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How to manage anxiety during COVID-19

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Written by Karen Pontious

As many Canadians enter week eight of social distancing, half of them say their mental health and finances have worsened.

The highest number of affected Canadians are  women between 18-54, who are often caring for children and parents, and may be experiencing increased stress during this time.

Our everyday norms have become a challenge and routines have been put on pause. We’ve made it through the first two months of social distancing and even though it’s not surprising that we’ve seen a negative impact on our society as a whole, it’s time to take better care of our mental well being. As we start to adjust to this new reality we need to learn how to best manage this rise of anxiety. 

Before COVID-19, a 2018 poll revealed that almost half of the Candaian population said they struggle with anxiety.  Though anxiety isn’t a new challenge for many, there’s no doubt more people are struggling with anxiety now more than ever. Here are some tips on how to take extra care of yourself during this time.

8 Tips for coping with anxiety

1) Keep a routine

I know, keeping a routine right now can seem almost impossible for many who’ve literally had to change everything they usually did two months ago. But, experts say that if you can stick to a regular schedule you can have more control over your anxiety. Routines help us cope with change and can reduce our stress levels.

To keep your anxiousness away, you need to check in with yourself regularly and plan your day with healthy habits. Since we can’t control much of what's happening around us, routines give us a sense of control and grounding that we all could use.

2) Use mental health apps

As our  interactive lifestyles are put on hold ,  people are resorting to using technology more than ever to stay connected with one another.

We live in a very adaptive era where we can access many resources  via our electronic devices. Mental health apps can be very useful to keep on top of our anxiety.

MindShift CBT is a free app that uses Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) to help you be more mindful of your thoughts and gives you tools to take charge of your anxiety.

3) Use breathing techniques

Why do breathing exercises help anxiety?

Using your breath to manage your anxiety is a vital strategy because you’re able to trigger a sense of instant calmness to your brain, which then will reduce tension in your body. 

Our breath is an unconscious bodily function that keeps us alive. When we consciously pay attention to our breath we can quickly decrease stress and panic that we hold in our body. Breathing deeply decreases your heart rate and tells your brain to relax.

 Whenever you’re feeling overwhelmed take a few moments to focus on your breath. Here are three breathing techniques to add to your daily routine.

4) Practice meditation and yoga daily

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Meditation and yoga are two free and accessible activities that can help you be more physically and mentally present with yourself. 

A lot of anxiety comes from our inner thoughts. Meditation helps us realize that we aren’t our thoughts and we can become aware of how our thoughts make us feel.

Try to add meditation to your routine by just committing to 5-minutes. Meditation apps can be really helpful for the novice meditor and can help you clear your mind,  even if it’s just for a second. Many apps charge a fee, but here are 5 FREE meditation apps that can get you started on your mindfulness journey. 

Yoga helps you stay physically active without having to go to the gym. Not only does yoga help with anxiety because it’s physically demanding but it’s also mentally demanding and requires lots of breath work.

There are many poses in yoga that help release stress and pressure from our bodies that you can in your bedroom. Here are 6 yoga poses to try to help combat anxious feelings.

5) Remember to be self-compassionate

We have a tendency to be extra hard on ourselves whenever we make a mistake or aren’t able to live up to our expectations.

We need to remember that now more than ever is the time to be gentle with ourselves. RAIN: Recognize, Allow, Investigate, Nurture is an effective tool to learn how to practice more self-compassion.

Tara Brach is an internationally renowned meditation teacher who uses the RAIN technique to guide people to find more compassion for themselves. 

6) Prioritize your physical health

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Everyone knows that exercise is good for your health but many forget that exercising or lack of exercise had a huge impact on our mood and mental health.

Studies have shown that participating in regular exercise results in anti-anxiety effects. Aerobic exercises like running, swimming, biking, dancing and walking are proven to be effective ways to help manage anxiety. 

7) Limit your caffeine intake

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Caffeine can be your best friend and your worst friend. Since caffeine is a stimulant you have to be careful with how much you consume, especially if you’re feeling anxious. Caffeine can give you a jittery feeling which can worsen anxiety.

If you suffer from anxiety it might be a good idea to avoid coffee all together or substitute coffee for tea.  If the idea of giving up coffee is heartbreaking to you, you should try to only drink coffee once you’ve already eaten and avoid drinking coffee on an empty stomach. 

Finally, try to not have any caffeine after 12 p.m. so you don’t  interrupt your sleep cycle. Good quality sleep is key for everyone’s mental health, especially when you’re anxious.

8) Journal your worries and thoughts

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Journalling is a simple and therapeutic way to better understand your stressful thoughts. When you write down your worries and thoughts you begin to better control your emotions and prevent your thoughts from hijacking your brain and causing more stress.

A good way to make a habit of journalling is to begin your day by just writing down your thoughts or anything you have floating around in your head. Another way to use journalling to manage anxiety is to try to write whenever you’re feeling anxious or emotional. This can help you find the source of your stress and guide you to finding a routine that best works for you to better manage your anxiety for the future.

Avoiding anxiety isn’t the answer

Many Canadians are suffering increased levels of stress and are having troubles prioritizing their mental health. It’s crucial that we speak up about mental health and destigmatize mental illnesses like anxiety disorders. By incorporating some of these tips into your regular routine you can learn more about your own anxiety and gain more control over your mental health.

Karen Portious

Karen Pontious is a professional communicator working on her dream to be a freelance writer and editor.

Her passion is intercultural relations and communication. She writes about relationships, immigration stories, gender norms, and mental health.

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