Coping with Anxiety in the Age of Covid-19

Has this happened to you recently?

It’s 3 AM. You wake up with a start. Your heart is racing. You open your eyes and immediately feel panic. Your mind won’t shut off and let you go back to sleep. You start to feel the anxiety physically — like a weight is sitting on your chest. This just panics you more. And as the worries and anxiety continue to cycle through your mind, the dread sets in because you can’t make yourself stop.

Lots of us, myself included, are finding ourselves in uncharted waters, dealing with a level of anxiety we have never experienced before. Others, who have battled demons for years, are suffering more. NYC City Council Speaker Corey Johnson recently dropped out of the race for NYC Mayor citing his own mental health as the reason. “I was not myself.” Johnson told NY Magazine. “I was having feelings of sadness and isolation and a loss of joy and sleeplessness and no appetite and all of those things.”

“According to a CDC survey released last month, anxiety levels in the US are, on average, three times higher than they were a year ago,” states an article in Psychology Today entitled, “5 Reasons We’ve Become Filled with Anxiety.” For artists this anxiety can be compounded by job loss, financial instability, and an uncertain future. Will Broadway come back? When will we be able to gather on stages and sit in audiences again? How will I pay my rent and feed my family in the meantime?

As a first time anxiety sufferer, I’ve had the challenge of figuring out how best to alleviate my own symptoms. Through a system of trial and error, I have cobbled together several different techniques, which I share here in the hopes they might help someone else.

Please note: I am NOT a health care professional so if you are experiencing severe anxiety or depression symptoms or having suicidal thoughts, PLEASE reach out for professional help (see the bottom of this article for links). You are not alone. Help is available.

  • Exercise

    I have never been a gym rat, nor have I ever had any kind of consistent exercise routine. But I now take regular walks in the morning with my husband. This accomplishes several things: 1) It makes me get up and get dressed. 2) It allows me some time in nature (for me it’s Central Park) which is naturally restorative, and 3) Exercising triggers my body to release endorphins which then trigger a positive feeling in the body.

  • Meditation

    Pre-COVID, I was a random practitioner of meditation. I used guided meditation to alleviate my headache symptoms but rarely practiced when I was feeling well. So when I started experiencing anxiety symptoms, I started trying to practice meditation more regularly. I prefer guided meditation (to keep my mind from wandering), and I have tried several different apps. My Life is a fun app that has you take a little questionnaire about how you’re feeling that day and suggests meditations based on your response. And I also enjoy listening to Buddhist meditation teacher, Sharon Salzberg. You can find her guided meditations on YouTube.

  • Tackling anxiety at its source

    One of the most challenging parts of dealing with anxiety for me is handling the moment when I’m in it. For me, that is often in the middle of the night or when I first wake up. I have found some success using a technique from motivational speaker, Mel Robbins. She explains that when your body is in panic mode, it reacts in much the same way as it would react if you were physically in danger. This is known as “fight or flight” mode. She recommends when you feel that panic, you get up and immediately change your venue. If you’re in bed — get up. This change tricks your body into thinking you are moving away from the danger. She suggests thinking of an “anchor thought,” a positive thought strong enough to pull you out of the current moment. It should be a place where you feel happy, centered, and grounded. Then count backwards from 5 and picture yourself in that place. You can watch her discuss it here

  • Limit Social Media and News.

This should go without saying, but the news right now is not good for anyone’s mental state. I’m not saying to completely turn off and not be informed, but do make a conscious choice about how much news you can safely ingest each day and what time of day is the best time for you to do that. For me that means NOT reading or watching first thing in the morning or before bed.

  • Herbal Tea

For me, caffeine and alcohol are definitely not helpful. I still drink my coffee in the morning (old habits die hard), but I have started drinking herbal tea in the evenings. Celestial Seasonings makes a Sleepytime Extra tea which is herbal and contains valerian root which is supposed to help promote relaxation.

  • Talk about it

Far more people are dealing with anxiety than we realize. Once I started opening up about my experiences to a few close friends, I quickly realized that I was not alone. Talking to others who are experiencing the same thing can be reassuring. And it gives you a lifeline when you’re in a bad place of having someone to call and talk to.

If you have techniques that are helping you, please share them in the comments below. I wish you all a safe and calm week. We will get through this, together.
Laura Josepher
Laura Josepher

New York City has created a free mental health service called NYC Well. You can speak to a counselor via phone, text, or chat and get access to mental health and substance use services, in more than 200 languages, 24/7/365.

If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides 24/7, free and confidential support for people in distress, prevention and crisis resources for you or your loved ones, and best practices for professionals. Contact them at 1-800-273-8255.

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