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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress

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How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress

Do you find yourself increasingly agitated whenever you consume news regarding COVID-19? Do you often wonder—whenever you get a glimpse of your friends’ seemingly productive lives through their social media posts—if you’re the only one who isn’t thriving during this pandemic?

If you’ve been feeling a lot more anxious or stressed lately, let me tell you that this is not unusual. You are not alone in feeling this way.

As COVID-19 swept across the country, upending plans, and routines, it left a trail of uncertainty in its wake—enough to cause some mental health issues that need to be addressed.

In fact, according to a recent CDC report on mental health, anxiety and depression are on the rise in the US, with the national rate of anxiety tripling in the second quarter compared to the prior-year quarter (from 8.1% to 25.5%) and depression almost quadrupling (from 6.5% to 24.3%) from a year ago.[1]

Those numbers, along with the far-reaching effects of the pandemic in our personal and professional lives, are certainly cause for concern. So, here are some ways to cope with COVID anxiety and stress.

Deal With It Immediately

You might be tempted to downplay or ignore how you feel, or perhaps you haven’t even realized how anxious or stressed you’ve been until now.

However, consider the impact on your overall well-being if you continue to sweep these issues under the rug. Unfortunately, your anxiety and stress aren’t going to vanish by wishing them away—much like COVID won’t just magically disappear.

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You need to avoid the trap of the normalcy bias or that intuitive feeling that you can just fast-forward through the difficult parts of this year or that things will soon get back to how they were pre-COVID.[2]

The normalcy bias is one of over a hundred dangerous judgment errors that scholars in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics like myself call cognitive biases.[3] They result from a combination of our evolutionary background and specific structural features in how our brains are wired.

Instead, we should adapt to the long haul of battling COVID-19 and, with that, dealing with anxiety and depression now and not later. Just think of how your productivity, peace of mind, as well as personal and professional relationships will receive a boost when you choose to tackle the problem head-on.

Anxious and Stressed? Address These Needs Now

Most probably, a lot of the things that are making you anxious or stressed have to do with the uncertainty of the times. You probably feel like you have no control over your life, and this perceived helplessness might lead you to blow even the smallest of issues out of proportion.

There are things within your control, however. And securing these will likely provide a sense of comfort and even purpose—something that everyone sorely needs during these nerve-wracking times.

You’ve probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work. Maslow proposed that certain fundamental needs have to be met so that people can stay motivated.[4]

Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman updated Maslow’s theory with more recent research, and his revised model shows that humans need the following to feel secure and motivated:[5]

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Safety

Let’s talk about physical safety. Make sure that you and your loved ones can stay in a safe place for months at a time in case of a major COVID outbreak in your area. You should be able to shelter in place considering the waves of infections and restrictions that we are facing as we wait for a vaccine.

While unlikely, it pays to prepare for a realistic pessimistic scenario. That means having 2 months of basic food and cleaning supplies, along with any necessary medications. To prevent supply disruptions, consider buying such goods in bulk from specialized online vendors rather than emptying the shelves in your local grocery store. It’s both more responsible and cheaper.

Keep in mind as well that many companies (likely including yours as well) and organizations have shifted to a remote work model. You may have to telecommute for a while, even for the long term, depending on the business direction your company takes. This means more time spent indoors, so make sure that it’s a space where you can work without feeling unsafe.

Connection to Others

Your connection with your loved ones and community is extremely important if you want to overcome COVID anxiety. Maintaining it requires you to pay attention to several things.

First, consider your immediate connections with members of your household. When it comes to these connections, it’s better to anticipate and work out issues in advance rather than have them blow up later on.[6] If you have a romantic partner in your household, you’ll have to figure out how to interact healthily given that you’re together 24/7.

The same holds true for other members of your family. If you have children who are home from school or university, you’ll need to figure out how to deal with them being cooped up inside.

You’ll also need to keep in touch with their schools to get updates on online school work. Having these updates will also provide a clearer picture of how your children’s schooling should be handled – one less stressful thing off your list.

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A lot more thought should be given into dealing with older adults over 60 or anyone with underlying health conditions in your household (including yourself if you fit either category).

Since they have a higher chance of contracting COVID, you and other members of your household need to take serious measures to prevent them from getting sick. This means being more careful than you usually would pre-pandemic, given that over half of those who get the virus have no or light symptoms.

Second, consider your loved ones who aren’t part of your household. You and your romantic partner might not be staying in the same house. Depending on how vulnerable to COVID you and other members of your household might be, you might choose to have a socially distant type of relationship or you might choose to take the risk of physical intimacy. No matter what you choose, you have to make this decision consciously rather than casually.[7]

The same principle applies to your friends. Since social distancing recommendations and preferences would mean that you can’t (or might opt not to) have a beer with them or meet for lunch in person, you’ll need to figure out other ways to stay connected. This means interacting and spending time with them virtually for the next few months, maybe years.

The same goes for your community activities: faith-based groups, clubs, nonprofit activism, and so on. You’ll need to have a go-to online routine in case restrictions are tightened again.

Given the current waves of restrictions and lockdowns, it’s best to figure out what social arrangement works for you and your connections now, rather than later. While different US states have different social distancing guidelines, these can change depending on the severity of virus outbreaks.[8]

And remember, keeping your friendships and community connections strong will provide even more comfort and stability to you during this pandemic. This will help you deal with COVID anxiety better.

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Self-Esteem

Last but not least, you need to address and secure your self-esteem, which refers to your self-confidence, self-respect, and sense of mastery over your fate.

Making plans for how you want to live your life during and after this pandemic will help you boost your sense of control and confidence, which is a great way to address stress and anxiety. You’ll also want to think about other areas where you can improve in this time of restrictions and limitations.

For instance, being at home offers the perfect opportunity to pick up or enhance new skills. You can try learning how to cook those dishes you’ve kept bookmarked for the longest time, or pick up some coding skills, or learn to play an instrument. Pair your efforts with joining an online hobbyist group and you’ll build even more meaningful connections, which can only ever be a good thing.

Addressing your fundamental needs is empowering and can help you develop a sense of mastery over your environment. When done intentionally and consistently, it is a great counterpoint to stress and anxiety during this pandemic and beyond.

Conclusion

There is no way to forecast exactly how this pandemic will end and how much more of our lives will be upended along the way. That’s why it’s normal for us to have COVID anxiety and more stress during this pandemic.

However, while the uncertainty this thought brings can cause varying degrees of concern and worry, there are steps you can take to address your fundamental needs so that you can defend yourself from anxiety and stress.

More Tips to Overcome COVID Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Max Bender via unsplash.com

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Reference

More by this author

Dr. Gleb Tsipursky

Cognitive neuroscientist and behavioral economist; CEO of Disaster Avoidance Experts; multiple best-selling author

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Last Updated on September 23, 2021

Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

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Overwhelmed at Work? 17 Ways to Manage Work Anxiety

Sadly, being overwhelmed at work has become commonplace in many industries in the United States, with an astounding 83% of US workers reporting that they are suffering from work-related stress. The US has been deemed the most overworked developed nation on the planet.[1]

Some of you are nodding your head knowingly, while others might be doing a questioning head tilt right now. Here’s the deal—data provided by the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics indicate that the average productivity of American workers has increased since 1950.[2] Unfortunately, since that time real wages have remained largely unchanged (adjusted for cost of living and inflation), meaning that to earn the same amount that we did in 1950, we have to work approximately an extra 11 hours each week—and an unthinkable 572 hours a year. Sounds a little bit stressful, doestn’ it?

To put things into perspective, here are a few statistics to chew on:[3]

  • People are so overwhelmed at work that it’s costing American companies over 300 billion dollars a year and over $190 billion in healthcare costs.[4] This is partly because feeling overwhelmed at work manifests itself in increased sick days, decreased productivity, poor mental and physical health, more errors on the job, and increased turnover.
  • Moreover, stress at work is not just costing us money but also our lives. With a staggering 120,000 deaths annually attributed to work stress, something needs to change.

If the external demands are not enough to raise your blood pressure, we are also unwittingly making our situations more challenging by perpetuating an ideology that would stress out even the coolest cucumber. Let me explain.

The idea that’s been drilled into us for most of our American lives has been this: hard work and working hard is to be admired while admitting something is too much is being a lazy wimp. This underlying attitude we’ve all been spoon-fed is called Internalized Capitalism. According to Anders Hayden, a political science professor at Dal Housie University in Nova Scotia,[5]

“Internalized capitalism is this idea that our self-worth is directly linked to our productivity.”

Someone struggling with internalized capitalism might look like any or all of the following:

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  • Putting work before their health and well-being.
  • Feeling guilty when resting or participating in a leisure activity.
  • Feeling lazy and/or anxious when sick, hurt, or otherwise dealing with personal or physical adversity that delays them from doing their job.
  • Feeling that whatever they do it’s never enough.

Now, don’t get me wrong, it is admirable to be a hard worker. But here’s the caveat—when our self-worth and lives suffer because of the overwhelming and relentless demand for productivity, profit, and performance, we need to start reconsidering what’s going on. And here’s the real kicker: this attitude plays right into the hands of the few who are profiting from the many. It’s almost like we have been brainwashed to police ourselves against our self-interest.

Now that we are all on the same page about how we got here, the question is this: How can we overcome a difficult system and dysfunctional thinking?

Honestly, we didn’t get here overnight, and there is not a magic wand to wave that will change things for the better instantly. True change will occur with a blend of systemic and individual tweaks—or overhauls. Okay, it’s really “overhauls” that we need, but I didn’t want to scare anyone so I said “tweaks.”

Let’s start by taking a look at some of the solutions and changes we can make as individuals. Let’s just be frank and put it out there that these problems won’t be fixed only by reminding people to take better care of themselves. Taking personal responsibility for your self-care is part of it, yes, but this runs much deeper than that. We are talking about undoing deeply held beliefs that govern our self-esteem and self-worth.

1. Process Your Emotions

“So, if you’re mad, get mad!” Isn’t that how the song goes? (I’ll Stand by You by the Pretenders.) Finding healthy outlets for our emotions is a key aspect of processing and being able to truly move on.

“Name it to tame it,” is a phrase coined by Dr. Dan Siegel about the power of labeling an emotion to reduce its impact. Examples of this could be journaling or talking things out with someone. Honestly, this step really needs to come first as it is extremely difficult to think clearly when we are feeling very emotional.[6]

2. Be Aware of Negative and Judgmental Self-Talk

Are you staying late at the office and missing time with friends (or your dog) because your internal critic is telling you that if you don’t get this project done, you are a lazy, underperforming blob of an employee? This type of self-talk is not productive or healthy.

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You can overcome this by becoming aware of the story you are telling yourself and the judgment that accompanies it. This is the most important step by far. These stories and criticisms we tell ourselves that keep us working crazy hours and provoke toxic anxiety are the same cockamamie stories that prevent us from taking the time we need to take care of ourselves.

3. Question Your Beliefs

Once you notice the narrative you are telling yourself, take a step back and try to see it for what it is. “Is this really true? Why do I believe that? Is there any evidence to the contrary?”

4. Make New Beliefs

Rewrite your story with what feels right to you. Luckily, we are our own authors, and we get to choose the things we tell ourselves. It doesn’t sound like much, but the power of perspective and authentic positive thinking can be monumental. It’s healthy to evaluate our internal beliefs and self-talk from time to time.

5. Be Clear on What You Want

Be clear on what you want and how you’d like things to be different. Do I want to work a zillion hours a week and then be too tired/anxious/grumpy to do anything else in my life? What are my priorities and does my situation now reflect that?

6. Talk to Your Supervisor

Talk to your supervisor to clarify expectations. Are you holding yourself to implied or self-imposed expectations? Or have they explicitly been set by your employer?

7. Have a Solid Support System

Having a solid support system helps prevent you from being overwhelmed by work anxiety. They can be your friends, family, life coach, psychologist, teammates, social groups—whoever feels supportive, positive, and encouraging.

8. Brutally Assess What You Can and Can’t Control.

This step is important as it dictates the actions you have to choose to move forward. I used to wish I would win the lottery, but the time and energy spent on that didn’t get me anywhere. Changing my work hours, taking some classes, and cutting back some expenses did.

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9. Develop an Action Plan

Develop an action plan based on your findings in #8. It’s not all going to change at once. Start with one small thing, and keep chipping away until you get wherever you want to go.

10. Talk to Someone in HR

Talk to your supervisor or someone from HR about your concerns and struggles. Find out about your options and any assistance they may be able to offer.

11. Set Boundaries and Limitations.

Just because you can work from home and check your email at 2 am doesn’t mean that you should. Learn to set your boundaries. Limit digital contact. Limit work to work hours and stick to it.

12. Complete One Thing at a Time

We are only neurologically capable of doing one thing at a time. Multitasking is a myth and, when attempted, has been shown to take up to 40% longer to complete a task.[7] Don’t waste your precious time and energy doing many things at once. Instead, focus on one task at a time.

13. Be Organized and Timely But Also Realistic

Don’t set yourself up for increased stress and overwhelming work anxiety by putting an unreasonable amount of things on your “to-do” list over a short period of time. Prioritize what needs to be done, and set realistic time frames for completion.

14. Good Enough Is Sometimes Good Enough

Don’t get bogged down in the minutia and cost yourself hours of needless work by re-reading an email 14 times before sending it. Read through it twice and hit send.

15. Don’t Compare Yourself to Others

There is a saying I like: “Comparison is the thief of happiness.” I have no idea who originally said it, but they are brilliant, and most of all, correct. Wasting time and energy comparing ourselves never leads us to a good place. Instead, ask yourself if you are doing the best you can given your own set of circumstances.

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16. Take Time to Fill Your Tank

Meditation, yoga, quiet time, exercise, breaks, breathing, quality sleep, good nutrition, and hydration—just to name a few—are all scientifically proven ways to reduce our internal stress and better manage our energy.[8] On top of good self-care habits, taking the time to do whatever it is that fills your individual tank is crucial to feeling less overwhelmed with work anxiety. I frequently ask my clients which car will make it on a cross-country trip: the car you stop and put gas in, checking the oil and tires intermittently, or the car that you just keep driving?

17. Reframe Your Perspective

We all get caught in the habit of seeing things from only one perspective. A friend of mine used to always tell me, “there are three sides to every story: yours, theirs and something in the middle.” She was right, and honestly, there are many more sides than that.

Critical coaching moment here: Take a step back and try to think outside the box to see the vast expanse of options available to you. Try not to discount them right off the bat as they might not readily fit into the narrow view or expectation that you previously held. Allow your mind to run free, be creative, and find solutions.

What Organizations Can Do About It

As we mentioned earlier, this problem of being overwhelmed with work anxiety is not one-dimensional. Much of the onus falls on the system itself. Not ready to make the full commitment necessary, many organizations encourage their employees to “take care of themselves” or “prioritize work-life balance” while, at the same time, covertly/overtly making unrealistic demands in workload and time.

The positive side is that there are companies who have truly taken the task of supporting their employees as people with personal and professional lives to heart.[9] These organizations stand at the forefront with fair wages, employing enough staff, and setting realistic work expectations, boundaries, and goals. Some top organizations employ life coaches, psychologists, and other support staff, offer employee wellness programs, encourage good nutrition through free healthy meals at work, provide access to fitness and game rooms, and provide unlimited paid time off, flexible schedules, the ability to work remotely, as well as resources to assist with daycare, legal issues, and in-home care to name a few.

Lastly, solid training for managers and HR in addressing employees as “whole” people and taking some of the onus off of the employee to find their own solutions to problems that stem from the workplace is another critical component to successfully supporting employees.[10]

Final Thoughts

Improving support for people in the workplace is good for everyone. It’s better for people’s health and well-being, it’s better for productivity and making fewer errors, it’s more cost-effective for companies and our healthcare system, and it increases the bottom line for companies.

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As we discussed earlier, the big picture will not change overnight. For now, take control of what you can and evaluate ways to better manage your end of things. If these changes are not enough to make the difference you are looking for, then a change of environment or to a company that holds the same beliefs that you do may be in order.

More Tips on How to Manage Work Anxiety

Featured photo credit: Elisa Ventur via unsplash.com

Reference

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