In the U.S., many states are heading into or already in another lockdown. It’s been a rollercoaster year, and researchers have already found that COVID-19 has threatened mental and emotional wellbeing at alarming rates.
With so much uncertainty in the world, feeling stressed or anxious is normal. We are hardwired to respond to threats this way. If we didn’t have this response built in, our ancestors would all have been eaten by saber tooth tigers. Today, however, that fight or flight response is not as useful when what we perceive as a threat is not as immediate as a predator emerging from the brush.
COVID-19 is a real threat, to be sure, but it’s a very different kind of threat. Your stress response won’t help you run and hide, and you can’t wave your caveman club until it decides to move on. You’re at home. You might be alone. And you have to wait—all while your emotions run rampant, affecting your sleep, your eating habits, and your relationships.
In these moments, you can make the choice to respond to stress and anxiety in a healthy way. It’s not always easy. It takes practice. And you may need to ask for help sometimes, but you do have a choice.
Here are some ideas to get you started:
1. Practice mindfulness. Learning to master your thoughts and emotions is key. Slow your breaths, focus on the feeling of the air moving in and out, acknowledge thoughts as they come but always return to your breathing. This small step can have a big impact.
2. Stay active, even if you are at home. Depending on where you live, keeping up with your steps may not be possible during lockdown, but you can still stay active. There are a bunch of free programs for bodyweight exercises, yoga, and aerobics. Don’t forget to talk to your physician if any of these programs are different from your usual routine.
3. Connect with community. You are never truly alone, even if you feel physically isolated. If you have an internet connection or a phone line, reach out to family, friends, church, helplines.
4. Talk to a professional. If your body is sick, talk to your health care provider. If you start to feel overwhelmed by your emotions and aren’t finding a healthy way to address those feelings, reach out to a professional for help.