Do you find yourself increasingly agitated whenever you consume news regarding COVID-19? Do you often wonder—whenever you get a glimpse of your friends’ seemingly productive lives through their social media posts—if you’re the only one who isn’t thriving during this pandemic?
If you’ve been feeling a lot more anxious or stressed lately, let me tell you that this is not unusual. You are not alone in feeling this way.
As COVID-19 swept across the country, upending plans, and routines, it left a trail of uncertainty in its wake—enough to cause some mental health issues that need to be addressed.
In fact, according to a recent CDC report on mental health, anxiety and depression are on the rise in the US, with the national rate of anxiety tripling in the second quarter compared to the prior-year quarter (from 8.1% to 25.5%) and depression almost quadrupling (from 6.5% to 24.3%) from a year ago.
Those numbers, along with the far-reaching effects of the pandemic in our personal and professional lives, are certainly cause for concern. So, here are some ways to cope with COVID anxiety and stress.
Deal With It Immediately
You might be tempted to downplay or ignore how you feel, or perhaps you haven’t even realized how anxious or stressed you’ve been until now.
However, consider the impact on your overall well-being if you continue to sweep these issues under the rug. Unfortunately, your anxiety and stress aren’t going to vanish by wishing them away—much like COVID won’t just magically disappear.
You need to avoid the trap of the normalcy bias or that intuitive feeling that you can just fast-forward through the difficult parts of this year or that things will soon get back to how they were pre-COVID.
The normalcy bias is one of over a hundred dangerous judgment errors that scholars in cognitive neuroscience, psychology, and behavioral economics like myself call cognitive biases. They result from a combination of our evolutionary background and specific structural features in how our brains are wired.
Instead, we should adapt to the long haul of battling COVID-19 and, with that, dealing with anxiety and depression now and not later. Just think of how your productivity, peace of mind, as well as personal and professional relationships will receive a boost when you choose to tackle the problem head-on.
Anxious and Stressed? Address These Needs Now
Most probably, a lot of the things that are making you anxious or stressed have to do with the uncertainty of the times. You probably feel like you have no control over your life, and this perceived helplessness might lead you to blow even the smallest of issues out of proportion.
There are things within your control, however. And securing these will likely provide a sense of comfort and even purpose—something that everyone sorely needs during these nerve-wracking times.
You’ve probably heard of Abraham Maslow’s theory of human motivation and the pyramid of needs based on his work. Maslow proposed that certain fundamental needs have to be met so that people can stay motivated.
Psychologist Scott Barry Kaufman updated Maslow’s theory with more recent research, and his revised model shows that humans need the following to feel secure and motivated:
Let’s talk about physical safety. Make sure that you and your loved ones can stay in a safe place for months at a time in case of a major COVID outbreak in your area. You should be able to shelter in place considering the waves of infections and restrictions that we are facing as we wait for a vaccine.
While unlikely, it pays to prepare for a realistic pessimistic scenario. That means having 2 months of basic food and cleaning supplies, along with any necessary medications. To prevent supply disruptions, consider buying such goods in bulk from specialized online vendors rather than emptying the shelves in your local grocery store. It’s both more responsible and cheaper.
Keep in mind as well that many companies (likely including yours as well) and organizations have shifted to a remote work model. You may have to telecommute for a while, even for the long term, depending on the business direction your company takes. This means more time spent indoors, so make sure that it’s a space where you can work without feeling unsafe.
Connection to Others
Your connection with your loved ones and community is extremely important if you want to overcome COVID anxiety. Maintaining it requires you to pay attention to several things.
First, consider your immediate connections with members of your household. When it comes to these connections, it’s better to anticipate and work out issues in advance rather than have them blow up later on. If you have a romantic partner in your household, you’ll have to figure out how to interact healthily given that you’re together 24/7.
The same holds true for other members of your family. If you have children who are home from school or university, you’ll need to figure out how to deal with them being cooped up inside.
You’ll also need to keep in touch with their schools to get updates on online school work. Having these updates will also provide a clearer picture of how your children’s schooling should be handled – one less stressful thing off your list.
A lot more thought should be given into dealing with older adults over 60 or anyone with underlying health conditions in your household (including yourself if you fit either category).
Since they have a higher chance of contracting COVID, you and other members of your household need to take serious measures to prevent them from getting sick. This means being more careful than you usually would pre-pandemic, given that over half of those who get the virus have no or light symptoms.
Second, consider your loved ones who aren’t part of your household. You and your romantic partner might not be staying in the same house. Depending on how vulnerable to COVID you and other members of your household might be, you might choose to have a socially distant type of relationship or you might choose to take the risk of physical intimacy. No matter what you choose, you have to make this decision consciously rather than casually.
The same principle applies to your friends. Since social distancing recommendations and preferences would mean that you can’t (or might opt not to) have a beer with them or meet for lunch in person, you’ll need to figure out other ways to stay connected. This means interacting and spending time with them virtually for the next few months, maybe years.
The same goes for your community activities: faith-based groups, clubs, nonprofit activism, and so on. You’ll need to have a go-to online routine in case restrictions are tightened again.
Given the current waves of restrictions and lockdowns, it’s best to figure out what social arrangement works for you and your connections now, rather than later. While different US states have different social distancing guidelines, these can change depending on the severity of virus outbreaks.
And remember, keeping your friendships and community connections strong will provide even more comfort and stability to you during this pandemic. This will help you deal with COVID anxiety better.
Last but not least, you need to address and secure your self-esteem, which refers to your self-confidence, self-respect, and sense of mastery over your fate.
Making plans for how you want to live your life during and after this pandemic will help you boost your sense of control and confidence, which is a great way to address stress and anxiety. You’ll also want to think about other areas where you can improve in this time of restrictions and limitations.
For instance, being at home offers the perfect opportunity to pick up or enhance new skills. You can try learning how to cook those dishes you’ve kept bookmarked for the longest time, or pick up some coding skills, or learn to play an instrument. Pair your efforts with joining an online hobbyist group and you’ll build even more meaningful connections, which can only ever be a good thing.
Addressing your fundamental needs is empowering and can help you develop a sense of mastery over your environment. When done intentionally and consistently, it is a great counterpoint to stress and anxiety during this pandemic and beyond.
There is no way to forecast exactly how this pandemic will end and how much more of our lives will be upended along the way. That’s why it’s normal for us to have COVID anxiety and more stress during this pandemic.
However, while the uncertainty this thought brings can cause varying degrees of concern and worry, there are steps you can take to address your fundamental needs so that you can defend yourself from anxiety and stress.
More Tips to Overcome COVID Anxiety
At the start of the year, if you had asked anyone if they could do their work from home, many would have said no. They would have cited the need for team meetings, a place to be able to sit down and get on with their work, the camaraderie of the office, and being able to meet customers and clients face to face.
Almost ten months later, most of us have learned that we can do our work from home and in many ways, we have discovered working from home is a lot better than doing our work in a busy, bustling office environment where we are inundated with distractions and noise.
One of the things the 2020 pandemic has reminded us is we humans are incredibly adaptable. It is one of the strengths of our kind. Yet we have been unknowingly practicing this for years. When we move house we go through enormous upheaval.
When we change jobs, we not only change our work environment but we also change the surrounding people. Humans are adaptable and this adaptability gives us strength.
So, what are the pros and cons of working from home? Below I will share some things I have discovered since I made the change to being predominantly a person who works from home.
Pro #1: A More Relaxed Start to the Day
This one I love. When I had to be at a place of work in the past, I would always set my alarm to give me just enough time to make coffee, take a shower, and change. Mornings always felt like a rush.
Now, I can wake up a little later, make coffee and instead of rushing to get out of the door at a specific time, I can spend ten minutes writing in my journal, reviewing my plan for the day, and start the day in a more relaxed frame of mind.
When you start the day in a relaxed state, you begin more positively. You find you have more clarity and more focus and you are not wasting energy worrying about whether you will be late.
Pro #2: More Quiet, Focused Time = Increased Productivity
One of the biggest difficulties of working in an office is the noise and distractions. If a colleague or boss can see you sat at your desk, you are more approachable. It is easier for them to ask you questions or engage you in meaningless conversations.
Working from home allows you to shut the door and get on with an hour or two of quiet focused work. If you close down your Slack and Email, you avoid the risk of being disturbed and it is amazing how much work you can get done.
An experiment conducted in 2012 found that working from home increased a person’s productivity by 13%, and more recent studies also find significant increases in productivity.
When our productivity increases, the amount of time we need to perform our work decreases, and this means we can spend more time on activities that can bring us closer to our family and friends as well as improve our mental health.
Pro #3: More Control Over Your Day
Without bosses and colleagues watching over us all day, we have a lot more control over what we do. While some work will inevitably be more urgent than others, we still get a lot more choice about what we work on.
We also get more control over where we work. I remember when working in an office, we were given a fixed workstation. Some of these workstations were pleasant with a lot of natural sunlight, but other areas were less pleasant. It was often the luck of the draw whether we find ourselves in a good place to work or not.
By working from home we can choose what work to work on and whether we want to face a window or not. We can get up and move to another place, and we can move from room to room. And if you have a garden, on nice days you could spend a few hours working outside.
Pro #4: You Get to Choose Your Office Environment
While many companies will provide you with a laptop or other equipment to do your work, others will give you an allowance to purchase your equipment. But with furniture such as your chair and desk, you have a lot of freedom.
I have seen a lot of amazing home working spaces with wonderful sets up—better chairs, laptop stands that make working from a laptop much more ergonomic and therefore, better for your neck.
You can also choose your wall art and the little nick-nacks on your desk or table. With all this freedom, you can create a very personal and excellent working environment that is a pleasure to work in. When you are happy doing your work, you will inevitably do better work.
Con #1: We Move a Lot Less
When we commute to a place of work, there is movement involved. Many people commute using public transport, which means walking to the bus stop or train station. Then, there is the movement at lunchtime when we go out to buy our lunch. Working in a place of work requires us to move more.
Unfortunately, working from home naturally causes us to move less and this means we are not burning as many calories as we need to.
Moving is essential to our health and if you are working from home you need to become much more aware of your movement. To ensure you are moving enough, make sure you take your lunch breaks. Get up from your desk and move. Go outside, if you can, and take a walk. And, of course, refrain from regular trips to the refrigerator.
Con #2: Less Human Interaction
One of the nicest things about bringing a group of people together to work is the camaraderie and relationships that are built over time. Working from home takes us away from that human interaction and for many, this can cause a feeling of loss.
Humans are a social species—we need to be with other people. Without that connection, we start to feel lonely and that can lead to mental health issues.
Zoom and Microsoft Teams meeting cannot replace that interaction. Often, the interactions we get at our workplaces are spontaneous. But with video calls, there is nothing spontaneous—most of these calls are prearranged and that’s not spontaneous.
This lack of spontaneous interaction can also reduce a team’s ability to develop creative solutions—there’s just something about a group of incredibly creative people coming together in a room to thrash out ideas together that lends itself to creativity.
While video calls can be useful, they don’t match the connection between a group of people working on a solution together.
Con #3: The Cost of Buying Home Office Equipment
Not all companies are going to provide you with a nice allowance to buy expensive home office equipment. 100% remote companies such as Doist (the creators of Todoist and Twist) provide a $2,000 allowance to all their staff every two years to buy office equipment. Others are not so generous.
This can prove to be expensive for many people to create their ideal work-from-home workspace. Many people must make do with what they already have, and that could mean unsuitable chairs that damage backs and necks.
For a future that will likely involve more flexible working arrangements, companies will need to support their staff in ways that will add additional costs to an already reduced bottom line.
Con #4: Unique Distractions
Not all people have the benefit of being able to afford childcare for young children, and this means they need to balance working and taking care of their kids.
For many parents, being able to go to a workplace gives them time away from the noise and demands of a young family, so they could get on with their work. Working from home removes this and can make doing video calls almost impossible.
To overcome this, where possible, you need to set some boundaries. I know this is not always possible, but it is something you need to try. You should do whatever you can to make sure you have some boundaries between your work life and home life.
Working from home can be hugely beneficial for many people, but it can also bring serious challenges to others.
We are moving towards a new way of working. Therefore, companies need to look at both the pros and cons of working from home and be prepared to support their staff in making this transition. It will not be impossible, but a lot of thought will need to go into it.