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7 Tips for Coping With Anxiety in Times of Uncertainty

Thursday, April 23, 2020

The COVID-19 pandemic has affected our lives, our communities, our countries, and our world, so you may be experiencing disbelief, worry, fatigue, unease, tension, fear, or just general anxiety about the present situation and the future.

In times of uncertainty, though, prolonged anxiety can affect our mental health, physiology, work, relationships, and overall well-being. If we can identify ways to manage anxiety, it can sustain us through this marathon. What’s most important is that you experiment and discover what works best for you. Here are some tips to consider while navigating through these unprecedented times.

Tip #1: Anchor Attention in the Present

Anxiety is often triggered when thoughts are focused on the future. Worrying about “what’s going to happen or what could happen is a stress response. As best-selling author Eckhart Tolle explains in Practicing the Power of Now, “This kind of psychological fear is always of something that might happen, not of something that is happening now. You are in the here and now, while your mind is in the future. This creates an anxiety gap.” Our minds and bodies are not well equipped to address an unknown future. Tolle adds, “You can always cope with the present moment, but you cannot cope with something that is only a mind projection.” Bring your focus back to the present moment.

Tip #2: Refocus Anxious Thoughts

According to psychotherapist Danielle Ogno, a practicing licensed marriage and family therapist in Madison, Wisconsin, “We all want to anchor ourselves in a shared vision, but we don’t know what that vision is going to be. We need to give ourselves permission not to have the answers.” Finding peace in the middle of not knowing can be challenging. If you notice an anxious internal thought, call attention to it and label it a “worry cue.” Ogno recommends that once you label it, you should distract yourself for 20 to 30 minutes by paying attention to the sensory stimuli around you (what you see, hear, smell, touch). This creates a shift and centers you back in the present. Be aware too that a sense of loss of control can fuel hopelessness and worry. To restore a sense of purpose, focus on what remains in your control, like scheduling your time or what your next project will be.

Tip #3: Learn How to Calm Yourself

When you experience levels of high stress, you may notice restlessness, irritability, headaches, an inability to remember things, a rapid heartbeat, or tension in the body, just to name a few. As Ogno explains, thoughts can escalate and lock us into a high arousal state. In this heightened state, there are several things you can do. You can start moving by taking a walk, using the stairs, or going for a jog. You can also practice repetitive sets of slow, deep breathing. Slow breathing signals to your body that the fight or flight response is not needed. Additionally, if you feel tension in a specific area of your body, you can visualize those tissues softening and relaxing. Finally, a consistent meditation practice can help you practice calm in the midst of chaos. Get still. Breathe.


Tip #4: Take Breaks From the Media

Although staying informed has its place, take an occasional break from social media. This can be beneficial to overall well-being. Our bodies are not wired to handle ongoing barrages of gloom and doom on all our devices. Give yourself permission to turn off the media occasionally. As Ogno adds, media fasts can turn down the sensitivity dial. To help reframe your mindset from negative to positive, also consider making it a daily practice to identify one to two things you can be grateful for each day.

Tip #5: Exercise Daily and Make Time to Relax

Even if it’s a brief walk around your home, exercising to a YouTube video, or a long walk in nature, make sure you keep moving. Exercise helps boost mood and is essential when you work remotely. Additionally, make time for things that restore you. Find joy in simple pleasures like eating a home-cooked meal, playing with pets, listening to your favorite music, puttering with tools, playing games, lighting a candle, learning a new language online, starting a craft project, taking a warm bath, finishing a home project, watching the sunset, listening to birds, journaling, baking, or singing. Restorative sleep is also essential, as our brains clean out stress hormones during sleep. By practicing self-care, we can take better care of each other.


Tip #6: Practice “Physical Distancing,” Not Social Distancing

In difficult times, Ogno explains that social support is extremely important. We are social beings, after all. Reach out to colleagues, family, and friends through video conferencing, the phone, and other technologies. Find virtual ways to connect with the people in your lives. Send selfies of your remote work areas to colleagues or meet via video conference for virtual coffee breaks. Listen and respond to others with empathy.

Tip #7: Adopt a Mindset of Resilience, Not Permanence

The adage “this too, shall pass” remains as true today as it always has. Impermanence is a hallmark of this world. Notice when your thoughts or words use absolutes like “always” or “never.” The realization that nothing lasts forever helps sow the seeds of resilience. That said, it is essential to pace ourselves for a long haul.

Times of crises have a way of reminding us what’s most important. Though painful (like a diamond under pressure), what often emerges from hardship is growth. And in our industry, talent development is all about growth. Be watchful for growth in yourself and in others through greater kindness, heartfelt compassion, richer love, deeper perseverance, and unified humanity.

We will get through this together.

About the Author

Diana L. Howles, MA, is an award-winning speaker and international virtual trainer who brings 25 years of experience in the learning industry. As a world-class facilitator, she has trained Fortune 100 and 500 companies and facilitated virtual programs in more than a dozen countries. Diana is currently CEO of Howles Associates. She earned a master's degree from Colorado State University and is a frequent presenter at international in-person and virtual conferences. She is author of the new book Next Level Virtual Training: Advance Your Facilitation available on Amazon. She can be reached through her website, via LinkedIn, or on Twitter @DianaHowles.ions.

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If you suffer from anxiety attacks and disorders, then there are many ways of controlling your feeling. Most anxiety attacks are triggered by a certain thing. In some cases, all it takes is overcoming or conquering that feeling. You can find more information on When you know your triggers then you know how to stop getting an attack. You can either avoid it or confront it head on.
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