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Tips To Ease Anxiety and Stress in a Time of COVID-19

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I know I’ve been feeling deeply unsettled with all of the news on Covid-19 (the “Corona Virus”). I was on a trip to Ireland from 21st of February and witnessed events unfold there from one case to multiple cases, outbreaks among hospital staff, and school closures, and I was lucky to be returning to the US, through quiet airports and on half empty flights, just 48 hours before flight restrictions were announced and chaos ensued. Wherever you are in the world now though you’re likely living under the cloud of Covid-19 and struggling to adapt to a new normal, uncertain of how long it will last, or of how far its impact will reach. 

In a time of such uncertainty it is very understandable that you would feel a rollercoaster of emotions and feel untethered and anxious. If you’re struggling and are looking for some tools to help you ease your anxiety, check out my key tips below, derived from elements of three of the ten powerful practices I teach as part of my coaching program, Acceptance, Conscious Choice, and Presence In The Moment.

ACCEPTANCE

Find Your Power In Every Situation

One of my favorite quotes is; 

“Pain is inevitable, suffering is optional”

We are all feeling the pain that’s for sure. Some have lost their jobs, some are struggling to adapt to working from home, some are struggling to balance life without childcare or a school routine for children. It’s a lot! 

And then there are of course those who are actually sick with this awful virus and that pain causes physical and mental suffering no matter any exercise in perspective taking. It is pain and suffering combined. I don’t seek to diminish that in any way. 

I’m focusing here on the pain of a life changed, a schedule up-ended, navigating uncertain times, and feeling untethered, anxious, and afraid. Acceptance is a discipline that we practice to distinguish what is within from what is beyond our control. Acceptance is about releasing that which is beyond our control and thereby, somewhat paradoxically, gaining control, and increasing our potential in any situation. Acceptance of what is beyond our control allows us to engage all of our energy in whatever we are doing right now, free from the distraction of the endless “what if?s”. 

When we expend our energy in judging what is happening and how it is costing us in so many ways, when we fight against the reality of our situation, we deplete ourselves of the energy we need to survive and possibly even thrive now. This is suffering. When we resist what is and fight it, or give in to feelings of being the victim of our reality, we feel miserable and we suffer. 

Practicing Acceptance

Practice acceptance by beginning to notice when your mind is being hijacked by worry and fears of possible scenarios beyond your control. You begin by simply noticing this and then giving some space for that thought and feeling, rather than resisting or trying to suppress it. “What we resist persists”, is a saying very relevant to this practice. 

Some people find it useful to pick up a pen and just freely write in these moments so they can download what’s doing “worry circuits” in their mind. Also looking at the fear and giving it some space tends to take some of the heat out of it. A simple mantra or phrase that is meaningful and useful to you, for example, “I accept and release the things I cannot control or change”, may provide some comfort and release. This is something that you personalize and decide resonates for you.

The purpose of this practice is to release some anxiety and retain more energy for you to dedicate to the things that you can control, which will enhance your wellbeing giving you a sense of peace and ease. Experiment with this simple practice and see if it works for you.

Adopt The Belief – You Cannot Make a Mistake

This is another part of the practice of Acceptance. You are a unique once-in-a-lifetime human creation and are capable of amazing things. You are also allowed to not pursue or achieve “amazing” things and that is perfectly ok too. When we accept that in any situation, with what we have, we always do the best we can, we release ourselves from judging ourselves and the label of “mistake”.  

Right now I’m reading a lot of noise on-line about how we should all just focus on using this time productively. That’s all fine and well if that messaging resonates with you. However, for many of us, someone advocating we finally write that novel, learn Japanese, take up a new hobby that we magically transform into a profitable business, can make us feel like totally checking out – if not decking someone! Sometimes the best we can do is to crawl back into bed and rest up. Sometimes the best we can do is to get through the day and not cry. 

When we adopt the belief, “I cannot make a mistake”, we essentially give ourselves all the space we need to be perfectly imperfect in every moment. We stop berating ourselves for not having done more or done something differently. We accept ourselves as we are in this moment. In Ireland we’d say, “Just cut youself some slack!” 

CONSCIOUS CHOICE

Audit Your Decision-Making Technique

While life has changed so suddenly and we all struggle to adapt and accept the uncertainty of the moment and the unknown future, although me might feel like hibernating and putting our head in the sand until it passes, decisions still need to be made. During times of great stress and potential for overwhelm, it’s particularly important to be aware and clear on the rationale for our decisions. 

Carl Jung said, 

“Until you make the unconscious conscious, it will direct your life and you will call it fate.”

Many times we are making choices based on experiences from our past, and we do so unconsciously for the most part. In the current situation we are also particularly at risk of choosing out of fear rather than from a positive perspective of purpose. Sitting paralyzed on the fence and not making any decision when one needs to be made is also very draining. 

One highly practical decision making tool I teach clients in relation to the Practice of Conscious Choice is based on holographic thinking. Most people have a decision making tendency or preference. For example they might generally undertake a lot of research, consider the pros and cons, and use their minds in a very linear and scientific way. This is the logic tendency. Others may go with their gut instinct – intuitive tendency, Finally some people may be very emotion-driven in making decisions, they look at a situation by examining how they feel about it. Very few people combine all three. These are the holographic decision-makers. 

Holographic thinking involves the ability to see multiple perspectives at once. Emotion, logic, and intuition become one and once holographic thinking is mastered you can use it to ensure the greatest chance of success in every aspect of your life. To begin experiencing the benefits of holographic thinking in decision making, follow the process below.

Think of any decision that you currently need to make and answer the following questions in relation to that decision:

  1. If you had to make this decision based purely on logic, what course of action would you take?
  2. If you have to make this decision based purely on emotion, what course of action would you take?
  3. If you had to make this decision based on intuition (your gut instinct), what course of action would you take?
  4. Looking at all of the possible courses of action, what would you choose to do? 

This approach gives you the space to slow down, reduces the likelihood of a knee-jerk or fear-based decision and harnesses your full potential to make the best possible decision in all the circumstances. 

PRESENCE IN THE MOMENT

One of the biggest fears we all face is change and the unknown. Covid-19 is definitely in this category! Our worries (thinking about our fears) keep many of us awake at night, and they keep us from seeing and pursuing opportunities each day. Covid-19 is a situation that rightfully causes us concern. It is life-threatening for many and none of us know, if we were to contract the virus, whether we would be among the fortunate who have relatively mild symptoms or who manage to successfully battle more severe symptoms. 

We all want to feel a sense of control over our lives and this virus makes us all feel out of control which is highly stressful. The best way to feel in control is to remember the simple truth that all we can really control is the moment that we’re in – not the past, and not the future. There is no fear or worry in the present moment and focusing on the now creates ultimate control. 

Audit Your Distractors

Your ability to be present in each moment is subject to the degree to which the key potential distractors are at play. These distractors can be grouped under six areas of influence; environmental, social, physical, emotional, mental, and physical. 

Whenever you are struggling to be present one or more of these distractors are at play. With my clients I use an app called SCOPE, available in the App Store and developed by my coaching school iPEC, to detect and address these distractors in the moment. Below are just some of the potential areas to consider in relation to each distractor. When you become aware of how each of these areas impact your ability to be present and free from distraction, you will be in the powerful position to consciously create the conditions within which you are able to perform at your optimum in each moment.

Environmental

  • Climate/weather/temperature
  • Time of day
  • Physical setting
  • Adequacy of light
  • Presence of distracting noise
  • Comfort of clothing
  • Adequacy of equipment
  • Other personal preferences

Social

  • Ability to influence others
  • Presence of desired culture
  • Ability to communicate and interact with others 
  • Access to nurturing relationships
  • Presence of desired support network
  • Existence of accountability

Physical

  • Adequate exercise
  • Adequate sleep
  • Adequate nutrition and healthy eating habits
  • Overall excellent health – pain management

Emotional

  • Ability to manage stress response
  • Emotional awareness
  • Desired degree of emotional stimulation
  • Being in a “success enhancing” mood
  • Emotional control
  • Emotional understanding

Mental

  • Ability to concentrate
  • Alertness
  • Decision-making ability
  • Ability to access intuition
  • Degree of mental stimulation
  • Ability to focus
  • Clarity (short/long-term action plan)
  • Ability to access creativity

Spiritual

  • Connection to purpose
  • Alignment with vision
  • Alignment with values
  • Confidence
  • Having something to look forward to (short/long term)
  • Resiliency
  • Determination
  • Faith/trust

Practice “Detached Involvement”

This is a complex skill and takes time to master, but I think it’s useful just to be aware of its potential. When you practice detached involvement you are simultaneously both an observer and a participant in your life. You see all experiences in your life as part of life’s journey, without attaching any labels or judgement. You simply experience life and consciously choose your responses. 

With this practice you still have a preference and care about how things might turn out, but you release yourself from the potential for emotional depletion if things should turn out differently. You are released from the chains of non-acceptance and welcome a state of being in which you are aware of everything around you, yet also isolated and insulated from it. It is a place of simultaneous connection and separation. Confused? Don’t worry! I just wanted to introduce the concept to you at this point and let you begin to consider its potential.

Here are some ways to begin on your path to practice detached involvement:

  • Take nothing personally
  • Make no assumptions
  • Make as few judgements as possible
  • Let go of the need to be right
  • Let go of the need to control
  • Be passionate about all of life’s experiences, even the painful ones
  • Give all you have, your true gifts, to whatever you are doing
  • Detach from future potential results

And as a final thought, be kind to yourself during this challenging time. This too shall pass and we will hold each other close again. Stay safe and well!

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