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COVID-19, Political Unrest, and Anxiety

By: Marie Shelton, MS, LCMHCA

Holland and Associates Counseling, PLLC

Living during this time of a pandemic and political unrest, anxiety is an emotion many of us have experienced. As a counselor I see many people who struggle with anxiety on a daily basis and I am certain that many more people who are not in therapy also face anxiety frequently in their lives.

I am going to share some thoughts on anxiety and describe some strategies and techniques which have been proven to be effective in managing anxiety effectively.

One of the problems people face when dealing with anxiety is that they want it to go away entirely. Learning to accept or even befriend one’s anxiety is an important step in learning to manage anxiety symptoms. Anxiety thrives when a person overestimates danger and underestimates his/her ability to cope and access resources. Examining whether a threat is real or imagined as well and increasing knowledge regarding resources and coping skills can be very beneficial in decreasing anxiety. In other words, decreasing the sense of danger and increasing the confidence to cope will reduce anxious feelings. Learning to increase tolerance for anxiety is another way to manage this difficult feeling. Examine the role anxiety plays in your life. How is it motivating you? Ask yourself ‘what is anxiety getting in the way of’? Shift your focus from the anxiety to what is important to you. Learn to tolerate uncertainty. Shift your mindset from ‘this situation is unpleasant and unmanageable’ to ‘this situation is unpleasant and manageable’. These thought reframing coping skills can be practiced before anxiety triggering situations. Also, becoming aware of and challenging cognitive distortions, thinking errors which create feelings of anxiety, goes a long way in decreasing it.

Changing your relationship to anxiety is a powerful movement towards managing it. Think of anxiety as a communication tool. What is it trying to tell me? Ask yourself:

‘What am I telling myself about my anxiety?’

‘How am I behaving because of my anxiety?’

‘How do I care for myself when I am anxious?’

‘What do I do to slow the spiral of anxiety?’

Fear of anxiety will only increase anxiety. Shining the light on anxiety and finding a message and meaning in it has great potential for reducing anxiety symptoms. Anxiety comes from focusing on the future or the past, not being able to stay in the present. Consequently, learning to be present in the moment reduces the impact anxiety can have.

Four specific areas that are important in learning to manage anxiety are:

1. Attention centering techniques which are strategies to focus attention differently.

These techniques include deep breathing, mindfulness and meditation.

2. Expression of the anxiety – finding expression by drawing, painting, dance, movement, sports or creative expression by fixing or creating something.

3. Reflection strategies which include journaling, writing, talking with someone, reading, learning, getting to know yourself better.

4. Healthy lifestyle which includes healthy habits, healthy relationships, healthy nutrition, adequate sleep, exercise, and self-care.

This has been an overview on techniques and strategies that can be helpful in managing anxiety. If, after reading this blog, you find that you have more questions about managing anxiety symptoms and are considering counseling for yourself please call my office at 252-255-2733.

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