Feeling Anxious? Try These 5 Calming Steps

Feeling Anxious? Try These 5 Calming Steps

Get a handle on stress by making time for these simple mental health habits every day.

Updated April 9, 2020; 9:15am EST

If you’re feeling daily surges of anxiety and stress due to the COVID-19 pandemic, you’re not alone. According to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in March 2020, 18 percent of U.S. adults reported experiencing nervousness or anxiety most or all of the time. Americans are worried about their health, financial security, caregiving responsibilities and their mental well-being through this period of semi-isolation.

“We’ve all just had a forced eviction from our daily lives,” says Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, co-founder of Mindsciences, Inc. “Everything in our personal and work lives has been disrupted. We’re all in this critical period where we’re trying to figure out what the new normal is and we have to face the fact that things are still changing.”

Setting good mental habits can help prevent moments of worry from turning into panic. Dr. Brewer has been sharing ways to alleviate stress in his Coronavirus Anxiety: Daily Updates on YouTube. Here are five of his suggested practices that can help you stay calm and grounded during this uncertain time.

Be present
It’s important to check in with yourself daily to see how you’re feeling. Anxiety presents itself in different ways for different people. You may feel restless, exhausted, irritable or unable to control your emotions. You may also find you cannot concentrate on a task. This stress often results in lack of sleep or lashing out at family members.

If you notice these types of feelings crop up, Brewer suggests taking a few minutes to practice the following routine.

  • First, take a few deep breaths or focus your awareness in your feet. Count up to 30 seconds, making sure you don’t cut this short. This will help you stay calm. A tool that might help: Brewer has developed a free app called Breathe by Dr. Jud that takes users through a calming minute-long deep breathing routine.
  • Second, get in touch with your senses. Spend a few moments focusing on what you hear, smell, see, taste and touch. As you go through your day, practice each of these to stay in the moment. Smell your dinner as it cooks, listen to neighbors cheer on our healthcare workers or touch a warm blanket as you relax.

Curb your news cravings
For many, the constant barrage of COVID-19 news and statistics can be overwhelming, making it tough to strike a balance between staying informed and becoming obsessive. “You can either set up the habit of checking the news and constantly panicking, or you can set the habit of setting limits and staying calm,” says Brewer

Cap your news reading or watching at 2 to 3 times per day for a maximum of around 15 minutes each time. If that still provokes anxiety, drop your consumption to once per day, focusing on what is happening in your hometown or state. Turn off automatic notifications from news sites on your phone. Consider also setting a limit for skimming social media, especially if you follow accounts that post about current events.

The timing of these news breaks matters, too. “Like cutting off caffeine and alcohol intake in the evening so you can sleep, do not check the news before going to bed,” suggests Brewer. “If you find yourself craving news when you first wake up in the morning, don’t check as the first thing you do.”

Stay connected
If you feel the urge to go on social media or check the news, ask yourself if you’re actually craving a social interaction instead. “Often we simply need connection. Give your spouse or kids a solid hug, or cuddle with your pet if you have one,” says Brewer.

If you are alone but need some comfort, call or video chat with a family member or friend. Keep in mind that you don’t want to spread your anxiety to them. Rather, seek comfort in hearing someone else’s voice and experiencing a connection, even if it’s remotely.

Staying connected may also mean making time for your religious and spiritual practices. Read a comforting passage, watch a sermon online or call someone from your religious community.

Take things one day at a time
Most of us are currently sheltered at home, leaving only for essential trips. The uncertainty of the pandemic and trying to predict when life will return to normal may leave you feeling panicked.

“You probably don’t have enough information to plan for next month, or even two weeks from now. Practice taking it day by day, or even hour by hour, to keep yourself calm and thinking,” says Brewer.

Focus on a daily routine that includes many of the simple actions you practiced before the pandemic. It can be as simple as taking a shower, changing your clothes and deciding what you will eat for the day. You can also make a plan for keeping your family entertained, any work you need to do or projects that feel fulfilling.

Show kindness to others… and yourself
So many of us have been taken away from our community while we are staying inside. But that doesn’t mean we can’t give back to others. Little acts of charity can boost your mood and mental wellbeing.

Many local food pantries have Amazon wish lists, which makes it easy to purchase needed items. Communities across the country are raising funds to provide meals to healthcare professionals or service employees who are currently out of work. If you are crafty, try making masks for friends and family.

And if you aren’t in a place where you can do any of those gestures? That’s completely okay. Turn that kindness toward yourself by channeling your stress into activities that you know can help bring calm. Nourish yourself with healthy food. If moving around helps you feel better, make time for exercise. Practice meditation for 5 to 10 minutes each day.

If you find yourself in a constant state of stress or unable to control your emotions, consider reaching out for professional help. Most states have hotlines to help those who are experiencing mental distress due to COVID-19. If you’re experiencing a mental health crisis, get in touch with your healthcare provider, text HOME or NAMI to 741741 or call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 as soon as possible.

You can also look into telehealth options. There are many companies now offering therapy services through video calls. Contact your insurance company to find a doctor or to ask about their preferred telehealth platform. Many are currently waiving copays during this time.

If you are having trouble controlling your anxiety during these uncertain times, try Unwinding Anxiety, a step-by-step program developed by Jud Brewer, MD, PhD, that is delivered to your smartphone or tablet.

Medically reviewed in April 2020.

Dr. Jud. “How to manage uncertainty and anxiety (Coronavirus Anxiety Daily Update #6).” March 21, 2020.
Scott Keeter. “People financially affected by COVID-19 outbreak are experiencing more psychological distress than others.” March 30, 2020.
“Anxiety Disorders.”
“Mindfulness exercises.”
“COVID-19 Lockdown Guide: How to Manage Anxiety and Isolation During Quarantine.” March 20, 2020.
“COVID-19 Resource and Information Guide.” April 6, 2020.
“Stress and Coping.” April 1, 2020.
Jill Suttie and Jason Marsh. “5 Ways Giving Is Good for You.” December 13, 2010.
Rebecca Heilweil. “6 things to know about telehealth.” April 8, 2020.

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