How to Break the Cycle of Worry Caused By COVID-19By Steve Calechman
In normal times, when stress hits and we find ourselves fixated on some past incident or future worry, we know techniques like deep breathing, taking a walk, and writing down our thoughts can bring us back into the moment and promote calm. But these aren’t normal times. The COVID-19 pandemic has created such anxiety—about our jobs, our health, our loved ones—that these old remedies seem to be outmatched. As a result, we give up on trying to calm our fears and end up stuck in a loop of anxiety and worry.
Susan Paula, Ph.D., a senior staff psychologist at The American Institute for Cognitive Therapy in New York City, usually tells patients to examine their thinking in order to stop catastrophizing—assuming the absolute worst will happen in either a present or future situation—but today, she says, “I can’t do that. Some of the things that they fear could happen might happen. The task is how do you help people cope with that.”
But this doesn’t have to be the way. The first step toward breaking the cycle of rumination and worry is focusing on what’s in our control during this crisis, such as washing hands, wearing a mask, maintaining social distance. The next step is letting go of the rest. Paula likens it to planning a picnic and then, on the day of the picnic, having rain. We could scream, ignore the weather and get soaked; or, we could move the picnic inside and make the best of it. That last option is what’s in play for us now. “Accepting the reality of the situation allows you to cope with it,” she says.
It’s also important to accept that regardless of how mindful we are, we may still feel anxious. “That’s okay,” says Jeremy Frank, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist in Philadelphia, who suggests noticing the feeling. When you do, “You’re back in the moment.” Part of the solution is allowing positive feelings and experiences in. It’s not about pushing out the seriousness, but rather about having a co-existence, says Beth Kurland, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and author of The Transformative Power of Ten Minutes.
Here are a few things to do and keep in mind that can help us get back into the moment when e