Today, across the globe there is a constant overflow of news regarding rising death tolls, massive job layoffs, economic crisis, boarder closures, and orders to lock down and isolate in place. There is an influx of reports on hospitals running short on supplies, tests being inaccessible, and constant new information about the effects of the virus, COVID-19. To top that off, people are personally experiencing job loss, family disputes, and ongoing mental health issues; the world is shaken. This is a recipe for valid anxiety and stress.
After all, we are only a few months into 2020, and it’s already been one of the scariest, most stressful and worst years of our lives, more importantly, in modern history. These early months have fear seeping in from the global pandemic that has spread throughout the world, turning our lives upside down. This is the first time since 1918, when the last deadly outbreak of influenza tore across the globe killing 20-50 million people, that the world is forced to close off its borders to one another, limit travel, and people are being urged to practice social distance and self-isolation.
Aside from the overwhelming feelings of isolation and loneliness that this has caused, the pandemic has created a massive spread of fear and anxiety to combat the unknown. However, feeling anxious is very normal amidst a crisis and it is important to remember that it can be managed. After all, anxiety is a natural response to the unknown.
While we can’t control what is going on in the outside world and how others are reacting to it, we have the power to choose how we respond and function throughout it.
Everyone is in a different position during this global threat, some countries worse than others. To give a little insight, I am onboard the Voyager of the Seas that was cruising out of Sydney, Australia since December 2020. In recent changes, the company has suspended sailings globally, and we have been restricted from porting in Australia to get home. We have been at sea for about a month, and now are quarantined in our individual cabins for the next two weeks. Now we are currently repositioning and looking for any a country to use as a gateway to get the crew home to their families. I share this only to explain, that I along with many others in the world, can relate to feeling trapped and confused about what will happen next.
I have learned, through experience and research, some helpful ways to cope with stress and anxiety. Using these practices below has been the most helpful in staying positive and motivated while bobbing around in the middle of the ocean, and just maybe it can provide ease to some of you as well.
Limit media consumption of COVID-19:
First and foremost, health professionals around the world are recommending to limit the amount of time we spend consuming information about the virus. Yes, stay informed, and understand what is going on. However, do not keep the TV on all the time listening to news about the virus. For most of us that creates a feeling of stress and overload. Do your best to limit your exposure, especially from unreliable sources. Remember that news sells; it is meant to hook you. You are going to hear about the few people that died verses all of the others that survived throughout the world.
Do yourself a favor and set limits to the amount of information you are receiving per day. Panic tends to arise when people overestimate a threat, and feel weak in their capability to cope with it. Think of it this way, constantly watching reports and ongoing coverage on a topic that you’re worried about is like adding fuel to a fire that is already burning.
Set a purpose for each day and try to maintain a routine:
Every night before I go to bed a write a few things that I want to accomplish the following day. If I don’t get to it, it stays on the board. There are three things that stay on my list every day, I call this my base. These are must-dos that I found keep me grounded and positive, even if the rest of my day is a wash. From this base, I add new projects and activities that I want to accomplish for that day specifically. Not only does this give me a direction, but it also makes me feel like I still have a purpose and I am not wasting my days away out here in the middle of the ocean. Try to think what three things you can do every day that keep you positive and moving during this time. Here is my base:
- Journal or write
- Call someone back home
I set my list the night before because I have found if I don’t, I won’t be motivated or have a proper direction to start my day when I wake up.
Additionally, health professionals suggest in order to help wipe anxiety during unknown times, it is best to try to maintain some semblance of structure from the pre-quarantine days. Wake up and go to bed at the same time, eat your meals, brush your teeth in the morning and at night, shower, try to adapt to an exercise regimen, and get out of your pajamas in the morning. This will keep you active and less likely to spiral, and it will also be easier to readjust to the outside world when it is time to go back to normal.
Focus on positive, calming thoughts:
One of the easiest ways to become more anxious is to hone in on what is going wrong, and forget all that is good. Try to focus your mentality on what you are grateful for, not all the things you wish to go away. Reframe the “I am trapped inside” thoughts to “I can finally focus on my family and myself”. Similarly, to avoid the rapid heart and anxious mind from spiraling, work on feeding yourself calming messages throughout the day. Remind yourself what you are in control of, to take it one day at a time, and that you are not alone.
One way I maintain positive and grateful is by writing in my gratitude journal, listing three things each day that I am thankful for. Especially in this time, you find yourself going back to the essentials of what you need to be happy.
Start a new quarantine ritual:
This one is a little more fun. Start a new quarantine ritual, perhaps journaling in the morning, face-timing your mom every day, going on a walk, or a new self-care night routine. This is a perfect opportunity to start a new positive habit that you’ve always wanted to do, but maybe never had time to follow through with. Perhaps you have something that you used to do that makes you happy and you haven’t had the time to pick it back up.
For me, this is writing. With life moving so rapidly all the time, I have let my writing, whether that be creating new blog content or even writing in my daily journals, slip through the wayside. I am using this time to make sure that I do some form of it every day. Additionally, I have begun to take more time for self-care, which typically ends up at the bottom of my everyday priorities. First thing I do when I wake up is give my face a little love – wash, lotions, serums, all that good stuff; that doesn’t take a while, but I hasn’t been a priority. Whatever it may be for you, now is the time to create a positive ritual that will become a habit when life goes back to normal.
Do your part by practicing social distancing:
You’ve heard this many times over, but I truly believe this is imperative on keeping your worries and anxiety controlled. Do what you can to protect yourself and your loved ones by practicing the standards put forth by the local health authorities and by participating in social distancing. Yes, this is inconvenient for everyone, but it is important to remember that health restrictions are not comfortable, and they also aren’t personal. Stay home, stay healthy, and don’t contribute to feeding the epidemic.
As I mentioned earlier, I am currently confined to a single cabin on the cruise ship for my quarantine period. One of the most important ways I have found to keep structure and purpose in each day is to stay organized. This is especially important in such a small space, with only one room. A chaotic mess inside is more likely to create a feeling of claustrophobia. I have set up mental zones for my activities to help me organize the day. This cabin is my kitchen, bedroom, gym, and office, all in one. If I don’t separate these spaces and keep the room clean, it is very easy to feel lazy, lethargic, and overwhelmed. For further example, try not to eat and work in bed. Just as before, eat at the kitchen table and work at your desk. Make your bed in the morning, to make it less inviting to climb back in and stay all day. By loosening these boundaries, it can make your day feel very long, unproductive, and pointless.
While practicing social distancing and self-isolation, it is very easy to feel disconnected and lonely. I completely understand, for 14 days, the most social interaction I have is with the person who drops of my food for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Because of this, it is especially important for me to stay connected to others on the ship and back at home; hence why this is one of my base activities for each day. Use this time to reach out to loved ones and reconnect with old friends from far away, and be intentional and appreciative of those that are isolating by your side. Social isolation can fuel anxiety and depression. Just because you are physically distant form other people, doesn’t mean you can’t stay socially connected with them – fortunately today it is easier than ever.
Now that I have shared with you some of the more detailed ways to cope with anxiety during an unknown time, I’d like to go a little further. I’ve asked people onboard and through my social media to share the simple ways that they are personally dealing with the anxiety and fears of the coronavirus pandemic.
All responses are anonymous and contributed by people from all around the world. I have also starred the ways that I, like others, am coping right now in the environment I am in.
How are you coping with anxiety and fear during these uncertain times?
1. Face-timing friends and family*
3. Working out*
4. Shutting down negative thoughts and controlling where my mind goes*
5. Zoom online classes
6. Picking up new hobbies
7. Getting creative*
8. Listening to music*
11. Anxiety meds
14. Learning a new instrument
15. Reading a book*
16. Trying to hold a handstand for 10 seconds
18. Homeschooling my kids
19. Watching cat videos
20. Walks on the beach
21. Breathing deeply*
23. Taking it one day at a time – not thinking too far ahead*
24. Riding my horse
25. Therapy (virtually) – it helps talking to someone
26. Watching and doing stupid TikTok videos
27. Walks through my neighborhood
28. Virtual happy tours with my friends
29. Think of things that I am grateful for*
31. Name three things that are around me
32. Comforting myself by touching my hands or legs
33. Tapping my shoulder in a rhythm to calm down*
34. Try to enjoy the free time while I have it*
38. Making a list each day to be productive*
40. Repeating: one day at a time*
41. Learning a new language*
42. Self‐care: face masks, hair masks, baths, etc.*
43. Going outside (my balcony from the cabin)*
44. Using this opportunity to get shit done*
45. Calling my mom*
46. Reminding myself I am not in control*
47. Watching puppy videos*
48. Crying when it needs to come out*
49. Reaching out to old friends or people I haven’t had the time to reconnect with, but wanted to.*
50. Dancing in my room*
51. Virtual wine nights
52. Watching rom‐coms*
53. Singing in the shower*
55. Prayer and worship
56. Setting the scene every morning: Making my bed, tidy my room, light a candle/incense.*
57. Art therapy
58. Cooking – learning new recipes
59. Making feel good playlists to listen to when I go on walks
60. Listening to podcasts*
61. Self‐indulgence, in moderation.*
62. Talking about anything other than COVID‐19.*
63. Disconnecting from social media during my meals*
64. YouTube tutorials
65. Diffusing oils
66. Cleaning out my closet – Decluttering my house
67. Cuddling my animals
68. Playing card/board games
69. Learning new songs on my guitar
70. Mini home DIY projects
71. Taking Vitamin C every morning
74. Going on tinder – talking to strangers
75. Making sure I change out of my pajamas every day.*