Managing Stress, Panic, Fear and Anxiety Amidst Uncertainty
Updated: May 19
A lot has certainly changed since my last post just one week ago. The global pandemic and the anticipation and unknowns about what the spread of COVID-19 will look like in our Atlantic Canadian communities has everyone feeling unsettled at best and completely panicked at worst. Many of us are feeling helpless and at the mercy of things beyond our control, which further contributes to the overwhelm. The major disruption to routines – maybe your kids are now home with you all day, perhaps you’re working from home and you’ve almost definitely seen a change in your hobbies and social life with the closure of restaurants, gyms, stores and the like – is another challenging element. During times of profound stress we must remember the link between our physical, mental and social wellbeing and do our best to take care of each. While we navigate this time of intense uncertainty with little control over some things, take heed of these tips to prioritize your wellbeing.
1. Create a New Routine (and Stick to It)
Suddenly losing our regular routine can perpetuate feelings of panic. Routine brings comfort and a sense of safety. We humans are biologically programmed to react fearfully to unpredictability, and lack of structure prompts the brain to give off a warning of potential danger. Your schedule has likely changed in some significant ways recently. Put some thought into what a healthy daily routine looks like for you and hold yourself accountable to it. Creating a “new normal” and staying consistent as much as possible will calm your mind. The next few tips might help you come up with some components of your new routine, so read on…
2. Limit Your News and Social Media Consumption
Mental health experts are recommending that we cap our news intake at one to two hours per day. Tuning in to credible sources for that length of time will allow you to stay on top of critical information and keep your finger on the pulse of how the situation is evolving, but more than that can do far more harm than good. Remember that not everything you read on social media is true or accurate. Decide on the news sources you’re going to tune into (again, credible, trustworthy ones), don’t exceed the limit you’ve set for yourself and avoid going down the rabbit hole on social media.
3. Catch Enough Z’s
When we experience high doses of stress, our central nervous system gets kicked in to overdrive. This means you’re expending more energy than usual when you’re carrying out your everyday tasks. It’s likely that you’ll need a bit more sleep during this time than you normally do. Work a reasonable sleep schedule into your routine so that you’re going to bed and getting up at around the same time each day. Sleeping till noon and lounging in your PJs might sound appealing but for most people it’s not the best way to support positive mental health.
4. Get Active
I know you’ve heard it before: physical activity triggers the release of “feel good chemicals” in the brain and can have a tremendous impact on your mental health. You might find that your current schedule allows you to more easily make time for physical exercise. Take in some Vitamin D when and where you can, too. If you live in a rural community like I do, you can practice social distancing but still get out of the house. My daily hikes with my dog have become a real cornerstone in my routine lately.
5. Find New Sources of Mental Stimulation
Are Netflix and Facebook getting more use than what’s optimal for your mental health? Your regular daily routine probably included opportunities to learn new things, stretch your “brain muscles” and exercise your concentration. You might have to get a little more creative to come up with ways to continue this habit right now. Carve out some time to read and start a Skype book club. Try your hand at a new recipe. Teach your kids a card game or play a trivia game together. What’s something that’s been on your to-do list for months or even years and you haven’t had time to get around to it? There’s no time like the present!
6. Stay Connected
We know that social distancing, and self-isolation in some cases, is absolutely necessary at this time. Thanks to technology, it’s relatively easy for most people to stay in touch without being in close physical proximity to one another. Call your neighbours to check in. Use Skype or FaceTime to have a chat with a friend or co-worker who you’d typically see on a regular basis. Steps like this can help to restore a sense of normalcy and feed our social health.
However you’re feeling right now, reassure yourself that it’s natural to feel out of sorts given our present situation, and that as circumstances evolve the way you feel will, too. A healthy exercise might be to reflect on the tools you’ve used in the past that have been effective at helping you manage stress during challenging times. Think through the strategies you’ve begun using as of late and work to replace any unhealthy ones before they become habits. As we navigate these uncharted waters together with our families and communities, prioritize and take charge of your mental wellness. Wishing you good physical and mental health in the days to come.
Elizabeth Eldridge is a Psychological Health & Safety Consultant based in southern New Brunswick, Canada. In addition to frequent keynote speaking and corporate training on mental health she is the owner/operator of Arpeggio Health Services, Atlantic Canada’s largest provider of public mental health trainings. Learn more at elizabetheldridge.com, summitcorporatewellness.com and arpeggiohealthservices.com.