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How to Work With Anxiety During the Coronavirus Pandemic

Topics: Career Advice

Millions of computer-bound professionals have suddenly found themselves working from home during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, either by company mandate or through chosen social distancing. We’re all dealing with a “new normal” that can make our worries and anxieties go through the roof. So how do you find your focus, get things done and work with anxiety during a strange new health crisis?

We can all help each other by looking out for our own mental health as well as the health of others. If you are struggling with overwhelming anxiety, stress and depression and you need to reach out for help, please use one of the many free resources available, like the Anxiety and Depression Association of America or the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline. There are more coronavirus-specific resources going up every day, like this website for dealing with virus-related anxiety by the folks behind the Shine app.

Here’s how to limit stress and anxiety and feel a little bit better by the end of the day.

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1. If You Need to, Get Dressed for Work

The idea of a dress code goes out the window under these circumstances. But if it helps you to focus and feel professional to put on a work outfit, then do it! Don’t feel like you have to devolve into the freelancer uniform of sweatpants and a hoodie (or go for the soft pants, if they make you happy). But if you have to get your brain straight in order to lead a conference call, and only a button-down shirt will do it, then wear it. You don’t have to go straight from business casual to “laundry day” casual in one fell swoop.

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This tip comes from the idea that if you are able to focus on what you have control over, you are less stressed overall. You are in control of some things in your life, like what you wear, what you eat (see more later in this post) and how you react to events.

As Dr. Doreen Marshall, AFSP Vice President of Programs, points out in a recent post on the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention website, “There are things you can do, and it’s helpful to focus on those. Wash your hands. Remind others to wash theirs. Take your vitamins.”

2. Find Ways to Cut Through the Silence

We complain when our open offices are noisy, but there’s something so much worse about the uncanny silence of a home in the middle of the day. Don’t reach for the TV remote if having it on will create distraction, or worse, convince you to watch the 24-hour news cycle all day. Instead, try adding sounds that will inspire your work and calm your brain.

Try listening to radio or an online stream, a podcast, or even just some calming sounds to create a mood for work. You might like to listen to local radio station with a live DJ instead of a stream, just to get that added touch of real human interaction. Don’t have a real radio? You can use apps on your computer or a streaming device like Roku or Apple TV to stream radio apps. Even small radio stations often have a streaming option.

If you’re not into music or DJs, try some nature sounds or other white noise to find your focus. Nature sounds can be soothing and offer a good break from a gloomy view of lousy SMarch weather outside.

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3. Use Your Breaks to Clear Your Mind and Calm Your Body

If you wanted to try office yoga or a posture practice but were too embarrassed or distracted to do it in a room full of strangers, now’s your chance to get started in private. You’d be surprised how much tension you can release by taking hourly stretching breaks, rolling your shoulders, or even changing up your seating to ease tight muscles and soothe your mind. If your commute is now mere seconds, try adding some exercise to your day with online videos, or even just basic stretching before you start your day. It will help wake you up and help your body reduce cortisol, too.

Yoga, meditation and mindful breathing can help you find ways to not only get rid of stressful feelings, but also ease your body’s reactions to stressful situations in the future as well.

“Multiple studies now confirm what countless yoga practitioners have found: Whether we’re dealing with acute stress like childbirth or struggling with longer-term stress and anxiety, yoga can be a powerful tool to calm our nervous systems,” writes therapist Seth J. Gillihan Ph.D. at Psychology Today. “In my own work as a therapist I often recommend yoga as part of a treatment program for anxiety, either at a studio the person likes or with online home practice videos.”

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Madison Lavern/Unsplash

4. Learn a New Language

Practicing your Spanish, French or Japanese phrases out loud seems silly on the train. Now that you’re home, you can repeat phrases, practice your pronunciation and keep your brain busy. Apps like Duolingo or Mango make it easy to pick up a new language or polish up one you studied decades ago. And studies show that learning a new language is good for your brain health, too.

You can practice conjugations while you wash your dishes (or your hands) or even while you’re waiting for a meeting to start and you need to test your microphone is working correctly. Think of this as your break from your current language of anxiety and newsy tidbits. It’s your time to practice something for the future when you can talk to someone new in their own language.

5. Try Some Slow Cooking

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Maarten van den Heuvel/Unsplash

When we’re stressed we can turn to junk food that’s easy, but not that healthy. Turns out our brains react to stress by asking our bodies to add peanut butter to everything (well, kinda).

“You really do crave rich foods when stress is unrelenting,” writes Hara Estroff Marano at Psychology Today. “And a very special and well-meaning collaboration between your brain and your body makes you do it.”

“Left to its own devices, the long-term anxiety set off by chronic stress would deplete your energy reserves; you wouldn’t survive very long. But fat- and sugar-laden foods help your body build up reserves and stay in the game of life,” writes Marano.

Instead, try to feed yourself with food that feeds your mind and body in better ways. “A healthy diet can help counter the impact of stress by shoring up the immune system and lowering blood pressure,” notes WebMD.

Eat better and ease your mind with some old school meals. You have more time home now to do a little more “slow” cooking (and I don’t just mean in a Crock-pot). There are lots of recipes that take time but not a lot of hands-on effort. They’re perfect for when you’re working from home, and just need to take a quick break to stir or knead something. You can attempt some homemade bread, slowly simmer chicken stock or put some Bolognese on for a slow-cooked meal. Get rewarded with a great smelling apartment and a healthy homemade dinner at the end of the day.

6. Video Chat with a Friend or Watch an Eagle

We all will have friends and relatives we wish we could hug, but can’t. Pick up the phone, or pull up a video chat window and see their faces. It can make us feel good to share a smile and say hello, and to even see how someone else is coping in their own space.

If you really don’t want to talk to someone, take a minute to look at webcams of soothing spaces and creatures, like national parks, beaches or wild animals. Zoos and museums all around the country that have had to close their gates to visitors are providing entertaining online videos showing freewheeling penguins and wandering dinosaurs. Get out of your own four walls for a minute or two and you’ll feel a bit less alone.

You can even take a break and enjoy something in real time with a buddy (online). Start a Facebook “watch party” or simply push play on a DVD in tandem with a friend miles away. Netflix has rolled out a way you can sync up the streaming service via Google Chrome’s browser to virtually watch a movie or show “with friends.”

7. Regroup With a Few Minutes of Meditation

Taking time to connect with your brain can help to lessen the heightening anxiety we’re all feeling. Resources like Calm.com or Headspace have both free and paid services to get you started meditating, even for a few minutes. Not into meditating, try just taking a breathing break every hour (or watch some mellow jellyfish). Silence your phone and set the do not disturb on Slack before you take some time for yourself.

Meditation is a lot about gently nudging your brain away from worry and into the present moment or breath. This can be immensely helpful in a time of crisis.

“When you find yourself worrying about something that hasn’t happened, gently bring yourself back to the present moment,” writes Marshall. “Notice the sights, sounds, tastes and other sensory experiences in your immediate moment and name them. Engaging in mindfulness activities is one way to help stay grounded when things feel beyond your control.”

Meditation, or mindfulness, can help you find some calm minutes and reset. It’s especially helpful if you find yourself getting more anxious by the minute. The Mayo Clinic points out that even just a few minutes of meditation can help to lower stress levels throughout your day, not just for the few minutes of practice.

“Meditation can give you a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit both your emotional well-being and your overall health,” they write. “And these benefits don’t end when your meditation session ends. Meditation can help carry you more calmly through your day and may help you manage symptoms of certain medical conditions.”

Not sure how to get started? Don’t be intimidated! Look at videos online for some meditation instruction, like ones with Yoga with Adriene for reducing anxiety, some cute little animations or even actor Russell Brand.

8. Don’t Get Trapped by Too Much Social Media

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Uncalno/Flickr

We use all our social outlets to free ourselves from the drudgery of the workday, but it can be overwhelming, too. You can use an app or preference to limit your time with certain programs, or simply uninstall those apps from your phone so they’re less available. Being informed is one thing, but spending too much time or going down too many rabbit holes isn’t good for your mental state (or your productivity).

The CDC recommends taking breaks from social media in order to protect your own mental strain. “Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media,” they write. “Hearing about the pandemic repeatedly can be upsetting.”

If you need to, limit your social media use by setting a timer or limit on your apps, or even uninstalling them from your mobile devices. It’s hard to take a social media break, but if you need to do it for your own mental health, then it’s a very good thing to do.

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How are you managing your stress and anxiety? We want to hear from you! Share your story in the comments or join the discussion on Twitter.


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