We are currently living in a situation of extreme uncertainty, and if you are like me, you may have noticed yourself feeling extra anxious lately. Maybe you feel a constant ache it in your shoulders and neck. Maybe you are compulsively checking your phone, unable to tear your eyes away from Twitter and Facebook, or maybe you're extra irritable. According to medical professionals, these are very normal responses to the coronavirus pandemic.
Luckily there are lots of things you can do on your own to help ease the stress. Here are a few that work for me personally (note: I am not a medical professional). Not all of these will work for everyone, so don't beat yourself up if you try something to lessen your anxiety and it doesn't do much. Each of us is unique in our experiences and reactions to stressors!
Create something: Make something with your hands. You can cook or bake, put together a puzzle, color or draw, work in your garden or yard (if you have one), or even clean out your car. Whatever you choose, try to really focus on what you are doing instead of letting your mind wander. Don't worry about making something perfect — just enjoy the process!
Go outside or get moving inside: Unless you are currently under lockdown, and assuming you stay at least 6 feet from others, it is safe to go outside. Exercise can help you redirect nervous energy. It also gets your feel-good neurotransmitters flowing. By the way, dancing in your living room counts as exercise!
Step away from your phone: Put the phone down. Leave it in another room while go about your other activities. It will feel weird, but I promise you that logging off Twitter and other social media for half an hour will not harm you. To be clear, your phone isn't the root cause of your anxiety, but a constant barrage of COVID-19 related news isn't helpful, either.
Give yourself a break: If you are really feeling anxious and it is keeping you from your daily activities, try just letting yourself be. A lot of times the pressure we put on ourselves to stay productive, keep working, clean the house, and so on keeps us paralyzed. Banish the word "should" from your vocabulary for now, and just do the best you can. Sometimes just giving yourself permission to slack off is enough to get your motivation and focus back.
Try mindfulness: Mindfulness seems like the hip, hot thing to do lately, but there's a reason for that — it works. There are tons of online resources and apps for learning mindfulness. I am most familiar with Headspace, and the thing I like most about it is that students (including grad students!) can get access to the full app for $10/year (usually $70). There is a lot of material in the app, and in my opinion it's worth it.
If full-on mindfulness isn't for you, but you need a way to stay calm when it feels like the world is falling apart around you, the 54321 method of grounding yourself is a good place to start. Take a deep breath, then look around you for five things that stick out to you in the moment, and say them out loud. Then repeat that with four things you can feel, three sounds you hear, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Then take another deep breath.
We're all in this together. While you may have to stay physically distant from people right now, don't forget to connect socially in any way you can. And if you are feeling totally overwhelmed or depressed, please reach out to a mental health professional.