There’s no point trying to change the current situation or state of things—we can’t.
But anxiety often encourages us to fixate. We obsess over how we might be able to do something different if our circumstances changed. There is so much in our world that feels beyond our control, and it is. Anything beyond the current moment, this exact one, is outside of our control.
However, we can set ourselves up for future success by remembering just one little fact: we only have the current moment to make a change.
For the first few weeks of the shelter-in-place order, my husband and I tried to make the best of our time. We planned workouts, ordered groceries together for delivery or pick-up, and did our best to make use of the extra time that we had together and at home.
Slowly, our routine began to blur a bit. Was it Tuesday or Friday? Weekends didn’t have the same significance. Streaming services like Spotify have released news and data that showcase how people have changed their routines. Once upon a time, certain playlists had more listens and views than others. Podcasts were trending in the morning during commute times. And now?
Even they can’t figure out what day it is—they all look the same. Trust me, I know from experience. I couldn’t tell you what day it was, just whether it was daytime or not.
Throughout the last few weeks, which have turned into months, Americans (and, realistically, people worldwide) have been experiencing higher levels of stress. This, in turn, creates higher levels of anxiety. Stress often translates into anxiety, which, if untreated, can then turn into a catastrophic spiral. COVID-19 has created a downturn in the way events have happened over the last few months. Our ability to cope with stressful events has changed: how we deal with work-life balance, financial health, physical health, and how we can maintain our relationships.
I worry about what time I finish my work during the day because if I don’t finish at a particular time, I’m likely to keep working throughout the night—boundaries have been breached. I’ve saved money throughout COVID-19’s quarantine because I thought I might need it if I lost my job. In terms of physical health, I try to work out, but some days my eyes are so tired from staring at the computer (or wondering about what might happen in a few weeks or months) that I end up curled up on the couch instead.
Yes, before COVID-19, many Americans were experiencing anxiety. Actually, the number of Americans experiencing anxiety has skyrocketed over the last few years. Over 40 million American adults experience a generalized anxiety disorder. It isn’t something new that’s shown up from the global pandemic, but rather, what causes our anxiety has morphed. Prior to COVID-19 showing up, Americans said their anxiety was caused by stressors like work, personal relationships, school, and mental health issues.
Many people find stress relief in seeing their friends and family and partaking in physical activities, but for many people, these options have been limited for weeks, if not months.
So what can we do instead to try and preserve what’s left of our mental health?
The best piece of advice and wisdom that can act as a soothing agent here is recognizing that we need to live in the moment more.
Grounding exercises can prove helpful. Changing the way we phrase things can prove beneficial, too. Instead of thinking “what if,” we should instead think “what is.” Basing our ideas and ruminating thoughts in facts rather than the future helps create a more sound thought process. There’s no giant black hole of despair to leap into if you aren’t constantly thinking about what could happen instead of what is happening.
But, let me tell you, shutting off the hamster wheel that is your mind isn’t as easy as it sounds. You can literally say aloud, “stop” when the thoughts get too much. But, let’s face it—it kind of sounds like a hoax. In a moment when you start thinking about the what-ifs, the best advice I can give is to remove yourself from the situation—even if only for a few moments.
Removing yourself from the situation allows you to reset your mind for a few minutes.
Or you can schedule a “worry time.” Set a watch, a clock (a whatever), and then spend some time exploring your worry. When that time is over, you need to return to the present. You can do this by finding a way to become present. Personally, I like to take walks where I count my breath or my steps. It’s called a meditative walk. There’s little you can focus on when you’re counting your breaths while walking at a brisk pace.
There is no secret or cure to magically rid yourself of anxiety, but there is a recipe for relief—for everyone.