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Managing your emotional well-being can be just as important as maintaining your physical health. And during this time of widespread panic concerning the coronavirus, or COVID-19, it is easy to feel fearful and anxious. Suddenly, our day-to-day living routine seems threatened by the virus, and knowing how to take charge of intense feelings is an important part of being able to maintain your sanity. As a mental health professional, I thought I’d share eight things you can do (in no particular) order to help you manage your sanity during this global health crisis.
Understand why you feel overwhelmed.
Your emotions are often connected to physical responses. It goes without saying that emotions are very powerful, and can instantly stimulate a physical reaction. For example, you look at your calendar and see a meeting with someone who intimidates you. Immediately you feel a pit in your stomach. The person doesn’t have to be present for you to feel this way. In the context of COVID-19, it isn’t uncommon to view information and feel anxious because many intense emotions are linked to it.
Take charge of how much information you’re consuming.
Choose to limit where, when and how long you take in information. Checking the CDC website for updates right before bed or while eating will likely amplify your anxiety. However, briefly checking once or twice a day will help you stay informed. Remember: Social media often involves a community of people — they comment on posts or exchange stories. And stressful interactions can fan the flame of fear.
Obtaining factual (not fictional) information from a reputable source, like the CDC, where you’re not interacting with others will keep you abreast about COVID-19 without engaging in the chatter.
Develop and write down a health plan.
Anxiety often comes from the fear of the unknown and feeling that you don’t have control. So, spend a few minutes actually putting together a plan should you or your loved one start to feel ill. Write down the name of the doctor or locate the medical center ahead of time (if you’re traveling) of where you will go. List your medications, so everything is in one place. Should you start to feel sick, write down the symptoms you are experiencing and the duration (of them).
Then, when you’re with the doctor, share your symptoms list, so you won’t miss anything. And when your worried friend asks why you are traveling or if you’re afraid of getting sick you can say, “I’ve thought of that, and I have a plan in place.” Have confidence in your plan. Be open to feedback, but only to that which is helpful — not unduly critical.
If it is age appropriate, you can tell your children that you’ve thought about COVD-19, and you don’t want them to worry because you’ve put a family health plan together. This will give them confidence and a feeling of safety knowing you’re in charge of their wellness.
Continue healthy practices.
Stress can weaken the immune system, so making healthy choices is important. Meditation, yoga, stretching and doing some exercises like planks, for example, can be done at home. The exercise will more than likely elevate your mood, and leave you with a feeling of calm. Also, healthy eating helps both your body and mind. Sleep is also important for good health.
Keep in mind what you can control.
You do have control over the one significant thing that the CDC says can protect you from COVD-19: Hand washing. You also can control your reactions to someone’s emotions.
Set aside time for self-care.
Set aside, even 10 minutes, daily to do something to enhance your well-being. This may be sending a thank you message to a friend or doing a meditation or listening to a podcast. These types of self-care practices will help you feel grounded in well-being instead of sinking in chaos.
Engage your mind and body in positive emotions.
When your attention is focused on something good, your body feels it too. Immersing yourself in things you enjoy will help you feel better. Do something kind for yourself or your loved one. Even writing a few things down that you’re grateful for can shift your attention onto something that makes you happy.
Notice your inner-dialogue.
Constricting yourself to negative thoughts will likely impact your mood. If your schedule changes due to virus concerns, think about the benefits of having open space instead of reinforcing fears. Take note of what is going right. If you make a mistake, give yourself grace. During this time, it is easy to feel on edge. Remind yourself that you’re doing the best you can do. You can repeat a mantra, like, “I’m taking care of myself” or “I’m choosing to do the next right thing”. The words you speak to yourself will help guide your next steps.
If you find your fears are disabling and preventing you from working or being able to keep up with your daily responsibilities, you should contact your doctor. They may recommend you seek professional therapy. Many mental health professionals, like myself, do work remotely, so you won’t need to worry about a commute. Seeking help is not a sign of weakness. It can help you discern what actions and next steps are healthy for you.
Kristin Meekhof is an author, Licensed Masters Level Social Worker, and life coach. See more of her work here, and follow her on Instagram and Twitter.
This originally appeared in Katie Couric’s Wake-Up Call newsletter. Subscribe here.