Is Anxiety a Side Effect of COVID-19?

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Olive keeps me company.

The past week I’ve been experiencing anxiety. I’m so fortunate in my personal life and I’m grateful to have such a beautiful place to stay sheltered in place. But, being home day in and day out is taking a toll. I don’t think watching the news and surfing the internet for COVID-19 and political news is helping me either. When I felt my heart rate racing and my hands trembling on a drive home from taking groceries to my dad, I turned off the news and found a station playing Casey Kasem’s Top 40 countdown from 1970. As I listened to familiar songs from my childhood like Carpenters “Close to You” and the Beatles “Long and Winding Road,” I calmed down, sang along and found myself smiling.

Today, I quit looking at the news of spikes in COVID cases and wondered if other people were suffering from anxiety, too. The answer is yes. A quick search led me to so many articles with tips to handle anxiety and links to hotlines and health experts.

Here are a few excerpts from the articles. Please click on the links to read the whole articles. They are well worth it.

Suffering from COVID-19 anxiety? Here’s what you can do

By Jennifer KongSteven Chan

Jennifer—a postdoc—had been working from home for 4 weeks. Anxious about the COVID-19 pandemic, she was having trouble focusing on her research. She knew her mental health had deteriorated and that she needed advice to stay motivated. So she reached out to Steven, a friend who also happens to be a practicing psychiatrist. He didn’t solve all of Jennifer’s problems. But he did provide a new lens to view them through—as well as concrete steps she could take to improve her mental health. Our conversation has been edited for clarity and brevity.

JENNIFER: In academia, we are often encouraged to suck it up when problems arise. I am currently writing two papers. I know others who are writing grants. Should we expect to use this “time away from the lab” to be superproductive?

STEVEN: Working in a COVID-19 world is not normal. You shouldn’t dwell on guilt if you’re not functioning at maximum productivity levels. You need time to process the grief that comes with the loss of your former work life and social life.

J: I occasionally find myself spiraling down a hole of despair, spending hours reading about all the terrible things happening in the world. The news makes me feel sad and helpless, which in turn zaps all the motivation out of my day. What should I do?

S: In these spirals, it is important to recognize that there’s a lot happening right now that you can’t control. Even though it is incredibly hard, shift your attention to things you can control. For example, you cannot control the number of people who are dying from COVID-19. But you can do your part to maintain social distancing.

J: I am worried about members of my family getting sick. I’m also worried about my future in academia because many universities are instituting hiring freezes. How can I get rid of all this worry?  

S: Try compartmentalizing the worry into a time block. Spend 20 minutes each day writing down and acknowledging your feelings. Then, think about reasonable solutions. For example, you could brainstorm how you could secure funding to extend your postdoc, which would give you more time to publish papers and apply for academic jobs next year. You could also learn about jobs that might interest you in other sectors, such as industry.

J: Sometimes I wake up in the middle of the night and can’t go back to sleep. I’m physically tired, but my brain is restless. I end up just lying there, thinking and worrying about everything that’s going on. Is this anxiety?   

S: It could be. Anxiety is a persistent feeling of worry. Sometimes it is constant, while other times it rushes over you all at once. When dealing with anxiety, it’s important to assess your emotions and talk about what you’re going through with trusted friends and family. You should also practice activities that are restorative and relaxing, especially before bedtime. Listen to music, take a hot shower, read a book, or do something else that you enjoy.

From the Anxiety and Depression Association of America website I discovered Top Ten COVID-19 Anxiety Reduction Strategies by Ken Goodman.

Goodman is the author of The Anxiety Solution Series: Your Guide to Overcoming Panic, Worry, Compulsions and Fear, A Step-by-Step Self-help Audio Program., and Break Free from Anxiety, a coloring, self-help book for anxiety sufferers. Ken Goodman is an ADAA board member and Clinical Fellow. Here are the first three of his tips.

During this time of national crisis, we must manage two things simultaneously: 1) Protect ourselves from the Coronavirus, and 2) Protect ourselves from anxiety. If your anxiety, fear, and worry has been overwhelming, put these ten strategies into practice. 

1. Media Distancing: To stop the spread of COVID-19, we’ve had to practice social distancing. But to stop the spread of anxiety, we must distance ourselves from the media. All anxiety stems from uncertainty and an active imagination which produces catastrophic thoughts. The media, which is 24/7 Coronavirus and virtually all negative, is the driver of those thoughts. (The CDC estimates that the flu this season has killed between 24,000 and 62,000 people in the United States. We are not panicking because the flu is familiar and the media does not give it attention). My patients who are the most anxious about the Coronavirus are those who are consuming the most news from social media, online, and traditional outlets. The more anxious you feel, the more you should distance from the media. And if you are extremely fearful, stop watching and reading altogether. Do no Google or research. Stop checking the latest news about the virus (as well as your investments). Any vital information you need to know, you will find out.

2. Do Not Engage with Worry. Take Action: Whether you are worried about contracting the virus, your struggling business, or being unemployed, the more your mind focuses on worst-case scenarios, the more anxious you feel. You can’t stop thoughts from entering your mind, but you can choose to stop dwelling and you can choose to take action to solve problems. There is a huge difference between worrying and problem solving. When your mind tries to bait you into worry, don’t take the bait. If you do, like a fish in a lake, you will be caught. Anxiety will try to bait you with many “what if” questions. Don’t answer them. Respond, “Not taking the bait,” turn your attention away, and focus elsewhere. Spinning your wheels with questions that don’t have answers will take you down the rabbit hole of fear. Instead, find creative measures to get you through this storm until you can get back on your feet. None of these measures will be comfortable. Like an umbrella and a raincoat, we use them to get through the storm, not to stop it. Much of anxiety stems from a lack of confidence in our ability to handle challenges. Push yourself to take one uncomfortable step at a time.  With financial stress these steps might include seeking out loans, asking for help, paying portions of bills, cutting back on spending, and finding creative ways to make money including selling items on Ebay. The goal is to stay afloat until the storm passes. 

3. Focus on Present Odds: All deaths are tragic, but we must maintain proper perspective. The vast majority of people infected with COVID-19 have mild to moderate symptoms or no symptoms at all. And the mortality rate if you do contract the virus ranges from 1.4% to 3% (The exact mortality rate is unknown at this time). The number of deaths will continue to climb (and the news will report every one) and yet, the chance of you or a loved-one dying is still remote, especially with everyone’s effort to maintain distance and isolate. But death is possible and that’s why anxious people take the bait and dwell. Possibility becomes probability. Remind yourself of the present odds, which are very good. After all, if you went to Vegas and had a 97% chance of winning, you would be excited to take those odds. If you take care of yourself properly, even if you are in a higher risk category, your risk of death is still low.

After the complete list of ten tips Goodman said this:

This list is a recipe to reduce anxiety. Review it again and put it into practice. Otherwise it’s like reading a cooking recipe in bed – in the end you have produced nothing and have nothing delicious to eat. So…start cooking. 

Walking and backyard bungee swims are not enough to keep the stress away. My dear friend Linda told me that she and her family are doing a workout challenge on Youtube by Chloe Ting. I decided to check it out and the workouts are perfect for me. Ting has a modified low impact version that I can handle. I am doing the 2 Week Shred challenge followed by an ab workout. I’ve done my first two days and although my body is screaming at me, it’s got to be good for me!

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I miss our pool and my team. When will it reopen?

How are you handling COVID-19 uncertainties?

Here are common symptoms of anxiety from the Mayo Clinic

Common anxiety signs and symptoms include:
  • Feeling nervous, restless or tense.
  • Having a sense of impending danger, panic or doom.
  • Having an increased heart rate.
  • Breathing rapidly (hyperventilation)
  • Sweating.
  • Trembling.
  • Feeling weak or tired.
  • Trouble concentrating or thinking about anything other than the present worry.

 

Day 14: Shelter in Place

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Waffles heard he had to shelter in place for another month.

I’m a little disappointed. I was doing fine with shelter in place and we made it for two weeks without much of a hitch. Then today, when I thought we’d have a couple more weeks to go, we hear on the news that it will be another month. At least.

Truly, I’m thankful for so many things. My daughter is home with Waffles. We have our health, so far. I did have a fever and sore throat for a couple days which led to some scary thoughts. My imagination and worry had me taking my temperature every hour and waking up in the night to take its some more. I’m never one to slow down when I’m sick. But I went to bed and stayed there for the better part of two days. So, maybe bed rest is a good thing when you’re not feeling well? Who knew?

I also read two books during my hours or rest that I can highly recommend: Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng and Winter in Paradise by Elin Hilderbrand. 

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I’m going to be here for how long?

The weather is gorgeous. We’re all thankfully working and able to do so from home. Things are not that bad. The news is scary and the unknown is worse. How long will this last? How many people will get sick or die? Is it going to hit us personally with our friends and loved ones?

In the meantime, I will share a few pet peeves about Sheltering in Place. One, we lost the garage clicker and one fob for a car complete with necessary keys. We have no idea where they are. They disappeared around Day Two of Shelter in Place.

Next, I have a relatives and friends who are thankfully keeping me up-to-date on how everyone in Washington state is doing with Coronavirus. But every message includes a political swipe. I also see this on Facebook from friends and on Twitter from complete strangers. I don’t like the constant complaining and griping during such scary times of a global pandemic. I think we need to take this time to be grateful for each other, realize what we do have — and try to come together. Maybe it’s because people are angry and fearful in these uncertain times and they need to vent their frustrations. Just my penny’s worth.

One other thing, I’m jealous of my friends who are sheltering in place but not working. They are clearing out their homes like there’s no tomorrow. Literally. I’m working everyday and only get to clean out the occasional cupboard or two. If I can get my writing assignments done soon, I’ll be clearing out junk and organizing with the best of them.

How are you getting through the Coronavirus? Have you been sheltering in place and for how long?

 

Today, Take Time to Be Grateful!

I received an amazing email from one of our former Piranha head coaches, Tim Hill, who is now coaching in Texas. He has some great words of wisdom that in our heated political midterm elections, I think are important for all of us to read–regardless which “team” you’re rooting or fighting for. He’ll be sharing his thoughts–and a SwimSwam article of mine–with his team. I think his thoughts about gratitude and our common goals are worth posting for more people to read, too.

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I’m grateful to swim in a beautiful pool with my team.

Monday, November 5, 2018

Family & Friends,

Last night I stayed awake (probably because I hadn’t worked out physically in three to four days, which is never good for me) thinking about all that is going on in our world/country, and my daily environment of working with a great cross-section of people, and most importantly our young people. Coming back from a 2.5 hour Senior meet where each of the swimmers did something well, I realized it wasn’t perfect, but I saw progress of young people engaged and challenging themselves. (I went with a small group of five before our hosted Shark meet of 600 swimmers & many parents/volunteers.) I walked away feeling good and that we’re all making progress in our daily lives of living and getting better.

Then after a conversation with some neighbor friends on values and our political system struggles, I read this short piece below from a former swim parent/board person that got me thinking along with watching a Train Ugly video on how our brains can change and how we can continue to learn to have a “Growth Mindset” (I’ll post more next week about it). So, I want to share some thoughts, which are at times difficult for me to put in writing, but I thought it can‘t hurt. Then read “5 Ways Parents (people) Can Handle Conflicts” and see how it might fit into our daily living exchanges.

Here are my thoughts:

Think how grateful we can be every day for so much good in our lives. We are truly blessed with so much that’s good that comes our way.

First, I’m grateful for many things in my lifetime journey so far, most importantly my lovely partner for 41+ years, Shayla—whose strong faith and belief in all mankind being equal is so inspiring. Second, our families/siblings who bring so much laughter, love and joy to our lives, even when we don’t always agree on some issues. Also, I’ve had the good fortune to travel the world in my coaching career, experiencing many different people/cultures, plus working/sharing with some great staff, parent groups and yes—young people of all ages. The one common theme is there are more caring, wonderful people in this world and a great deal of positive things going on that happen every day. Our constant news cycle doesn’t seem to cover that as much, but rather the power struggles that are front page news based on he/she said that it make it appear things are horrific (which as history has shown has always existed before our 24-hour news cycle brought it to the forefront daily.)

Yes, we all face different challenges, some that don’t work out the way we’d like or believe in. We have to decide how we’ll respond to these occurrences. As I like to share/believe – “Change is inevitable, growth is optional.” Keep in mind we all come on to this wonderful planet the same way and are made of basically the same substance. At the end of each day, can we realize that we have a lot in common, want peace, security and the love of our family and some friends while sharing our earth and it’s beautiful creatures and resources?

We are truly blessed with so much that good that comes our way and we should take a minute every day to say and share what are we grateful for.

5 Ways Parents (earthlings) Can Help Handle Conflicts
Courtesy: Elizabeth Wickham from SwimSwam

One thing I’ve learned through experience is that when there is an issue that involves our children—and I feel like they’ve been wronged—I need to take a deep breath. And, I let a few days pass. I ask how our kids can settle an issue themselves before getting involved. I’m not talking about something serious where they could be in danger, but other issues like being signed up for events they don’t like or not making it into a higher level group.

Here are five tips to use at the pool and in other areas of your life with coaches, teachers and other parents:

ONE
Listen to your kids but do some research. It is possible that there are two sides to the story. If you only listen to your child, you may not have the whole picture. Investigate and find out the other point of view. Then you’ll be in a better position to evaluate if you need to get involved. Often, our kids vent to us but may not want our help.

TWO
Take some deep breaths, let time go by and walk or exercise before making a phone call or writing that email. Sometimes things that seem so urgent at the moment won’t be so worrisome after a few days. In many cases, a new issue will take its place.

THREE
Don’t lose your temper or you’ve lost. Having an issue about our kids can turn a mild-mannered person into a mama or papa grizzly. Staying calm if you do get involved, will help you get the results you’re seeking.

FOUR
Have a solution in mind. What is the outcome you want? I had a boss once say that anyone can point out problems—it’s the people with solutions who are rare. I learned from serving on our team’s board that people can complain a lot. After every decision our board made, we got complaints from someone. Sometimes, just listening made the person feel better because people like to be heard.

FIVE
Understand that you can make the situation worse. This is a sad truth that with our best intentions, we can escalate a small incident into something bigger. Also, by problem solving for our children, we are taking away opportunities for them to learn and grow into independent adults.

What is your best advice for parents when kids are facing a problem?

 

I’m grateful to for time with family and friends.

 

Is Civility a Lost Art and My Story of Being Yelled at By a Total Stranger

imagesI think we are on the verge of losing an important piece of our society. The art of civility and decency. In my humble opinion, the virtual world has a lot to do with this. Look at the comment section of any news site or political page and what you’ll read will turn your face red. Name calling, cursing along with disgusting references to body parts. Their mothers and grandparents must be so proud!

It’s so easy to comment and be rude when you’re not face to face with another person and you’re hiding behind your keyboard. As a former board member of my kids’ swim team for a million years, I was often surprised when someone that I had enjoyed talking with on the pool deck sent me a scathing email. I guess it was easier for them to vent over the keyboard rather then express their opinion to me in person.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

Olive in an uncivil mood.

What happens when this “no-holds-barred” behavior moves from behind the screen to the real world? Think about that for a few minutes. If every person you encountered in a day had to let loose with a verbal attack. (What does that expression mean anyway? From Merriam-webster online: free of restrictions or hampering conventions <a no–holds–barred contest> This expression was first used in wrestling matches allowing all types of holds.)

I was sitting at our local Street Fair this week, volunteering five hours of my time to register voters. Most people were very friendly and polite. It wasn’t a busy night for our “register to vote booth” because there’s no big election coming up in the next few months. I smiled at people as they walked by. It’s fun to see them smile in return. I was enjoying that.

Then one woman stopped in the middle of the street and yelled at me.

“Why did you give us that look?”

I said, “Huh? Excuse me?” I had never seen this person in my life. I had not seen her walk by.

“You smiled at those people,” she pointed. “But you gave me a dirty look! What was that about?” she shouted at me.

“You’re mistaken, I wasn’t looking at anyone.” Indeed I was lost in my thoughts. I had a brief moment of missing my kids who are away at college.

“You’re very rude! Typical for someone in your party!” the woman yelled at me.

I was a little shaken. Wondering what gave her the right to yell at me — someone she’d never met before. I thought this was a prime example about our loss of civility.

We tell our kids to be kind to other people and we teach the Golden Rule. We punish them if they get in a fight and we are horrified if they are mean to anyone. But, seriously? They learn more from our actions then we care to believe. I have an idea. let’s try to be examples to our kids. Let’s try to be someone worthy of our kids adoration and someone we’d like them to respect. Be kind to one another. And if you can’t be kind, at least be decent.

My daughter and lifetime friends, enjoying life on their swim team.

My daughter and lifetime friends enjoying life on their swim team.

“Be civil to all, sociable to many, familiar with few, friend to one, enemy to none.”

– Benjamin Franklin