We may not even be aware of the powerful role our mind plays in determining our mental health. Even when we feel that things are under control and stress during the COVID-19 pandemic is manageable, our brain could be telling the mind a totally different story. Brain chemistry is highly sensitive to our emotions, whether our feelings are expressed outwardly or neatly suppressed from view. Although you might believe you are handling this crisis just fine, signs of subliminal anxiety may be emerging in unexpected ways.
Reports of anxiety disorders being on the rise during the pandemic are truly not surprising. All our predictable daily routines were thrown out the window a few months ago, replaced with overwhelming feelings of uncertainty, worry, fear, and helplessness. No matter how many humorous memes we view on social media regarding the coronavirus event, they only paper over the intense sense of insecurity that the pandemic has left us with.
Anxiety can manifest itself in many ways, some symptoms that we already associated with anxiety disorders, and others that might surprise us. Classic symptoms of anxiety include feelings of irrational worry and fear, irritability, stomach distress, sweating, trembling, insomnia, restlessness, and difficulty concentrating. But in addition to those symptoms one might experience frequent heart palpitations, weakness or fatigue, racing or intrusive thoughts, unintended weight loss, jaw pain, or engaging in impulsive behaviors. Managing anxiety during quarantine is an essential self-care strategy.
9 Tips for Managing Anxiety During the COVID-19 Quarantine
With states and counties slowly lifting stay-at-home orders in varying phases, the U.S. doesn’t have a uniform national policy. This allows some municipalities to open up in-person psychotherapy services and spa services, while other areas continue to limit access. Here are some useful tips that are valuable for managing anxiety during the quarantine, as well as beyond the lockdown as residual effects of the virus and economic fallout will likely continue to cause anxiety.
- Tele-mental health. Attempting to self-manage increasing anxiety levels without professional guidance is not advisable. Unchecked anxiety can lead to co-occurring depression or substance use disorders. During the stay-at-home orders, you can reach out to mental health providers via teleconferencing platforms that are designed for complete confidentiality and security. Having some objective input from a therapist can help put your mind at ease. Once services are open for in-person sessions, continue to access ongoing psychotherapy services until the anxiety is manageable.
- Increase physical activity. During exercise, the neurotransmitters dopamine, norepinephrine, and serotonin are also increased. These are responsible for improving concentration, memory, and sleep quality. In addition to these mental health benefits, exercise helps regulate stress, the key issue involved with anxiety disorders. Additionally, cortisol and adrenaline, the stress hormones, are better controlled through exercise. Even if the gym is not available, go ahead and schedule a daily walk to experience the healing effects of exercise.
- Practice deep breathing. One of the fastest methods to achieve relaxation is through a deep breathing exercise. Deep breathing techniques can be practiced anywhere at any time, making it an easily accessible go-to for managing anxiety. A common deep breathing exercise is the 7-4-7. This involves slowly inhaling as much air as possible while counting to seven, holding the breath for a count of four, and then slowly releasing the breath through the mouth for a count of seven—pushing out as much air as possible. Do this consecutively, 4 or 5 times, to experience notably less tension in the body.
- Do online yoga classes. Online and live-streamed yoga classes have been a boon to folks unable to access their usual yoga studio or gym. Yoga offers a blend of spiritual and physical activities, such as poses, positions, and movements that are choreographed for calming the mind while toning muscles and stretching the body. Yoga also involves breathwork, which enhances the relaxation effects and helps alleviate stress. Yoga strengthens the body as well, helping you feel more in control of the current situation.
- Check your diet. Some foods are simply not conducive to helping during a period of intense stress. Limit caffeinated beverages, alcohol, and processed salty or sugary foods. Instead, add nutritious foods to the diet that enhance mental health and help control anxiety, such as whole-grain breads and pasta, almonds, blueberries, dark chocolate, kefir, avocados, turkey, asparagus, leafy greens, and chamomile tea. Build up your immune system to help battle the virus by supplementing with vitamin D, vitamin C, and zinc.
- Practice safety precautions. The CDC has guided the nation through the pandemic offering safety guidelines that will reduce the spread of the coronavirus dramatically when they are followed. For extra peace of mind during the COVID-19 crisis, practice the social distancing measures that are put in place, follow mask-wearing guidelines according to your home state’s policies, sanitize surfaces in the home, your phone, and the car, and frequently wash your hands. Just knowing that you are taking these steps will reduce the stress associated with fear of contracting the virus.
- Learn how to meditate. Practicing mindfulness can help rein in distracting worries or thoughts that keep the person agitated. Mindfulness is the practice of focusing attention without judgment on the now, and to feel the moment in all aspects, through the emotions, tactile sensations, and sounds. By practicing mindfulness, you train the mind to stay in the present, which leads to a calm, relaxed state. In addition to mindfulness, there are excellent guided meditation apps available to walk you towards a peaceful state of mind through imagery and breathwork.
- Use aromatherapy. Essential oils are derived from plants and flowers and used in aromatherapy, which has proven mental health effects. Aromatherapy is delivered through the form of a vapor, or diffuser to be inhaled, or applied topically to strategic places on the body or in the bath. Several of the oils can be used to reduce symptoms of anxiety and stress, including ylang ylang, lemon, orange, lavender, Roman chamomile, geranium, and valerian root.
- Plant a garden. There are multiple benefits associated with gardening, including both mental health and physical health benefits. Gardening allows you to be outdoors enjoying fresh air and gaining much needed exposure to vitamin D through sunshine. Whether you are adding fresh landscaping to the back yard or planting a vegetable garden, the process of growing a garden is deeply satisfying, which provides an enjoyable way to manage anxiety during the quarantine.
Clinical Treatment for Anxiety Disorder
While the above tips are activities you can practice at home, there may be a need for more intensive intervention if the anxiety disorder escalates. This is seen when daily functioning becomes impaired, or when a co-occurring disorder emerges. Residential mental health treatment programs have remained open as essential services, following the CDC guidelines for medical and mental health providers.
A residential program for the treatment of anxiety will involve an integrated plan including medication, psychotherapy, group therapy, holistic activities, and recreation. Treatment plans are customized to the particular needs of each individual patient. The treatment environment allows individuals to experience a reprieve from the worries of the world while acquiring targeted coping skills and therapy that will help them better manage their anxiety moving forward.
If you or someone you know experiences mental health issues, it is important to seek help from a qualified professional. Our Resource Specialist can help you find expert mental health resources to recover in your community. Contact us now for more information on this free service to our users.
About the Author
Steven Booth is the CEO and Founder of Elevation Behavioral Health in Agoura Hills, Ca. Steven earned his B.A. from the University of California, Santa Barbara in Economics. Before helping to co-found Elevation Behavioral Health, Steven worked in both private and public accounting. Like many others, Steven has seen firsthand the destruction that addiction can inflict on family and friends. He has also witnessed the extraordinary changes that can be made when addicts receive the necessary treatment. His passion is providing outstanding mental health care through his facility and improving the quality of life of clients.
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