We have good reason to feel a little more worried than ever before. It’s been over eight months since COVID-19 hit, and while researchers are working non-stop to find a vaccine, there isn’t a solution yet. Plus, with the weather turning cold and flu season rapidly approaching, people are worrying about spikes in the virus, schools closing, and more downsizing at work.
A COVID Response Tracking Study conducted by NORC at the University of Chicago found that Americans are the unhappiest they’ve been in 50 years. Sigh. Only 14 percent claimed to feel very happy, and 50 percent said they feel extremely isolated.
“Worry is an evolutionary adaptation to help us know when there is danger to avoid and problems to solve,” explains Gail Saltz, Associate Professor of Psychiatry at New York Presbyterian Hospital, Weill-Cornell School of Medicine, and host of the “Personology” podcast from iHeartRadio. “But, for many people, worry takes on a life of its own, our sympathetic system (flight or fight) goes into overdrive, and we are constantly pinged by danger signals.”
Temporary anxiety can sometimes be a healthy response (like always putting on sunscreen, looking both ways before crossing the road, or making sure to do your self-breast exam each month), but persistent worrying can lead to harmful mental health and anxiety disorders.
If you feel worry is bubbling up, Saltz says the key is to identify the danger/issue, problem solve around that danger, and then remind yourself that this is just a moment of anxiety and let it float away. “The ability to tell yourself that any continued anxiety is just that…pure anxiety, can be extremely helpful in the moment,” she says.
However, some people can’t just let the worry float away. Instead, Saltz says that many clients continuously ask, “but what if…” much of the day, every day. Constant worrying can keep people up at night, make them feel jittery, and can even bring on nausea, sweating or shortness of breath. “If you feel physically nervous, can’t concentrate, have interrupted sleep, and basically find that your anxiety is disrupting your ability to function, then this most certainly sounds like an anxiety disorder,” Saltz continues.
While this may bring on more anxious feelings, the good news is anxiety disorders are highly treatable with therapy (plus or minus medication, depending on your doctor’s recommendation).
If you are feeling worried (about anything arising in your life), here are four things you can do to ease that tension.
4 Ways to Cope With Worrying
Relationships are important for our mental wellbeing. Feelings of isolation can result in higher stress and research has shown that loneliness may have negative long-term effects on our health. Plan a (socially distant) meetup or a phone date with a friend. Or, stay connected by supporting others—help a neighbor, volunteer in your community or look in on an elderly relative that may also need some companionship at this time.
Break a Sweat
Our physical health is directly linked to how we feel. While experiencing sadness, worry, or stress, working out may be the last thing on our mind, but it has been proven to help ease depression and anxiety. Not only does it help you redirect your attention in that moment—you’re also boosting your endorphins and doing something great for your body. Take a walk, ride a bike, dance in your living room—even 10-minutes will make a big difference.
Make a Worry List
Journaling has been found to help people improve mental health and grasp emotions. Studies have shown that writing down your worries can help you track and identify triggers, combat negative self-talk and refocus your thoughts. Bonus! It helps to improve your memory…and who doesn’t want that? Tomorrow morning, write a list of all the things worrying you (big and small) to get them out. Free write as often as you need as a form of release.
Seek Professional Help
If you feel that your worrying may be a little more than usual or you are experiencing any of the symptoms above, it may be time for you to reach out to a professional. There is no shame in asking for help. There are many free resources online and hotlines to call like NAMI, Mental Health America, and SAMHSA.