Anxiety in the time of pandemic:
fighting coronavirus with safe exercise,
social distancing, and self-compassion
The way we manage our lives is changing.
With social distancing in full effect and with the status of how we should manage ourselves changing hourly, this is a difficult time. Add to this general uncertainty about future plans, and COVID-19 can feel like an unstoppable force. We have to think about every move we make, adding extra effort and anxiety to decisions that were once automatic. While those on the front lines fighting the disease are juggling parenting, exposure, and unpredictability, the rest of us are trying to manage the best we can.
But let’s be honest … this is a crazy time. We try to act as if everything is normal, that we’ve chosen to have a staycation and that we’ve always had the CDC on our list of browser bookmarks. We look at information from around the world and try to filter it down into how it can affect our lives. What does this news report mean?
Living at times like these is hard. I know that you’ve seen memes about how our grandparents fought in wars and we’ve been asked to sit on the couch, comparing their sacrifice to our daily reality. And yes, that is true. But the fact is that it’s still hard.
Some of us like change. We can easily manage shifting schedules and we make last-minute plans without thinking twice. But there are many of us out there, myself included, who find change difficult. There’s lots of psychological research tying our ability to cope with change to a stable childhood environment. But there’s also psychological research that aligns one’s inability to embrace change with brain chemistry. So, there’s no right childhood or wrong childhood that explains why you’re anxious. Maybe you can pinpoint an experience and maybe you’re just born with it.
Anxiety targets everyone in a time like these — both planners and procrastinators are victims. The planners can’t make plans or find comfort in solutions. The procrastinators don’t want to think of the future. No matter who you are, no matter your past coping strategies, no matter your mental health status … you are going to be affected by a world in flux.
But before we all crawl into bed for the next three to six months and abandon hope, there are small acts of self-care and personal kindness that can make things a little easier. Now is not the time to revolutionize your diet and cut calories. It’s time to slow down and make meals. You probably have more time to try out recipes and explore different types of cooking.
It’s also time to do exercise that you love. While you can feel safe running outside, it’s time to do more fun runs and less high-impact stressful training…unless you love high-impact stressful training. Just like you might turn to comfort food, you can also turn to comfort exercise.
And it’s also time to embrace self-compassion.You need to acknowledge what you can control and what you can’t. If you need help, ask for it. FaceTime a friend for a good gossip session or just to check in. Refill your prescriptions so you aren’t worried about running out. Subscribe to virtual zoos on instagram to be inundated with cute baby animals.Get off Twitter or Facebook and limit the amount of time you read the news.
Nobody wins by being “strong” at a time like this, because being strong doesn’t mean shutting down. Instead, it means opening up, admitting vulnerability, and asking for help.