A pedestrian on a quiet street in Manhattan, March 22, 2020. The coronavirus outbreak has magnified all kinds of fears. Try living in the moment. Take stock of what’s working. Turn off the television. (Jeenah Moon/The New York Times)
Erasing anxiety from daily life isn’t an option for most people today. But therapists, clergy and meditation specialists say there are simple and accessible ways to overcome debilitating panic.
Coping skills, said Rick Hanson, a psychologist and a senior fellow of the Greater Good Science Center at the University of California, Berkeley, “help you reframe the situation you’re facing. It’s not a matter of looking at the world through rose-colored glasses, it’s about creating resilience.”
Here are tips from professionals.
— Every day: Set goals, find joy and call a friend.
For people who may be feeling down or afraid, psychologists Julia Hitch and Andrew Fleming recommend a three-prong, daily approach for coping. The first, “mastery,” requires setting a reachable goal for the day, whether it’s practicing the piano for 20 minutes, trying a new recipe or exercising. A second daily essential is finding an element of pleasure: eating a delicious snack or taking a bath, for instance. Then comes “connection,” which in the age of COVID-19 means calling or video chatting with a friend or relative to take ourselves outside of isolation and into a circle of fellowship.
— Take mental inventory of your well-being.
When he feels anxiety seep in, Hanson, who creates guided meditations for the digital platform Simple Habit, said he takes a few slow, deep breaths and reminds himself of what is true in this exact moment
. Then he takes stock, telling himself, “In this moment, your heart is beating. You’re breathing in this moment. No saber-tooth tiger is coming after you in this moment.”
“Our fear is about the future. It’s what we anticipate,” he said. “But if you stop and say, ‘I am healthy in this moment,’ it pulls you out of rumination and anxious, helpless preoccupation. Your brain will come to this moment of quiet realization. ‘Things are not great, but they’re basically OK. I am still surviving.’ It gives you more of a sense of agency.”
— Limit media intake.
It’s important to find a line between educating yourself with information that helps guide your decisions and inundating yourself with information that simply increases anxiety. “Turn off your notifications,” said Dr. Amy Cirbus, the director of clinical content for Talkspace, the online therapy platform, and check in at specific times a day with news platforms or cable TV.
“It’s really hard to discern whether a news report is something you need to know to take action” or if it merely is providing more fodder to ruminate over, she said. “If you’re just coming into the news bubble a few times a day and not getting inundated, then you are choosing the moments and this gives you back some power.” Urgent news will almost certainly find its way to you, she added.
— Turn panic into service.
“Every hand that we don’t shake must become a phone call that we place. Every embrace that we avoid must become a verbal expression of warmth and concern,” Rabbi Yosef Kanefsky told his congregants last week.
Feelings of helplessness come from the loss of power we have over the current situation, he explained in an interview. But we do have the power to provide support to others. “Write down people’s names, thinking of those most likely to be in need because of their age or medical situation or if they live alone. We ourselves are much less likely to feel panicked if we channel our anxiety into, ‘Who can I help right now and how can I help them?’ ”