Isolation during COVID-19 can be worse for those suffering from anxiety. Experts offer ways families can work together to ease anxiety symptoms and get through quarantine together.
By Claire Gallam
March 26, 2020
The constant news about the number of COVID-19 cases rising and its effects on the country is enough to worry anyone. But for those who suffer from some form of generalized anxiety disorder (about 40 million adults and more than 4 million children in America), this news can be more than just unsettling—especially during a quarantine—and cause their anxiety to spin out of control.
"COVID-19 is causing so much anxiety because the situation is unprecedented and uncertain," says Alexandra Friedmann Finkel, LCSW, a therapist and co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy in New York City. "People are craving answers, security, and comfort, and the media is not able to provide that as information is developing moment by moment."
So, what can you do if you or your loved one is suffering from anxiety during this time? Implementing these expert tips into your daily life during the quarantine may help ease your mind.
Focus on What You Can Control
There are things we can't control during the pandemic. That includes the virus happening, what the media is reporting, policies that the government is putting in place, and the financial market.
But there are things we can actually control, like washing our hands, coughing into our elbow or a tissue, social distancing when possible, engaging in positive coping strategies, and our reaction to the situation. Giving your energy to these things may be helpful in putting your mind at ease, says Finkel.
Take a Break from Social Media
There's nothing that can relieve instant stress faster than getting rid of the culprit immediately, says Finkel. If you're with your family at home, set up a "no phone hour" or "no social media Saturday." Things like this will help disconnect from the stressors and connect with loved ones instead.
Tara Egan, D.Ed., of Charlotte Parent Coaching, LLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, agrees: "The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet. It may be tempting to use that as a primary modality to entertain themselves, but it can also lead to more feelings of uneasiness, insecurity, increased dread, and even doubt."
Start a New Hobby Together
Although the go-to may be to hop on the couch and binge a few shows on Netflix, TV is not necessarily the best way to help combat the symptoms of anxiety either. Instead, start a new hobby with your loved one, even if it's from afar due to social distancing. This helps take the mind off stress by giving it a new focus.
If you live with your loved ones, you could try things like knitting, crocheting, or maybe even yoga. If you don't live together, opt for a virtual book club or set up teatime every afternoon.
It can be reassuring to remember that even as we are all apart physically, we are all in this together.
- RACHEL DUBROW, LICENSED CLINICAL SOCIAL WORKER
Make a Schedule
When you're stuck at home, it can be so easy to fall into unhealthy routines. From not practicing proper hygiene to lying in bed longer or putting off chores, the simple act of giving up only adds to the stress and anxiety caused by a pandemic. Set a new schedule—and add some fun elements to it as well.
"While being at home with my family, I am grateful for the time we have for simple rituals like family dinners. We try to involve the entire family, so it feels like something new and fun," explains Anna Cabeca, D.O., triple board certified OB-GYN and author of The Hormone Fix.
Self-care is a great way for people to reduce stress. That's why it's important to encourage yourself, your partner, or child to find a method of self-care that works and do that. "For some of my patients, we've found that music can be powerful self-care," says Finkel. "Create a COVID-19 playlist to do work to, take a walk to, or just listen without distraction."
Other forms of self-care that therapists recommend are reading a book, organizing or cleaning a messy space, taking a long bath with candles and soothing sounds, or simply taking a few moments to rest or meditate (you can use a meditation app like Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace, and there are apps that are perfect for kids).
Something as simple as doing a face mask can be enough to relieve some anxiety, so find whatever is most relaxing.
Opt For At-Home Exercise
Research shows that exercise is one of the most powerful ways to reduce anxiety, thanks to the burst of endorphins you get after breaking a sweat. "Releasing endorphins is an effective way to fight stress and anxiety and to give your mind a break from everything," says Finkel.
Do an in-home workout with help from a favorite gym—both Orangetheory Fitness and Shred415 are offering members classes to take at home—or sign up for low-cost or free classes from sites like Daily Burn or even fitness videos on YouTube. Of course this is something you can also do with others while keeping a six-foot distance.
If you need fresh air, go for a run or walk (keep at least six feet away from anyone outside your household). If you're financially able to, it's also worth looking into companies like Peloton and Mirror, which are offering discounts to new buyers as well.
Create Happy Hours (Even Virtually)
Maintaining social networks is a great way to stay upbeat and feel a connection through the quarantine. You can do this by planning FaceTime, Skype, or Zoom dates, says Rachel Dubrow, LCSW, a therapist in Northfield, Illinois. "One good suggestion is to make contact with one friend and one family member daily if you live alone and at least one person daily if you live with others," says Dubrow. "It can be reassuring to remember that even as we are all apart physically, we are all in this together."
Also, create a fun happy hour at the end of each day. Whether it's by mixing up new cocktails to try together (either alcoholic or non-alcoholic) or simply setting some time aside to talk about things unrelated to COVID-19—like new books, movies they want to watch, or places they want to see—creating an impromptu party or social session can help you reconnect on a deeper level.
The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet.
- TARA EGAN, D.ED.
Focus on Gratitude
Mentally detox by taking time to reflect and be thankful for the little things. For Hayley Parker, food blogger and writer at The Domestic Rebel, she found that using a gratitude journal was one of the best ways to cope with her anxiety. "I have started writing down five things I'm grateful for each day. Sometimes I find the usual, obvious things like 'that my family is safe' can be too broad, so I do little things like 'my coffee was delicious this morning' to help me redirect anxiety and stay present," says Parker. "The future is unknown and that is horrid for my anxiety, so staying present helps."
On that note, it's also critical to focus on compassion to help your loved ones suffering from anxiety. "When they're opening up, don't dismiss their fears with statements like, 'Oh, stop worrying. We'll be fine,'" says Dr. Egan. "Instead, make statements like, 'Yes, it is pretty stressful in our world right now. Let's make a plan of how we can follow the CDC's recommendations so we can stay safe and healthy.' Validate their emotions."
If you, your partner, friend, or child is suffering on an even deeper level, encourage them to seek help immediately. In today's climate, therapists are making themselves available 24/7 using online mediums, FaceTime, and even apps like Talkspace and Sanvello to communicate with patients during the COVID-19 epidemic.
"Most therapists have converted to teletherapy, and insurers are consistently covering video sessions in light of ongoing social distancing," says Nina Kaiser, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Practice San Francisco. "This makes support accessible from home for anyone, anywhere—and professional support is more likely to be helpful to someone experiencing severe anxiety than anything that we as partners can say or do."