Everything about the COVID-19 pandemic—from the virus itself to job loss, social isolation, and changes to daily routines—has been accompanied by widespread feelings of fear and anxiety. Physical distancing norms and legally imposed shelter at home rules, while essential to stop the spread of coronavirus, have resulted in many people experiencing loneliness, feelings of isolation, and claustrophobia in ways they never have before.
For people who were already dealing with anxiety and depression in their daily lives, this situation can be incredibly triggering. For parents trying to work from home without adequate child care, stress levels are high. And for many people separation from family members is creating an ongoing sense of sadness and loneliness, especially over the holidays.
Even outside of the current COVID-19 outbreak, anxiety is one of the most frequent ICD-10 diagnosis codes we see at Parsley Health – and 40 million adults per year in the US experience it. So if we can use this time where we are collectively experiencing anxiety to learn adaptive habits to cope, we have an opportunity to come out of this situation potentially stronger.
Here are some of our tried and true top techniques to help you reduce anxiety right now.
1. Exercise every day.
The anxiety you’re feeling right now needs a place to go and there’s no better way to release built-up stressful energy than engaging in exercise. Multiple studies show that exercise can improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress. Given current circumstances daily exercise might look like streaming an online yoga flow from home, taking a jog outside while responsibly keeping your distance from others, or simply doing some jump squats between conference calls to get your heart pumping. At least twenty minutes a day will help keep the anxiety away.
2. Take some magnesium.
Think of magnesium as the relaxation mineral. This mighty micronutrient helps to calm the nervous system, mildly lower blood pressure, and quickly relaxes smooth muscle. The irony is that in times of intense stress, such as being asked to self-quarantine for several weeks, magnesium is more readily excreted from the body. To help replete magnesium and ease anxiety, we recommend taking 200-400mg of magnesium glycinate, the best absorbed form, nightly. You can also take it earlier in the day if your anxiety peaks more in the morning.
3. Cut out alcohol and refined sugar.
While cooped up at home, it can often feel easiest to manage stress by pouring yourself a glass of wine or reaching for a sweet treat. However, the reality is that both refined sugar and alcohol can weaken the body’s ability to respond to stress, act as anxiety triggers, and suppress the immune system.
Instead of letting your vices get the best of you, shift your mindset toward incorporating foods and beverages that will actually make you feel a greater sense of calm and leave your body in the best place to fight both anxiety and infection. Swap out refined sugar from processed sweets with whole fruit and starchy vegetables. Replace alcohol with a seltzer and a citrus wedge, a calming chamomile tea, or a kombucha spritzer (try out just half the bottle of a low-sugar variety with sparkling water and ice)—you can even put it in a wine glass if you’re feeling fancy.
4. Develop a meditation practice.
Take this current opportunity with more time at home to implement some much needed self-care practices into your routine. Our favorite at Parsley Health? Meditation.
Meditation isn’t just a “nice idea”—research consistently shows that meditation improves mood, reduces anxiety, lowers cortisol, and decreases inflammation. Specifically, deep belly breathing stimulates the vagus nerve and turns on the parasympathetic or ‘rest and digest’ part of our nervous system which helps to lower your heart rate and reduce anxiety. To start, try out just five minutes of meditation in the morning. There are a variety of meditation apps—like Calm, Headspace, or 10% Happier—that can help guide your new practice.
5. Stay connected.
It’s never been a better time to be isolated without needing to feel isolated. With access to video conferencing platforms like Google Hangouts and FaceTime, take advantage of technology and plan for virtual dinner dates with friends and family throughout your week. You might even consider joining an online book club, attending a live-stream of a fitness class, or signing up for a virtual event on a topic you’ve been meaning to study up on. Because we know loneliness can worsen anxiety, it’s important to use our resources to stay in touch with our broader communities and help feed our human need for social connection—even if that means virtually for now.
6. Remain informed—but not over-informed.
While it’s crucial to stay in the know about regular updates regarding COVID-19 and political and social issues, constant monitoring of news and social media can quickly fuel anxiety and become counterproductive. Everyone’s limit is different so pay close attention to how you’re feeling and adjust accordingly. If you start feeling overwhelmed, take a step back and establish a specific timeframe and time of day you check in for updates—such as twenty minutes every night at 5PM. If you think it’d be better for your anxiety if you avoided the news entirely, ask a trusted friend or family member to pass along any major updates you may need to know about.
At Parsley Health, we understand it’s a particularly tough time to live with a sense of calm and peace. And in fact, some anxiety is perfectly normal and natural right now. However, to help us all thrive through this challenging time, we must try to actively reframe our anxious thoughts to ensure our minds and bodies stay healthy and balanced.
By using tools such as meditation, magnesium, and exercise, and staying away from too much alcohol, sugar, and media you might be surprised about just how much you can do to help reduce the anxiety you’re experiencing.
Ultimately, we know this pandemic will eventually end but these stress management techniques are timeless tools that will prove to help manage anxiety for years—and future crises—to come.