By Rhonda Armbrust
When the COVID pandemic spread across the globe, and with all the unknowns around it, I went into hibernation to be safe. I had never been an unwitting participant in a pandemic before and didn’t know what to expect. For a while, I meditated more, read more, and enjoyed the alone time with my hobbies. I thought I was doing fine.
But then, a few months into this, I realized I was experiencing increased anxiety. Was my brain aging? Should I take some supplements? No. I just needed to live in a more rational world like the one I used to live in a few months ago that I had taken for granted.
Now, I was overcome by new complexities and questions such as will I die if I go out to dinner with friends? Do I need to wear a mask everywhere I go, travel the correct direction down the aisles in the grocery store, and will those things keep me safe? How many times a day and for how many seconds do I need to wash my hands?
According to the World Health Organization, anxiety and depression increased by 25% worldwide during the pandemic. So, I was not alone in my experience.
The stress factor WHO identified as the main perpetrator of this increase was social isolation. Other contributing factors were financial worries and fears of infection.
It is important to manage your mental health, whether it is the pandemic that triggers your anxiety, or something else. The first step in facing anxiety is admitting you have a problem you aren’t addressing.
You can use the Burn's Anxiety Inventory to shine a light on your symptoms and anxiety level. Add up the numbers by your answers to determine your degree of anxiety. Use this as a guide to track your progress away from stress and unease.
Degree of Anxiety
Minimal or no anxiety
Extreme anxiety or pan
If you scored anywhere between 5 and 99, you’ve got work to do. Use the Burn’s Anxiety Inventory to identify your most anxiety-provoking symptoms, then explore various coping strategies to ease them. Trial and error can help you figure out what works best for you. After a few months, answer the questionnaire again to determine how much you have reduced your anxiety.
As a Psychiatric Rehabilitation Specialist, I help clients deal with anxiety. Most have chronic disorders such as schizophrenia, and they have to manage anxiety along with other symptoms of the illnesses. We work on identifying coping strategies that help them relax and feel at ease.
One of the best strategies is exercise. Walking meditation has been especially beneficial as you focus on what you see, feel, smell, and hear around you while you walk. That can be very relaxing and healing. Other strategies are listening to music, practicing yoga or tai chi, and doing absorbing hobbies. A hobby can be as simple as coloring. Social interactions are also helpful if they don’t cause you excess anxiety.