We are living through challenging times in the midst of a pandemic unlike anything we’ve seen before. COVID-19 has taken over our lives. We’re having to adjust very quickly to living in a way we’ve never imagined.
We’ve gone from working long, exhausting hours, many of us surrounded by dozens of people all day, to suddenly being home all the time and not knowing when we’ll be called back to work. The uncertainty is overwhelming – productions on pause, schools closed, and many of our usual distractions unavailable to us with restaurants and other businesses closing. We’ve been told to keep our distance from each other and self-isolate. It’s completely normal to feel anxiety and stress as we navigate our way through this uncharted territory.
The question is, “Can we manage and even thrive during this pandemic? Is it really possible?”
The answer is yes. We will get through this. Anxiety and stress are manageable, even when the future feels so uncertain and we can’t know what’s coming next.
WHAT IS ANXIETY?
Anxiety can be thought of as a continuum. It ranges from one end of the scale as mild, everyday stress that allows us to continue functioning, and might even be useful to get us motivated, to a heightened feeling that is noticeable to others but is still manageable. At the other end of the continuum, anxiety can shift into a problem that impacts how we live our lives, to something so severe that it leaves us unable to cope with daily routines and living well.
WHAT ARE THE SYMPTOMS?
Symptoms of moderate to severe anxiety may include:
Intense and difficult to control worry over everyday events
Poor sleep, fatigue
Restlessness or feeling on edge
Unexplained physical symptoms
Intrusive, unwanted thoughts or compulsion-like behaviours
WHEN TO ASK FOR HELP
As we navigate our way through this COVID-19 challenge, it’s important to get the support we need. The stigma surrounding mental health conditions like anxiety and depression no longer serves any use. The feeling that we must look strong no longer applies to any of us. These are unprecedented times. Don’t suffer in silence or avoid dealing with your anxiety or stress. Avoiding how we feel lowers our immunity, making it harder to fight disease – not something anyone needs right now.
Learning to take control of your anxiety will benefit you, and everyone around you.
The good news is that there are specific treatments for anxiety. Self-help, counselling, mindfulness training, and sometimes medication have all been shown to be effective.
Self-management of mild to moderate anxiety is completely possible. Recognizing the thoughts, behaviours, and physical symptoms that are causing the anxiety is key.
Challenging anxiety-based thoughts and replacing them with more positive ones can help increase our tolerance for uncertainty. With practice we begin to filter negative thinking out so we can manage our fears and worry more easily.
If you’re experiencing moderate to severe anxiety, seeking the help of a professional is often the best plan. Counsellors and mental health professionals have specialized training in dealing with anxiety and use their knowledge to teach us how to relieve and reduce the symptoms and the cycle of anxiety. Some of the most well-known approaches include Cognitive Behavioural Therapy, Mindfulness and Acceptance Therapy, EMDR (Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing,) EFT (Emotional Freedom Technique), and Exposure Therapy. Working with a counsellor can help uncover underlying issues such as past trauma that might trigger your anxiety during times like this, when uncertainty and fear are swirling around us.
It’s also important to share your anxiety issues with your doctor in order to rule out other causes of your symptoms and to assess the need for prescription medication.
TIPS THAT WORK
Feeling anxious and worried is understandable, but doesn’t change the situation we’re in. Taking charge of how we’re feeling and coping is critical so that we keep our immune systems strong and healthy.
Here are some tips to help us all survive and thrive as we face COVID-19 head on:
Unplug from news and social media. Being informed is important, but a constant barrage of news and information about the virus, anxiety symptoms can increase. Listen to trusted news sources only, and limit the time you spend reading and hearing about the latest developments.
Listen to soothing music or meditate. Meditation apps like Breathe or Simply Being offer your mind and body a break so you can feel calm.
Eat a healthy diet, get some exercise, and sleep at least seven hours a day. Good nutrition helps our bodies fight off stress and worry. If fresh food isn’t available, frozen and canned goods are a good substitute. Unless you’re feeling sick, or have been told to self-isolate, it’s safe to go outside for a walk or run provided you follow physical distancing guidelines of keeping two metres/six feet between you and anyone not in your household.
Wash your hands frequently and cough into your elbow or a tissue that you immediately discard. Taking control of these small actions is one of the most important things you can do!
Don’t take on others’ stress and anxiety about this virus. Know the facts and follow the advice of trusted medical and/or governmental authorities.
Reach out to friends and family. You may not be able to see each other in person right now, but physical distancing does not mean social isolation. Have a virtual dance party or sit down to catch up over video chat with an old friend you never get to see. Call the elders in your life and check in with your neighbours. We need each other more than ever.
Reach out for support if you find your anxiety spiraling out of control, or if you just need someone to help you work through your feelings.
DON’T GO IT ALONE
If you struggle with anxiety and its effects, help is available immediately to get you started on the path to relief and recovery. As with any condition that causes us physical or mental distress, early recognition and getting help when it’s needed are the keys to renewed well being.
Whatever the worry, from emotional to financial, your union Employee or Member Assistance Plan is available to help, and continues during these uncertain times to offer counselling and work/life services 24/7/365. (Please note counselling is offered by phone or video only as we protect each other from exposure to COVID-19.)
Anxiety Canada – Expert tools and resources to help Canadians manage anxiety
Resilience – Lucy Hone TED Talk: The Three Secrets of Resilient People
BC Centre for Disease Control – information, self assessments, and advice
Public Health Agency of Canada – latest government updates on COVID-19
Self-help: The Mindfulness & Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety by Forsyth & Eifer
The Anxiety & Worry Workbook by Clark & Beck
As always, visit our resources/Employee and Member Assistance Plan page for information specific to the assistance your union can provide.
We’ll get through this, together.