Scared about COVID-19? Here’s what you can do about it

To: Those Who Are Feeling Scared, Confused, and Anxious about COVID-19

From: Aly Cohen (As told to Lauren Brill)

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To Those Who Are Feeling Scared, Confused, and Anxious about COVID-19,

Ditto. It’s a little past 3:00 in the morning right now on a Sunday before dawn. Usually, I am a great sleeper. Usually, I stay up until midnight with tons of energy and sleep until 9:00 am or 10:00 am. I used to love sleeping. Now, sleep comes and goes when it wants to. And I guess it really doesn’t matter because these days most of my energy is being put into living room dance parties. I am practicing social distancing, barely leaving the house to help stop the spread of COVID-19.

Aly is a psychotherapist in New York City who specializes in working with teens and young adults. You can find her at https://alysoncohentherapy.com/

Although I must say, I feel like I am one of the lucky ones – I have the privilege of being able to work from home. I am an LCSW Psychotherapist with a private practice in Manhattan. It seems as though my clients need me now more than ever.  However, last week was one of the hardest work weeks I can remember, as I tried to manage my own feelings and reactions to COVID-19 while supporting my clients who are coping with their feelings and reactions. 

I live and work in New York City and that is where my clients live too – “in the epicenter of this crisis,” as our mayor Bill de Blasio put it. And well, simply stated – This sucks!

We are all feeling it – the confusion, the fear, and especially the uncertainty about just how long this is going to last. 

We are all feeling it – the confusion, the fear, and especially the uncertainty about just how long this is going to last. 

However, feelings are just feelings and they’re allowed to be there. They teach us a lot about the way our minds work. I want you to know that we are the boss of our own minds. We decide which thoughts stay and which can go. We can be the voice in our own heads that calm our fears like a parent would of a child who woke up from a nightmare. We can be our own voice of reason that encourages us to lean into discomfort, let go and  trust ourselves, our leaders and our fellow earthlings.

New York City is nearly empty during the pandemic.

I have assembled a list of tactics that allow us all to gain greater control of our thoughts and feelings.

FOCUS ON YOUR BODY

First and foremost, let’s focus on our physical bodies. It seems most of us are already doing that anyway. I probably took my temperature about ten times in the past week and I have been swallowing hard to make sure I don’t have a sore throat. I hear from others that this has become a common practice. Many people have been asking me if they could be experiencing psychosomatic symptoms, which are physical symptoms that may appear in the body due to anxiety. It is definitely possible. 

According to heathline.com, here are a few physiological (body) symptoms related to anxiety:

  • stomach pain, nausea, or digestive trouble
  • headache
  • insomnia or other sleep issues (waking up frequently, for example)
  • weakness or fatigue
  • rapid breathing or shortness of breath
  • pounding heart or increased heart rate
  • sweating
  • trembling or shaking
  • muscle tension or pain

Some of these descriptions do overlap with COVID-19 symptoms, particularly shortness of breath. Check in with your body,  not as a source of symptom checking but to really check in with your stress and anxiety.

BREATHING

Breathing is essential. It is also our best defense against anxiety, muscle tension, and increased heart rate. Deep breathing allows our lungs to take in as much oxygen as possible and release it to all areas of our body to work more efficiently.

Aly suggests breathing as a way to relax and release tension in your body.

You can try this simple breathing exercise to help relieve anxiety:

  • Inhale through your nose for four seconds
  • Hold it in your chest for four seconds
  • Exhale through the mouth for eight seconds

EXERCISE

Another way to relieve body tension is through movement. If you have a movement practice already like yoga, Tai Chi, Pilates, or any type of exercise routine at home,  do this every day. This will be a great distraction for your mind and will help to relieve muscle tension and reduce stress hormones in your body. Additionally, pushups, sit-ups, crunches, running in place and dancing are all good ways to shake out your nerves and stay loose.

SCHEDULE

Take extra care of your mind and try to develop a new normal! Now that we are spending most of our time at home having some kind of structure to your day is another component that will make your life less uncertain. We are used to schedules in our lives and adding some type of (loose) schedule will help to get you into a new normal.  Plan video chats or phone calls with friends and relatives as you would any other social activity, and make a list of all of the things that you would like to do at home during this time. Pencil these ideas into your day. When we are feeling anxious, it can be hard to remember to do the activities that make us feel good. An easy way to prevent that is to make sure these activities are already part of your routine. 

LIMIT WATCHING THE NEWS

Keep track of how much news you are ingesting daily. It’s important to stay informed, but try to recognize when you have reached your limit of what you can mentally handle for the day. It’s okay to step away from this problem and find some calm escape during your day. 

HAVE A PLAN

Create a mental safety plan. Make a list of the things that you can do just in case you have a moment where you feel totally overwhelmed by your feelings. What makes you feel calm, safe, and secure? What eases your mind and your body? 

My safety plan looks like this:

Playing with her cats is part of Aly’s safety plan.
  1. Deep breathing and meditation
  2. Stretch my body
  3. Drink a glass of water
  4. Play with my cats
  5. Call a friend or family member.

Take some time to sit and think about what calms you down like music, food, art, pets, humans, movies, books, and instruments. Get creative! What will put a smile on your face no matter the circumstance?

]KNOW THAT YOU ARE NOT ALONE

Please know that we are in this together. I can’t think of a time in my life when the world has been more at one. I truly wish it were under a happy circumstance instead of this terrible situation that we are in now.

LIVE IN THE MOMENT

These are scary and uncertain times, to say the least, but the best thing you can do for yourself is be in the moment. Live one day at a time. None of us (not even our leaders) know how long this is going to last. Projecting timelines and throwing yourself into future thinking is only going to worsen your anxiety.

Aly encourages us to find the silver lining and maintain hope that life will return to normal again.

Feel your feelings TODAY. Think about what you are going to do TODAY. Recognize how you can help yourself TODAY. Preparing for the worst keeps a continuous negative story line in your head. It isn’t helpful. All you need to do is take the precautions directed to you by leaders. That’s it. 

And with that, I will leave you with one of my favorite quotes from Dr. Wayne Dyer.

 “If you change the way you look at things, the things you look at change.” 

And it’s so true.

You have the power to change your mind, your feelings, and your thoughts. If you need extra support at this time, let’s help you find someone to talk to. Feel free to reach out to Lauren or me and we will do our best to find you the right support at this time. Be well, stay healthy and take care of your mind, body, and spirit!

It’s almost 4:00 am now, time for me to go back to bed. 

I believe in you!

Truly,

P.S. For more on Aly or how to reach her click here

Aly Cohen
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