By Natalie Taylor
Q: I’m usually positive, mostly seeing the cup half full, but this pandemic has changed me. Now I worry about every sniffle, I’m afraid to touch anything, and worst of all, I don’t think life can ever be joyful again. Can I ever get back to normal?
A: First you should realize that with this situation, what you feel is perfectly normal. And you are not alone—we have all been directly and indirectly affected by COVID-19 and are all experiencing mild to severe anxiety because of several factors.
Our routines have been greatly affected by the closing of restaurants, businesses, and even parks and outdoor places. We can’t meet friends at a favorite restaurant or go to a show or a movie; and something simple like a haircut or going shopping has now stopped or changed dramatically. Going out with a mask and maintaining physical distance from others, takes away what most of us crave: regular social interactions. For those expats among us, we are far from friends and family left behind in our native countries. All of this has resulted in irritability, boredom and loneliness.
Furthermore, we are uncertain and wary about the future. It’s no wonder our generally hopeful and optimistic view of the world has been replaced by worry that nothing will ever be the same again. We thrive on predictability, minimal change, and the comfort of friendships. These things have all been upended and have been replaced with stress and anguish.
So how do we turn this around? To start, we need to limit the amount of COVID-19 news we watch each day. We should try to maintain a daily routine, no matter how sparse your schedule is; you can create slots throughout the day for exercise, learning a new skill, nurturing a hobby, or growing something new in your garden. And, instead of watching another bit of news about the virus, how about focusing on something that will make you feel good. Here’s one source: www.theguardian.com/world/2020/apr/24/coronavirus-good-news-pandemic-joy-upbeat-optimistic-covid-19
Stay in touch with friends and family, using the telephone, Zoom, Face Time, Skype, or other venues. Perhaps make a weekly date for these encounters so you have a particular day and time to look forward to.
Finally, we need to develop resilience, which means adapting and coping with stressful situations. It means developing mental toughness. Just as one builds up physical toughness with strength-building exercises, we can bolster our resilience by accepting what we cannot change, keeping things in perspective, and nurturing a positive self-view. Instead of dwelling on the negative, make a list of all the positive things in your life.
Anxiety is a very common condition, but it does not have to be permanent—it is treatable, and many techniques and exercises can drastically lower anxiety levels. We can talk about these next time.
Alan Leavens PhD, is a California licensed Clinical Psychologist, living and working in SMA