Managing uncertainty and anxiety during COVID-19

By Leya Snider.

Life can be stressful enough under normal circumstances. But pile the COVID-19 pandemic on top – what we call the “COVID overlay” – and you’ve got the perfect recipe for people to be experiencing heightened levels of stress and anxiety.

Since the pandemic’s beginning, we have discovered that the source of people’s anxiety has changed over time. It started with a high level of concern for our personal mental and physical health and the wellbeing of our loved ones.

We then saw a spike in anxiety about returning to work after the initial period of remote working and social distancing.

Now, as we navigate through another round of lockdowns, the focus of people’s anxiety is shifting again.

Regardless of the focus of our worries, what we do know is that many of us are likely to be experiencing higher than usual levels of anxiety for some time to come.

Some of the common signs and symptoms of anxiety are a racing heart, inability to focus on the task at hand, and having difficulty winding-down.  Other signs can be increased tensions in personal relationships, muscle pain or headaches, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite and less of an ability to manage day-to-day work and life challenges.

While a little bit of anxiety is not a bad thing – in fact it can be good to keep us on our toes – when we exist day after day in a highly anxious state this takes a heavy toll on our body and mind.

While it’s not possible (or even desirable) to completely eliminate all the anxieties and stresses in our lives, it is a good idea to try and keep our stress levels within a manageable ‘Goldilocks’ zone. In the goldilocks zone, stress is not too high, or too low, it’s just right.

The good news is that anyone can develop strategies to deal with the heightened stress levels this pandemic is bringing. You can think of these strategies as falling into three main categories, similar to the colours in a traffic light:

  1. Red – managing your response. In this state we are in panic mode, often referred to as the fight or flight state. The key in this state is to know practical strategies that we can use in the moment to manage our stress response, ones that help us calm our stress levels down and bring us back into a more balanced and relaxed state.
  2. Orange – reframing our thinking. In this state, stress is building toward the panic mode, but we’ve still got a little bit of room to slow down and think. The key here is to tune into and manage our stress warning signs, while also paying attention to our stress-inducing thoughts, catching and diffusing these before they start to impact our mood, thus preventing a spiral into the red zone.
  3. Green – being kind to yourself. When things are going well, we often feel as though it is not necessary to pay attention to our mental health. However, the green light zone is when a range of protective and self-care strategies are most impactful. In this state we are in the best position to build our stress hardiness by proactively using a range of psychological resources to set ourselves up for success.

In our Managing Your Anxiety Through COVID-19 webinar, we unpack the biological origins of anxiety and how to identify when things might be getting too much. We also work through some tangible strategies for how to stop anxiety in its tracks, how to slow it down, and how to engage in proactive wellbeing management, so that you can begin to manage your anxiety, rather than have your anxiety manage you.