7 tips for combatting anxiety during the coronavirus pandemic

How to stay calm while working when it feels like the world is falling apart? Here are a few tips on easing anxiety during this coronavirus pandemic.

COVID-19, aka coronavirus, has been declared a global pandemic. Sports events and conferences are being cancelled, large gatherings are being banned, grocery store shelves are empty, and many of us are now working from home as we try to flatten the curve of the spread.

It’s hard not to feel anxious amid all this uncertainty and isolation, but we still have to go on, do our jobs and live our lives. How can we do that without bucking under the weight of that anxiety?

Here are some tried and true suggestion that are either simple common sense or that are backed by scientific evidence.

1. Be levelheaded and think logically. There are 160 cases of COVID-19 in Canada at time of writing. That’s too many but it’s not that many. If your area is closing schools and/or you are being asked to work from home, this doesn’t mean you must panic. It’s not because the virus is everywhere and you are going to get it for sure. It’s because we are trying to prevent that from happening. Shutting things down is a preventative measure. Remind yourself of this: it looks more terrifying than it currently is. It’s far more likely that if we don’t shut things down things will get worse.  

2. Breathe. We often forget to breathe deeply when we’re stressed, so don’t forget to take deep breaths (at home or outside, with nobody near you). Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique, also known as “relaxing breath.” This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, then exhaling for 8 seconds. There is “limited” scientific research to support this method, but a lot of anecdotal evidence. And, if nothing else, it will force you to focus on something other than your panic for a few minutes.

3. Eat fruits and vegetables. Eating fruits and vegetables may be linked with lower anxiety levels, according to a recent study. Researchers used data from the Canadian Longitudinal Study on Aging. They looked at nearly 27,000 people’s income, gender, relationship status, chronic pain prevalence, smoking, alcohol use, and eating habits, and assessed their rate of anxiety disorders. “They found that even after accounting for many social, economic, health, and nutrition-related factors, there was a significant relationship between a low daily intake of fruits and vegetables and anxiety disorder diagnoses.” People who consumed fewer than three sources of fruit and veggies a day had a 24% higher risk of being diagnosed with anxiety. So, eat a lot of fresh produce if your grocery store isn’t barren. And if it is, get some canned and frozen ones. Better than nothing.

4. Listen to music. Research repeatedly finds that music can reduce anxiety. One study, for example, found that music is a viable alternative to sedative medications in reducing patient anxiety prior to undergoing anesthesia. The researchers found playing relaxing music to be similarly effective to the intravenous form of the sedative midazolam. Another study found that playing music for patients undergoing awake craniotomy (an extreme example) significantly reduced distress and anxiety compared with a control group. The type of music that works to calm your stress levels may depend, but the song Weightless, by Marconi Union, has supposedly been shown to produce a great state of relaxation. Scientists found that listening to the song resulted in a 65% reduction in participants’ anxiety, and a 35 percent reduction in physiological resting rates including heart rate, blood pressure and cortisol levels. So, put on some relaxing music. Note that, if you’re trying to get work done, lyrics can be distracting, so go for something instrumental.


5. Turn off social media. I’m a big fan of social media and not one to blame Facebook for society’s ills. But, in this case, the amount of scary information is overwhelming. People are panicking and the panic may be worse than the virus. So, step away from social media and focus on something else. Check in regularly to connect with your network and stay updated on developments of the pandemic, then turn it off again. Or get your news from another source. I don’t believe avoiding the news is a good idea, no matter what self -help types tell you. That’s a selfish and self absorbed way to live. Yes, a lot of bad things are happening in the world. You should know about them. You’re a human, not an ostrich. But the repetitive nature of information right now isn’t useful. Go for a run instead…

6. Go for a walk or a run in the park. Research shows that both exercise and exposure to nature can reduce anxiety. First, studies have found that regular aerobic exercise may decrease overall levels of tension, elevate and stabilize mood, and improve sleep. And just five minutes of aerobic exercise can begin to produce anti-anxiety effects. Also, studies show that visiting green spaces and exposure to natural environments can reduce psychological stress. A study comparing subjects’ stress markers in urbanized outdoor settings with wilderness ones found that visitors to the natural environment reported significantly lower levels of both physical and psychological stress. Other ways to get exercise include dancing around your house and doing yoga. Avoiding the gym for now is a good idea.

7. Meditate. We can’t make a list like this without recommending meditation. It’s what the experts always tell us to do because research consistently demonstrates that meditation relieves stress and calms anxiety, among other things. Most of us aren’t going to do it, but if you do, you’ll probably be calmer and less anxious. There are plenty of apps and online resources to help you get started.  

I don’t know how well these things will work but I’ll be doing them. Good luck and stay inside if that option is available to you.

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