motivated.
Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman updated Maslow’s theory with more recent research, and his revised model shows that humans need the following to feel secure and motivated:
Let’s talk about physical safety. Make sure that you and your loved ones can stay in a safe place for months at a time in case of a major COVID outbreak in your area. You should be able to shelter in place considering the waves of infections and restrictions that we are facing as we wait for a vaccine.
While unlikely, it pays to prepare for a realistic pessimistic scenario. That means having 2 months of basic food and cleaning supplies, along with any necessary medications. To prevent supply disruptions, consider buying such goods in bulk from specialized online vendors rather than emptying the shelves in your local grocery store. It’s both more responsible and cheaper.
Keep in mind as well that many companies (likely including yours as well) and organizations have shifted to a remote work model. You may have to telecommute for a while, even for the long term, depending on the business direction your company takes. This means more time spent indoors, so make sure that it’s a space where you can work without feeling unsafe.
Connection to Others
Your connection with your loved ones and community is extremely important if you want to overcome COVID anxiety. Maintaining it requires you to pay attention to several things.
First, consider your immediate connections with members of your household. When it comes to these connections, it’s better to anticipate and work out issues in advance rather than have them blow up later on. If you have a romantic partner in your household, you’ll have to figure out how to interact healthily given that you’re together 24/7.
The same holds true for other members of your family. If you have children who are home from school or university, you’ll need to figure out how to deal with them being cooped up inside.
You’ll also need to keep in touch with their schools to get updates on online school work. Having these updates will also provide a clearer picture of how your children’s schooling should be handled – one less stressful thing off your list.
A lot more thought should be given into dealing with older adults over 60 or anyone with underlying health conditions in your household (including yourself if you fit either category).
Since they have a higher chance of contracting COVID, you and other members of your household need to take serious measures to prevent them from getting sick. This means being more careful than you usually would pre-pandemic, given that over half of those who get the virus have no or light symptoms.
Second, consider your loved ones who aren’t part of your household. You and your romantic partner might not be staying in the same house. Depending on how vulnerable to COVID you and other members of your household might be, you might choose to have a socially distant type of relationship or you might choose to take the risk of physical intimacy. No matter what you choose, you have to make this decision consciously rather than casually.
The same principle applies to your friends. Since social distancing recommendations and preferences would mean that you can’t (or might opt not to) have a beer with them or meet for lunch in person, you’ll need to figure out other ways to stay connected. This means interacting and spending time with them virtually for the next few months, maybe years.
The same goes for your community activities: faith-based groups, clubs, nonprofit activism, and so on. You’ll need to have a go-to online routine in case restrictions are tightened again.
Given the current waves of restrictions and lockdowns, it’s best to figure out what social arrangement works for you and your connections now, rather than later. While different US states have different social distancing guidelines, these can change depending on the severity of virus outbreaks.
And remember, keeping your friendships and community connections strong will provide even more comfort and stability to you during this pandemic. This will help you deal with COVID anxiety better.
Last but not least, you need to address and secure your self-esteem, which refers to your self-confidence, self-respect, and sense of mastery over your fate.
Making plans for how you want to live your life during and after this pandemic will help you boost your sense of control and confidence, which is a great way to address stress and anxiety. You’ll also want to think about other areas where you can improve in this time of restrictions and limitations.
For instance, being at home offers the perfect opportunity to pick up or enhance new skills. You can try learning how to cook those dishes you’ve kept bookmarked for the longest time, or pick up some coding skills, or learn to play an instrument. Pair your efforts with joining an online hobbyist group and you’ll build even more meaningful connections, which can only ever be a good thing.
Addressing your fundamental needs is empowering and can help you develop a sense of mastery over your environment. When done intentionally and consistently, it is a great counterpoint to stress and anxiety during this pandemic and beyond.
There is no way to forecast exactly how this pandemic will end and how much more of our lives will be upended along the way. That’s why it’s normal for us to have COVID anxiety and more stress during this pandemic.
However, while the uncertainty this thought brings can cause varying degrees of concern and worry, there are steps you can take to address your fundamental needs so that you can defend yourself from anxiety and stress.