Feeling anxious? Here are 10 things you can do to calm your fears

Health & Wellness

March 16, 2020

Keep your “worry meter” in check during the coronavirus outbreak by taking care of yourself and others. “We know that one of the things that helps with anxiety and depression is when we find a way to be benevolent toward other people. It gets us outside of our own fears.”

By Maureen Gilmer, IU Health senior journalist, mgilmer1@iuhealth.org

The word pandemic strikes fear in many of us. And just like disease, fear is a contagion – quick to spread through families, communities and countries.

We’ve heard the recommendations from health professionals about proper hand hygiene and social distancing to slow the spread of the coronavirus, but how can we calm the fear and anxiety that many of us feel as the world shifts beneath our feet?

Vern Farnum, director of Spiritual Care & Chaplaincy for IU Health-Academic Healthcare Center, has some common-sense ideas for quieting our minds in the midst of this crisis.

“We have a tendency to awful-ize – to ramp things up in our minds,” he said.

That’s especially true during uncertain times when we don’t know what the next public announcement will bring.

“Do whatever you can to resist that because it usually leads to poor decision-making. Find any means of reassurance that is helpful,” Farnum said.

During times of crisis in the past, we often turned to sports, theater, concerts and other diversions to help us cope. Now those same options are not available to us. Even many houses of worship have closed out of an abundance of caution. How then can we keep our anxieties at bay?

A few ideas still within reach:

  1. Go for a walk. The fresh air and movement are good for us.
  2. Listen to music. “I’m a big rock and roll person, but sometimes I need to listen to some elevator music,” Farnum said.
  3. Practice yoga or another form of exercise at home.
  4. Meditate.
  5. Pray. The Lord’s Prayer and the 23rd Psalm are particularly powerful, Farnum said.
  6. Perhaps most important, stay connected with friends and family either by phone, video chat or social media. Social distancing does not have to mean social isolation, he said.
  7. Reach out to help others. Offer to go to the grocery for older people or for parents of young children, particularly those whose immune systems are compromised. “We know that one of the things that helps with anxiety and depression is when we find a way to be benevolent toward other people,” Farnum said. “It gives us purpose and meaning when we’re feeling anxious. It gets us outside of our own fears.”
  8. Maintain a normal meal and sleep schedule. Fatigue and a poor diet will negatively affect our mood.
  9. Stay informed, but don’t obsess over the news.
  10. If you get anxious, talk with someone who is a calming presence. Avoid feeding off of others’ anxieties.

Jennifer Touw, certified health and wellness coach with Healthy Results, says that while the “right amount” of worry can sharpen our focus and help us anticipate and prepare for danger, too much can make us feel anxious, out of control and even sick.

To keep our “worry meter” in check, she advises the following:

Put a name to your feelings. For example, “I’m having a moment of fear.” Follow that with a compassionate message for yourself such as “hang in there.”

Deep breathing can help trigger your relaxation response. It will give you a moment to pause and separate from anxious thoughts.

Move. If you are feeling keyed up, take a walk or go for a run.

Laugh. By all means, give yourself permission to take a break from the news and have some fun – play a game with your kids, watch a favorite TV show, laugh.

Ask for help. If you are an IU Health employee, consider connecting with a Healthy Results coach to work on stress management (317-963-WELL). If you are a patient or a family member, reach out to your physician.

These are uneasy times, but Farnum remains hopeful.

“The virus will eventually dissipate,” he said. “It will not disappear, but we will get back to a more normal routine. We will recover.”

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Anxiety

Chronic, excessive worry and stress that can manifest itself in physical ways such as headaches and muscle tension and can lead to more intense symptoms.