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Published on September 24, 2020

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

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 October 20, 2020

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

How to Stop Procrastinating: 11 Practical Ways for Procrastinators

You have a deadline looming. However, instead of doing your work, you are fiddling with miscellaneous things like checking email, social media, watching videos, surfing blogs and forums. You know you should be working, but you just don’t feel like doing anything.

We are all familiar with the procrastination phenomenon. When we procrastinate, we squander away our free time and put off important tasks we should be doing them till it’s too late. And when it is indeed too late, we panic and wish we got started earlier.

The chronic procrastinators I know have spent years of their life looped in this cycle. Delaying, putting off things, slacking, hiding from work, facing work only when it’s unavoidable, then repeating this loop all over again. It’s a bad habit that eats us away and prevents us from achieving greater results in life.

Don’t let procrastination take over your life. Here, I will share my personal steps on how to stop procrastinating. These 11 steps will definitely apply to you too:

1. Break Your Work into Little Steps

Part of the reason why we procrastinate is because subconsciously, we find the work too overwhelming for us. Break it down into little parts, then focus on one part at the time. If you still procrastinate on the task after breaking it down, then break it down even further. Soon, your task will be so simple that you will be thinking “gee, this is so simple that I might as well just do it now!”.

For example, I’m currently writing a new book (on How to achieve anything in life). Book writing at its full scale is an enormous project and can be overwhelming. However, when I break it down into phases such as –

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  • (1) Research
  • (2) Deciding the topic
  • (3) Creating the outline
  • (4) Drafting the content
  • (5) Writing Chapters #1 to #10,
  • (6) Revision
  • (7) etc.

Suddenly it seems very manageable. What I do then is to focus on the immediate phase and get it done to my best ability, without thinking about the other phases. When it’s done, I move on to the next.

2. Change Your Environment

Different environments have different impact on our productivity. Look at your work desk and your room. Do they make you want to work or do they make you want to snuggle and sleep? If it’s the latter, you should look into changing your workspace.

One thing to note is that an environment that makes us feel inspired before may lose its effect after a period of time. If that’s the case, then it’s time to change things around. Refer to Steps #2 and #3 of 13 Strategies To Jumpstart Your Productivity, which talks about revamping your environment and workspace.

3. Create a Detailed Timeline with Specific Deadlines

Having just 1 deadline for your work is like an invitation to procrastinate. That’s because we get the impression that we have time and keep pushing everything back, until it’s too late.

Break down your project (see tip #1), then create an overall timeline with specific deadlines for each small task. This way, you know you have to finish each task by a certain date. Your timelines must be robust, too – i.e. if you don’t finish this by today, it’s going to jeopardize everything else you have planned after that. This way it creates the urgency to act.

My goals are broken down into monthly, weekly, right down to the daily task lists, and the list is a call to action that I must accomplish this by the specified date, else my goals will be put off.

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Here’re more tips on setting deadlines: 22 Tips for Effective Deadlines

4. Eliminate Your Procrastination Pit-Stops

If you are procrastinating a little too much, maybe that’s because you make it easy to procrastinate.

Identify your browser bookmarks that take up a lot of your time and shift them into a separate folder that is less accessible. Disable the automatic notification option in your email client. Get rid of the distractions around you.

I know some people will out of the way and delete or deactivate their facebook accounts. I think it’s a little drastic and extreme as addressing procrastination is more about being conscious of our actions than counteracting via self-binding methods, but if you feel that’s what’s needed, go for it.

5. Hang out with People Who Inspire You to Take Action

I’m pretty sure if you spend just 10 minutes talking to Steve Jobs or Bill Gates, you’ll be more inspired to act than if you spent the 10 minutes doing nothing. The people we are with influence our behaviors. Of course spending time with Steve Jobs or Bill Gates every day is probably not a feasible method, but the principle applies — The Hidden Power of Every Single Person Around You

Identify the people, friends or colleagues who trigger you – most likely the go-getters and hard workers – and hang out with them more often. Soon you will inculcate their drive and spirit too.

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As a personal development blogger, I “hang out” with inspiring personal development experts by reading their blogs and corresponding with them regularly via email and social media. It’s communication via new media and it works all the same.

6. Get a Buddy

Having a companion makes the whole process much more fun. Ideally, your buddy should be someone who has his/her own set of goals. Both of you will hold each other accountable to your goals and plans. While it’s not necessary for both of you to have the same goals, it’ll be even better if that’s the case, so you can learn from each other.

I have a good friend whom I talk to regularly, and we always ask each other about our goals and progress in achieving those goals. Needless to say, it spurs us to keep taking action.

7. Tell Others About Your Goals

This serves the same function as #6, on a larger scale. Tell all your friends, colleagues, acquaintances and family about your projects. Now whenever you see them, they are bound to ask you about your status on those projects.

For example, sometimes I announce my projects on The Personal Excellence Blog, Twitter and Facebook, and my readers will ask me about them on an ongoing basis. It’s a great way to keep myself accountable to my plans.

8. Seek out Someone Who Has Already Achieved the Outcome

What is it you want to accomplish here, and who are the people who have accomplished this already? Go seek them out and connect with them. Seeing living proof that your goals are very well achievable if you take action is one of the best triggers for action.

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9. Re-Clarify Your Goals

If you have been procrastinating for an extended period of time, it might reflect a misalignment between what you want and what you are currently doing. Often times, we outgrow our goals as we discover more about ourselves, but we don’t change our goals to reflect that.

Get away from your work (a short vacation will be good, else just a weekend break or staycation will do too) and take some time to regroup yourself. What exactly do you want to achieve? What should you do to get there? What are the steps to take? Does your current work align with that? If not, what can you do about it?

10. Stop Over-Complicating Things

Are you waiting for a perfect time to do this? That maybe now is not the best time because of X, Y, Z reasons? Ditch that thought because there’s never a perfect time. If you keep waiting for one, you are never going to accomplish anything.

Perfectionism is one of the biggest reasons for procrastination. Read more about why perfectionist tendencies can be a bane than a boon: Why Being A Perfectionist May Not Be So Perfect.

11. Get a Grip and Just Do It

At the end, it boils down to taking action. You can do all the strategizing, planning and hypothesizing, but if you don’t take action, nothing’s going to happen. Occasionally, I get readers and clients who keep complaining about their situations but they still refuse to take action at the end of the day.

Reality check:

I have never heard anyone procrastinate their way to success before and I doubt it’s going to change in the near future. Whatever it is you are procrastinating on, if you want to get it done, you need to get a grip on yourself and do it.

Bonus: Think Like a Rhino

More Tips for Procrastinators to Start Taking Action

Featured photo credit: Malvestida Magazine via unsplash.com

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