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Managing Stress and Anxiety with Mindfulness During COVID-19

April 6, 2020, @ 8:00 AM

During the midst of the worldwide COVID-19 pandemic, maintaining workflows and managing childcare and assignments appears to be the highest priority after physical health. However, mental health remains an important and essential piece of physical health. A recent survey of college presidents even rates it as the highest immediate concern for faculty, staff, and students. The following is a collection of resources for managing stress and anxiety and practicing mindfulness during this time of self-isolation.

Distinguish the Difference Between Anxiety and Panic

While some anxiety is normal and healthy, experts explain that too much anxiety easily leads to panic. This arises as a combination of uncertainty about the future and underestimation of our own abilities to cope with it. This type of panic spreads to irrational behavior and is contagious to others, including children, fueling further panic. Additional expert-recommended resources for explaining this situation to children are available here.

Limit Media Exposure and Focus on Reliable Information Sources

Refreshing websites and social media creates a chemical release response of dopamine in the brain. This occurs because of the anticipation of seeing something good paired with the anticipation of the unknown thrill of any updated information. Experts liken this experience to gambling, which explains its addictive nature. However, continually seeking updated information from unreliable sources only feeds anxiety. Limiting media exposure to once or twice each day and focusing on the U.S. Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the World Health Organization (WHO) allows for the most updated and accurate information.

Reducing risk of exposure can help reduce anxiety while boosting overall health. It remains important to be careful without panicking.

Reduce Anxiety by Reducing Risk

Following recommended guidelines from the CDC, such as frequent hand-washing, staying home when feeling sick, and maintaining a healthy immune system by eating well and managing a regular sleep schedule, allows for prevention. Mindfully taking precautions while practicing self-care reduces anxiety. Experts recommend adding additional self-care measures during this time, including exercising or call a friend. Further, connecting with friends and loved ones during isolation is immensely important. Loneliness during isolation creates negative mental health effects, which lead to negative physical effects. Experts advise that loneliness leads to poorer cognitive performance, impaired executive control and self-regulation, lower levels of self-rated physical health, substance abuse, and depressive symptomssuicidal ideation. These negative impacts eventually lead to a shortened lifespan.

Maintain Social Connections

The positive effects of social connection has proven to make people smarter, happier and more productive. Meta-analysis research found a 50% greater likelihood of survival for the participants of studies who had stronger social relationships, because social interaction improves performance of cardiovascular, endocrine, and immune systems. Maintaining social connections, especially during times of stress, redirects brain activity from the amygdala where threats are processed to the cortex where rational decisions are processed. Whether calling a friend or loved one or serving others through volunteering opportunities, cultivating these social ties creates a positive impact for everyone, physically and mentally.

Cultivate a Positive Mindset with Healthy Activities

While maintaining a positive mindset seems challenging, positive thoughts perpetuate better mental health. Create positive thoughts by watching inspiring or funny videos or finding productive ways to redirect energy with newfound time from cancelled social gatherings or eliminating commutes to the office. Focusing on past experiences of personal resilience are also inspiring examples to create hope. Further, taking a daily inventory of accomplished tasks, learning, and sources of gratitude offers a positive mindset to close or begin each day.

Practice Random Acts of Kindness

Acts of kindness and service offer opportunities for benefiting all members of the community. While reinforcing positive thoughts and aiding in mental health, acts of kindness also help those most in need. This website captures a full collection of random acts of kindness worldwide during this difficult time for inspiration. From donating goods to homeless to creating art that connects people during self-isolation, these stories shed a positive light on humanity coming together.

Treat the Discomfort as Grief

Placing a name to the uncomfortable feelings of self-isolation allows for the first steps in managing the emotions surround them. From fear and fatigue to anxiety and frustration, coping with grief is challenging. However, understanding the stages of grief offers a baseline for managing these feelings. These stages are iterative, non-linear, and vary slightly for all people. However, knowing what to expect aids in understanding how to manage and work through these feelings.

Learn to Cope with Different Versions of the Self

Expert psychologists describe multiple versions of the self: the overwhelmed self, the survival self, and the adult self. Depending on circumstances, different versions of the “self” arise, whether feeling threatened, scared, or in control. Under pressure, the vulnerable versions of the self react irrationally. Understanding how to control these reactions allows for better long-term coping. Experts recommend first acknowledging these feelings, control breathing to calm down, and then consciously step into the adult self that manages reactions more responsibly.

Practice Mindfulness and Meditation

Mindfulness acts as way to be consciously fully present to all thoughts, feelings, and activities. Whether through preset activities or through meditation, mindfulness allows forced moments of quieting anxieties and external stimuli and creates space for relaxation and positive thinking. Guided meditations offer step-by-step guides for utilizing breathing exercises, walking meditations, or even longer heartscape sessions. These sessions vary in length.

Seek Professional Assistance

Beyond mindfulness, meditation, and acts of positivism, professional organizations are available for more help. Visit these links to additional resources for more professional assistance and helpful guidance:

As mental health remains essential to work through challenges, continue to remain connected with campus human resources departments and wellness centers for additional resources that support working and learning in these conditions. From mental health resources to working from home policies, these departments are equipped with the necessary resources for navigating this uncharted territory.

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