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Last Updated on January 12, 2021

How to Cope with COVID Anxiety And Stress

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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Published on June 22, 2021

Can Coffee Cause Anxiety Or Depression?

Can Coffee Cause Anxiety Or Depression?

Waking up groggy, eyes adjusting to the light, everything is a little blurry, you stumble into the kitchen and get your first cup of joe brewin’. The smell hits you first—a nice dark roast perhaps, and then finally, your first sip, ahhhhh . . . You begin the rest of your morning routine and that beautiful, aroma-filled beverage in your cup kick-starts your day.

But have you ever wondered if your morning coffee ritual is actually contributing to anxiety or depression? If so, I got some answers for you in this article

We’ve become a coffee-crazed culture—drinking it for pleasure, to relax, as a treat, drinking it to socialize, and not least of all, for energy. Suffice to say, all that coffee craze can lead to an unhealthy dependency. How else can we keep our energy up, treating ourselves along the way, to accomplish all the things we need and want to get done in life?

So, here’s the lowdown on coffee, anxiety, and depression.

Coffee and Depression

There’s some very interesting research out there about coffee and depression. It turns out that coffee might actually be a protective factor against depression and is even correlated with a reduction in suicide.[1] That’s a pretty amazing finding for coffee lovers and those who deal with depression or suicidality!

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In fact, studies have talked about this very interesting outcome. However, before we get too excited, let’s hit the pause button and clarify a few things. I do say “might” because research is research, and although this gives us some evidence, it’s always important to remember that each of our bodies reacts differently to different environments, circumstances, or substances, and there are a lot of variables at play, so nothing is 100%—but it is a good indicator for sure!

Some of the variables to consider in these studies include the overall lifestyle of subjects and control groups as well as a super important one—whether the coffee they were drinking is caffeinated or decaffeinated as much of the research isn’t clear. So, there’s some more work to be done there, but that’s encouraging!

And that’s not all. Coffee, which is most often connected to unhealthy habits, was taken off the WHO’s list of carcinogenic foods in 2016, a somewhat rare move. The WHO even reports that coffee may protect against cancer of the uterus and liver. And they are not alone, several other, well-known and esteemed organizations, such as The World Cancer Research Fund and the US Department of Health and Human Services, have also declared that coffee consumption in moderation (three to five cups per day) can have positive effects on your health and protect you from various forms of cancer.[2][3]

When it comes to depression, it was found that it may not be only the caffeine at play, as there are other impactful components in coffee. The more notable are chlorogenic acid, ferulic acid, and caffeic acid, all of which have been found to reduce inflammation of nerves which is found to be a factor in the brains of people suffering from depression. More good stuff!

Coffee and Anxiety

The research on coffee and anxiety, however, is not quite as positive for those who suffer from anxiety as it is for those who suffer from depression. And it’s not all that surprising either, but there was something that I did find interesting in all of the reading I did on this subject.

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By and large, it was found that if you don’t suffer from anxiety, coffee will likely not have too much of a negative impact on you when consumed in moderation. However, when caffeine doses increase to more than 400mg per day, symptoms associated with anxiety may appear, such as restlessness, jitteriness, and trouble sleeping. In those who suffer from anxiety, it will take far less to exacerbate their already present symptoms of anxiety—not too surprising.[4]

But anecdotally, there is a lot of documentation about people quitting coffee for a period of time and writing about the impact on their anxiety, which was found to be fairly negligent. So, overall, if you suffer from anxiety, there is a good chance that moderate coffee consumption will not have too much of an impact on your anxiety, though it certainly won’t help it.

How Does Coffee Affect Your Mood?

When it comes to your overall mood, the thing you should think about is how your body responds to caffeine as this is the primary issue for most people—depression or anxiety aside—and our bodies have different sensitivities to caffeine.

Some people can drink espresso right before bed and have no trouble sleeping but for others, it could guarantee a night of restlessness with lots of tossing and turning! And poor sleep contributes to irritability, less resistance to dealing with life stressors as well as other poor health indicators, and hence, lowered mood.

Getting a good night’s sleep is essential especially when dealing with chronic anxiety. So, if you fall into this camp, then it might be good for you to moderate your coffee consumption or even just evaluate and assess for yourself to see what the impact might be on a period of time with no caffeine.

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It’s important that you get to know your body and how it reacts to different substances and environments. Running a little experiment on yourself can be a fun way to get to know and understand your body and how you metabolize caffeine.

The Bottom Line on Coffee, Anxiety, and Depression

Overall, the research says that there are potentially a few health benefits when it comes to depression and coffee drinking than on coffee and anxiety—where it is found to have a negative or neutral impact. Furthermore, there is an array of other potentially beneficial health impacts from drinking coffee.[5]

Given all of this various research—some of it very promising (around depression) and some of it not surprising (anxiety)—coffee is not going to eradicate any mental health concerns, though it does not necessarily seem to cause them. The most important thing to consider when thinking about the impact of coffee drinking on your anxiety or depression is that it can aggravate sleep issues, which is a really important piece of your self-care when dealing with depression, anxiety, or any mental health issue for that matter.[6]

Wanna Cut Back on Your Coffee Drinking?

If you are looking to cut back a little on how much coffee you drink or even just run that little experiment on yourself that I was referring to, then you can start with a few simple tips.

1. Cut Back Gradually

Caffeine is a stimulant, and you will likely feel some physiological symptoms, such as a headache, brain fog, and general fatigue. This will last for a day or two, possibly more depending on how much caffeine you have been consuming. Before you start cutting back, it is good to know about how much caffeine you are drinking in a day. That way you can gradually cut back by a beverage each day or so.

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2. Make Sure You Stay Hydrated

Coffee—or caffeine for that matter—is a diuretic, which means that it will naturally dehydrate you, so cutting down will most likely help with dehydration. However, with that said, it is still important to make sure you are drinking enough fluids as that will help minimize the effects of the withdrawal.

3. Get Plenty of Rest

You will naturally feel a little tired when cutting back on caffeine/coffee, make sure you get enough rest, giving your body a chance to adjust and recuperate from the withdrawal.

4. Increase Your Physical Activity

Try to increase your physical activity a little. Physical activity is known to increase mood, which will counter the irritability you may feel when cutting back on your coffee intake.

5. Take Notes

Keep a little log or journal to write down how you are feeling on different days and how much, if any, caffeine you are drinking at various points in your “trial.” Think about your mood, how you feel, how you are sleeping, and possibly how you feel it is impacting your relationships and your daily activities. When you go back to look at your data, you will be able to assess the impact of caffeine and coffee intake more accurately.

Keep in Mind

How much coffee we drink and its impacts vary widely depending on many, many factors. The best bet for you is to know yourself, pay attention to how coffee impacts you, talk to your doctors, and consider your personal life circumstances. Taking all of these steps will help you to make an informed decision for yourself, which will likely change over time.

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Featured photo credit: Drew Coffman via unsplash.com

Reference

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