With the recent Omicron variant surge and the two year anniversary of the first COVID-19 case in the United States, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to be a source of stress and anxiety for many people. It’s no wonder that this collective stressor has resulted in a surge of mental health needs in the general population.
If you’re experiencing stress and anxiety symptoms as a result of the uncertainty surrounding the pandemic, know that you’re not alone. Your feelings of depression, anxiety symptoms, worry, stress, and any other mental health challenges are completely normal and are the natural results of this experience of chronic stress.
Still, although these feelings are to be expected, there are things that you can do to manage stress and anxiety symptoms during the COVID-19 pandemic. This article gives an overview of ways that you can protect your mental health and manage stress. We’ll also talk about some of the signs of anxiety disorder and when you might want to seek help from a therapist or other mental health professional.
How to Manage Stress and Protect Your Mental Health
When many things feel outside of your control, know that there are a lot of things you can do to manage stress and protect your mental health. Many of these strategies can be individualized, so make sure you consider what strategies will work best for you.
Get your thoughts out. Feeling stuck with stressful or anxious thoughts inside your head can be incredibly isolating. Getting your thoughts out can be a great way to manage stress and support your mental health. Find a way to get your thoughts out, whether through journaling, talking about them with a friend or loved one, or talking to a therapist.
Tune into your body. What happens in our minds impacts our bodies, and the reverse is true as well. Experiencing extended stress and anxiety symptoms can throw your nervous system into a state of dysregulation and hypervigilance. Pay attention to how feelings of stress and anxiety feel in your body, and then when those feelings come up, find a way to move through them. Some strategies you can try might be practicing deep breathing, going for a walk, or doing a mindfulness exercise, like the 54321 grounding exercise.
Be kind to your mind. Anxious brains love to catastrophize about the worst things that could possibly happen, tricking your mind into believing that it’s true. Engage in some gentle reality checking with those thoughts, asking yourself “Is this thought really true?” Also try practicing positive self-talk to calm and reassure yourself, for example, repeating the affirmation “I am safe” to yourself.
Limit news and social media. Social media is a regular part of our lives these days, but did you know that social media can have a negative impact on your mental health? Especially now, with daily headlines about the Omicron surge and high rates of COVID-19 cases, the news can be a place that triggers stress and anxiety about the future. Try to notice how reading the news and viewing social media impacts your anxiety, and if you notice a negative impact, try to limit your use.
When Does Pandemic Anxiety Become Anxiety Disorder?
Experiencing some anxiety symptoms during the pandemic is completely normal, but when does pandemic anxiety cross the line and become an anxiety disorder?
There are several different kinds of anxiety disorders that we’ll describe below. If you recognize any of these signs in yourself, you should consider reaching out to a mental health provider who can provide diagnosis and treatment options.
Generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). GAD is a type of anxiety disorder that involves experiencing persistent, excessive worry about a variety of things. GAD usually isn’t specific to one stressor or event, but (as the name suggests) is more generalized to lots of different things. GAD is diagnosed when someone experiences excessive worry on more days than not for the past 6 months.
Panic disorder. Panic disorder is another type of anxiety disorder that involves having panic attacks, or periods of extreme anxiety where the person experiences a surge of fear and intense discomfort.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). PTSD usually develops after someone experiences an extremely stressful event, like being assaulted or witnessing domestic violence. Researchers are also finding that PTSD is more common in people who were hospitalized with COVID-19, which shows how the pandemic is re-shaping our understanding of what qualifies as a traumatic experience. Some researchers have even wondered how living through the pandemic might be a traumatic experience for the general population.
Adjustment disorder. Adjustment disorder isn’t technically an anxiety disorder, but there it has a lot of overlap with anxiety disorders. Adjustment disorder is a condition where someone experiences heightened stress, anxiety, and depression in response to some transition or change (like say a global pandemic, for example). Symptoms might include feeling extreme worry, overwhelm, sadness, hopelessness, and/or overwhelm.
If you believe that you may have any of the conditions described above, reach out to a mental health provider for support.
When to Seek Help
You don’t need to wait until your anxiety and stress become unbearable, you can get help now. Here are some signs that you should consider seeking help from a therapist or other mental health practitioner:
Stress and anxiety are interfering with your daily life and making it hard to cope.
You’re spending a lot of time catastrophizing and worrying about what might happen.
The physical and mental anxiety symptoms that you’re experiencing feel unbearable.
You’re experiencing intense mood swings and emotional distress.
Your typical coping mechanisms aren’t working anymore.
Your anxiety symptoms are interfering with your school, work, and/or relationships
You just want to try a new strategy and have new tools in your toolbox.
If you’re ready to learn more about therapy and see if it’s right for you, reach out to us to schedule an initial consultation. We have specialists who are experts in helping people who are experiencing anxiety, depression, and stressful life transitions.
You don’t have to figure this out on your own, we’re here to help.