Editor’s note: This article was published on July 20, 2020. COVID-19 information and recommendations are subject to change. For the most up-to-date information, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website or view our most recent COVID-19 blog posts.
More than 40 million adults suffer from an anxiety disorder in the U.S. Add that to the months of isolation and worry about the COVID-19 pandemic, it can be difficult for some people to manage their anxiety when they step back into their everyday lives.
Some businesses are bringing back employees who had been working from home, and schools are planning how best to provide classes. Although health safety precautions are still in place like masking, hand hygiene and social distancing, Dr. Kelsie-Marie Offenwanger, Psy.D, child and adolescent psychologist at Marshfield Clinic Health System, shares some ways that you can get back to your life after being away from your usual day-to-day activities – even while living with anxiety.
Breathe and accept your anxiety
Anxiety is like any other feeling and trying to ignore it often makes it worse. Offenwanger gave the example of what if she said, “Don’t think about ice cream.” You will probably think about ice cream. You might start to think about your favorite flavor, when you had ice cream last and how delicious it sounds on a hot summer day.
“Anxiety plays tricks on our brain, and the more we feed our worries the bigger they grow,” Offenwanger said.
Determine your social tolerance
Although others may be stepping into the new normal during COVID-19, you should Identify where you feel comfortable going and for how long.
Is it a short trip to a coffee shop outdoors or grocery shopping during the week when there are less people? Or, are you comfortable at a family gathering where you will be expected to interact with others?
Offenwanger recommends setting a date and putting it on the calendar. Studies show that if you put your plans in writing you are more likely to follow through.
Give yourself a pep talk
“Before you leave, visualize your time out going well and use positive self-talk,” Offenwanger said. “Positive self-talk is when you use the power of your words to overcome your worry thoughts.”
An example, you could tell yourself, “Nothing is wrong with me. Sometimes I am anxious, and that’s okay.” “I will make it through today because I am strong and capable,” or “Things are never as bad as I imagine them to be.”
Bring a comfort item
Think back to when you were a kid and had that special blanket or toy. Offenwanger said try to identify a similar object that can help you feel at ease.
She suggested putting something in your pocket you could rub, have gum to chew on, tissues if you start to sweat, or a calming app on your phone to listen to before, during and after your trip out of the home.
Congratulate yourself for being successful in beating your anxiety.
“Use that positive self-talk as a reminder that you have accomplished a great feat,” Offenwanger said. “Moreover, if you’re still thinking about ice cream from earlier than why not treat yourself.”
It’s important to celebrate taking even the smallest step.
If you have questions or concerns about anxiety issues, contact your doctor.