It's not just you...
A couple of weeks ago, an advisory group, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, recommended that doctors begin to screen all adult patients under 65 years old for anxiety. "From August 2020 to February 2021, the percentage of adults with recent symptoms of an anxiety or a depressive disorder increased to 41.5 percent from 36.4 percent" according to a study cited by the task force.
There's no doubt that anxiety has gotten worse for everyone since the COVID-19 pandemic began. A big part of the increase in stress was the isolation and corresponding decrease in socialization. Humans are social creatures and we crave connection with other humans. Social distancing during the height of the pandemic disrupted typical social interactions.
The repercussions of COVID-19 escalated quickly, and there were many unknown elements involved. Anxiety comes from uncertainty. In combination with the 24-hour news cycle that was constantly sharing changing information, fears quickly rose and anxiety became a part of everyday life.
We’ve been through a collective trauma, and it’s important to acknowledge that. In fact, some researchers have come up with the concept of what they call COVID-19 anxiety syndrome. They outline characteristics such as compulsive symptom-checking, an inability to leave the house, and avoiding social situations or people.
Additional mental health issues that are important to consider include compassion fatigue* and burnout from workplace stress. Perhaps your personal experience has triggered the development of new anxieties, phobias, and fears around situations such as being hospitalized, being in a crowded space, or fear of spreading germs to your loved ones.
Anxiety can range from mildly uncomfortable to completely debilitating. Three things that you can do to soothe an anxious mind are as follows:
Breathing: Focusing on deep breathing is a great way to reset your nervous system and communicate to your body that all is well. When we’re nervous or anxious, we tend to take short, shallow breaths. If you find yourself partaking in this type of breathing, switch over to deep breaths using your diaphragm and watch your belly rise and fall.
Refocusing attention: When you’re in an anxious state, it’s likely that you’re running a series of thoughts through your mind on repeat. To combat this vicious cycle, try physically moving to a new space or engaging in a new activity to refocus your attention. If this doesn’t work, and you still have thoughts flooding your brain, take a few minutes to write out what you’re thinking about, so that you can process them and move on with your day.
Nourishing your body and mind: In order for your body and brain to function at their best, they need access to the best fuel, and time for restoration. Practice being your own caretaker. Make sure that you drink enough water, eat nutritious food, incorporate movement in your day, and get enough sleep.
Take a mental health day to focus on resting, restoring and doing something that energizes you and feeds your happiness. Perhaps this means connecting with loved ones, volunteering for a cause you believe in or spending time in nature. Other options are to take a nap in the middle of the day, or treat yourself to a good book or movie.
If you find yourself in a bout of loneliness and feel especially down, make sure to reach out and stay connected to others. If these feelings begin to impact your daily life and you’re feeling unsafe, don’t hesitate to seek professional help.
*Compassion fatigue is defined as emotional, physical, or spiritual distress in those providing care to another person.