Feeling the Stress and Anxiety of the Covid-19 Pandemic?
Will the Pandemic Have an Impact on My Retirement?
Just a few short weeks ago, I started this Blog to document my transition from working life into retirement. The plan, for a long time now, has been to sell the house, purchase an RV, and leave our current home behind for a life on the road exploring America. When I started, we had only heard about the “Corona Virus” and the outbreak occurring in the interior of China. We never expected it to become this global pandemic that it has now become and as a result, I’m wondering if this will delay our retirement plans.
This global pandemic situation has caused the government at both the national and state levels to implement measures to protect us all and circumvent the transmission and spread of the covid-19 virus. It definitely has been a new experience for us all, with all the state and municipal lockdowns, and stay at home orders. I’m one of those essential personnel though, one who is still able to go to work, but in an environment that has the potential to become a hot zone should Covid-19 appear within the facility. You see, I work in our county jail and we must report for work every day in order to keep the community safe and ensure the safety of our inmate population. It also means we must be ready to cover for those staff members who fall ill and can’t be at work for the protection of everyone.
Over the past few weeks a lot has happened. When the pandemic first started to catch people’s attention it began to show up daily in the nightly news. Our Sheriff, out of caution, immediately understood the dangers associated with our operations and told the federal marshals and US Customs and Immigration that we would no longer be housing new federal inmates or immigration detainees. The US Marshals apparently understood the decision but when the Immigration service got the message they decided to remove all two hundred and seventy five current detainees that we were holding for them. They did it in one massive operation. It was a midnight run and they came with greyhound style buses and removed all of their detainees in one swift action. I was told they took them to Dallas, as in Dallas Texas. I’m not really sure if that’s true, but I heard it from someone I would consider a reliable source. Then our Sheriff and the department’s administration took it a step further by telling probation and parole to work on getting all of their misdemeanor probation holds out of the jail if they could because misdemeanors posed the least threat to the community and it would draw down the number of inmates being housed. This began to happen almost immediately and the numbers in custody declined rapidly. Several other means were also utilized to reduce the inmate population and with numbers dropping, supervision began condensing the jail into fewer work zones. This in turn reduced the normal manpower required to operate the jail and meant everyone would need to adjust to the new smaller environment.
So here’s my dilemma, I’ve been working overtime up to this point in an effort to save as much cash for retirement as possible. Overtime appears to be drying up now and what is still available requires me to work four additional hours after my normal 12 hour shift. I do take these slots as much as I can but it’s a bit taxing on my system, especially when it’s mostly made available at short notice for someone calling in sick. With all of the policy changes and new procedures, as well as covid-19 precautions, like having to wear an N95 mask at all times within the secure facility, has really increased the stress and anxiety in our work environment. Then top it off with the worry I’m experiencing, wondering if the housing market is going to drop off due to these unprecedented times and the number of businesses shut down and people now unemployed. It truly is disconcerting and the root of many people’s anxiety.
Our administration has been doing what they can to muddle through this mess and keep everyone informed and as safe as possible. Last week they provided us with a “Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook” that surprisingly enough had some really good information and advice that all of us could use to alleviate all the stress or anxiety we’re experiencing from all of this quick change. Therefore, I’m going to share the information here on my blog and Facebook. I feel it could help many of you out there by providing some helpful resources to help you cope. I’ve actually been doing several of the things suggested here and it helps. Hope you also find this useful in coping with your stress and anxiety too.
Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook
A Tool to Help You
During Difficult Times
In this unprecedented period of global uncertainty, we felt it was necessary to put together this workbook to provide our community with much needed support.
The first thing to note right now is that it’s completely normal to be experiencing a wide range of emotions. Accepting your feelings is an important first step to building resilience. The simple act of naming your emotions has been found to benefit wellbeing. So, take a moment now to tune into your body and notice how you’re feeling. Circle the emotions that you identify with:
Remember: It’s okay to feel discomfort. Accepting distress is often the quickest way to feel immediately calmer.
The terms stress and anxiety are often used interchangeably. To develop a deeper understanding of mental wellbeing, it’s helpful to understand how they differ.
Kelly McGonigal, an expert in the new science of stress, offers us this definition: “Stress is what arises when something we care about is at stake”. Many of us are now in positions where things that matter to us feel more uncertain, which understandably gives rise to our stress response.
Stress is best understood as manifesting in the body. It’s the racing heart, sweaty palms and funny tummy we’re all familiar with. Central to the experience of stress is the amygdala, the area of your brain responsible for generating your body’s stress response.
Experts agree that a core component of stress is the perception of threat and danger. You’ve probably heard of the ‘fight-or-flight’ stress response as a reaction to perceived danger. In fact, we have various stress responses. For example, there is one response which encourages us to reach out for social support, named the ‘tend and befriend’ response.
Dr. John Arden, author of several books integrating neuroscience and psychotherapy, recently put forward the term autostress for describing what happens when our body’s stress response goes on for a long time.
He explains: “Like autoimmune disorders that hijack the immune system, attacking the body instead of protecting it, autostress [transforms] the stress response system into something that attacks the self rather than protecting it.”
If your body is in autostress mode, you’ll experience a wide range of physical stress symptoms on an ongoing basis, regardless of your situation. That’s why people often reporting feeling anxious for no apparent reason. If you’re suffering from high levels of distress triggered by the pandemic, you might continue to feel this way after the virus has passed.
Signs of autostress include:
Chest tightness and feeling like you can’t breathe
Muscle tension, aches and pains
Restlessness and an inability to relax
Anxiety is commonly described as having both mental and physical symptoms. The distinction between mental and physical anxiety is important because different tools are required for addressing physical symptoms (what we label autostress) and mental symptoms (what we label anxiety).
Anxiety is best described as the unhelpful thinking patterns we experience when our mind fixates on threat, uncertainty and negativity.
Anxiety can occur on its own, as a response to stress, or it can trigger stress. When it occurs as a response to stress, it can intensify the stress, and, in worst cases, lead to panic attacks.
It’s important to understand that you cannot control anxiety from occurring - this is your brain’s automatic survival mechanism. What matters is learning how to respond to anxiety helpfully, so that you don’t get carried away by it.
Here are five examples of what to look out for:
When your mind searches the environment for what you fear (Consciously or subconsciously). Threat scanning is often associated with your mind assigning meaning to harmless events.
Frequently checking your body for coronavirus symptoms.
Obsessively checking the news for coronavirus updates.
When your mind jumps to worst case scenarios, i.e., ‘making a mountain out of a molehill’.
You feel chest tightness and your mind tells you that you have coronavirus and that your life is in danger.
Your mind gives you the mental image of losing all the people you love.
It’s important to note that worry is completely normal. It only becomes unhelpful when you focus excessively on hypothetical worries instead of practical worries.
Hypothetical worries include ‘what if’ thoughts and are typically about things you don’t have much control over.
Practical worries concern things you do have control over, and they can help you be more proactive.
If you’re very uncomfortable with uncertainty, you’re likely prone to hypothetical worry and spend a lot of time focused on the future instead of the present.
“I know I’m following all the guidelines, but what if I spread the virus?”
“What if someone gets too close to me at the supermarket and I catch it?”
When your mind tells you that your emotions reflect reality. While emotions can act as helpful messengers, they often aren’t reliable.
“I feel scared, so I must be in danger.”
“I feel guilty, so I must’ve done something wrong.”
When your mind interprets predictions as facts.
“I’m going to be stuck inside for months on end.”
“My mental health will keep deteriorating and I’ll have to go back on meds.”
PAUSE - Now take a few moments and consider your unhelpful thinking patterns.
Learning how to recognize and reduce anxiety is an extremely helpful life skill.
In Part One of this workbook, we’ll introduce you to several tools for dealing with anxiety.
Tools to Help You Manage Anxiety
Planning Your Information Diet
The media is fully aware that our brains are built to fixate on threat, uncertainty and negativity and they capitalize on it. Most news sources are negatively biased, sensationalist and speculative in order to win your attention. Anxiety is easily fueled by consuming this kind of information. To reduce anxiety, it’s important to be aware of and take control over your information diet.
My Current Information Diet
Which information sources are you feeding your mind and how often?
Key Coronavirus Facts
If you’re prone to catastrophizing, you may find it helpful to redirect your attention to the facts:
The vast majority of people only experience relatively mild symptoms.
Coronavirus is fatal in about two to three percent of cases.
Health advice for the public is as follows:
Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds:
After coughing or sneezing
Before, during and after you prepare food
After toilet use
When you get in from the outdoors
When hands are visibly dirty
When caring for the elderly or sick
After handling animals or animal waste
Use alcohol-based hand sanitizers as a substitute for washing your hands, but do so sparingly.
Maintain a distance of at least 2 meters (6ft) between yourself and anyone who is coughing or sneezing.
Cover your coughs and sneezes and throw your tissue into a closed bin immediately after use.
Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth.
Frequently disinfect surfaces, like your desk, phone, tablet, smartphone, and countertops.
Trusted News Sources
We recommend finding and sticking to a credible source you can trust, such as:
Uplifting News Sources • Coronavirus chronicles: Here’s some good news amid the dire reports • Coronavirus: Creativity, kindness and canals offer hope amid outbreak • Positive News Amongst Coronavirus Outbreak • Italian 101-year-old leaves hospital after recovering from coronavirus • 98-year-old COVID-19 patient discharged from hospital • 32 Positive News Stories You May Have Missed During The Coronavirus Outbreak • Uplifting stories from New York Times • Positive News Magazine • Uplifting news stories from BBC News • German firm Bosch to cut coronavirus test time ‘to 2½ hours’ • Chinese Company Donates Tens of Thousands of Masks to Coronavirus-Stricken Italy, Says ‘We Are Waves of the Same Sea’ • China’s richest man to donate 500,000 coronavirus testing kits, 1 million masks to U.S.
Planning My Information Diet
To reduce anxiety, we recommend checking your trusted news source once per day. We also recommend balancing out your information diet with uplifting news sources (as listed above).
Which news sources will you use and when will you read them? How else can you limit your exposure to anxiety-provoking news (e.g., by doing one digital detox day per week and limiting time on social media)?
My Spheres of Influence Worksheet
If you’re prone to hypothetical worry (i.e., the ‘what if?’ thoughts), you may find it helpful to practice noticing these thoughts and then redirecting your attention to things within your control.
Research shows that when we shift our focus to what we can control, we see meaningful and lasting differences in our wellbeing, health, and performance. So, write down what you have control over inside the circle below. Then, note the things you cannot control outside of the circle, using the table below as inspiration.
Remember: You cannot stop hypothetical worries from occurring, but you can control your response to them.
Within My Control
Following the latest information and advice
Focusing on what’s important to me
My information diet
Seeking and offering support
Voting and activism
Outside My Control
Other people’s decisions
Other people’s health
The government’s actions
Schools opening or closing
The state of the healthcare system
Flights and holidays being cancelled
Practical Wisdom for Tolerating Uncertainty
People who experience anxiety have been shown to have a low tolerance for uncertainty. It’s worth reminding ourselves that uncertainty is an inescapable part of life, and the sooner we become more comfortable with it, the sooner we can reduce mental suffering.
Stoic and Buddhist philosophy both emphasizes embracing uncertainty and change as the essence of life. Many people find reading about these topics helpful, stating that practical wisdom helped them shift their mindset and reduce anxiety.
Practical Wisdom Resources Videos • The philosophy of Stoicism by TED-Ed • Why Stoicism Matters by The School of Life • Buddhist Wisdom For Inner Peace by Einzelgänger Books and Audiobooks • Happy by Derren Brown - Listen to this for free on Audible using their 30 day free trial • Philosophy for Life by Jules Evans • Meditations by Marcus Aurelius • Letters from a Stoic by Seneca • Buddhism Plain and Simple by Steve Hagen
“The greatest obstacle to living is expectancy, which hangs upon tomorrow and loses today. The whole future lies in uncertainty: live immediately.” – Seneca
“Ask yourself: Does this appearance (of events) concern the things that are within my own control or those that are not? If it concerns anything outside your control, train yourself not to worry about it.” – Epictetus
“You have power over your mind, not outside events. Realize this and you will find strength.” – Marcus Aurelius
“When I see an anxious person, I ask myself, what do they want? For if a person wasn’t wanting something outside of their control, why would they be stricken by anxiety?” – Epictetus
“The universe is change; our life is what our thoughts make it.” – Marcus Aurelius
“It’s not what happens to you, but how you react to it that matters. When something happens, the only thing in your power is your attitude toward it; you can either accept it or resent it.” – Epictetus
“Men are disturbed not by things, but by the view which they take of them.” – Epictetus
“Don’t demand or expect that events happen as you would wish them do. Accept events as they actually happen. That way, peace is possible.” – Epictetus
“Don’t let your reflection on the whole sweep of life crush you. Don’t fill your mind with all the bad things that might still happen. Stay focused on the present situation and ask yourself why it’s so unbearable and can’t be survived.” - Marcus Aurelius
“Freedom and happiness are won by disregarding things that lie beyond our control.” – Epictetus
Top Tip Why not research and create a scrapbook of your favourite practical wisdom quotes? When you notice your mind spiralling, try reviewing your scrapbook to reduce your anxiety.
Reducing Anxiety with Thought Challenging
Thought challenging is a simple yet powerful cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique for reducing anxiety.
As mentioned, anxiety is best described as the unhelpful thinking patterns you experience when your mind fixates on threat, uncertainty and negativity. Thought challenging helps by broadening your focus to include the bigger picture.
Below are two thought challenging techniques you can experiment with. Keep practicing and discover what works best for you.
The ABCDE Technique
Attention – When you feel distressed, stop what you’re doing and pay attention to your inner dialogue. What is your mind telling you?
Believe? – Do not automatically believe your thoughts!
Challenge – Defuse anxiety by broadening your focus. What’s the bigger picture? Is the thought fact or opinion? What might you think if you were feeling calmer?
Discount – Acknowledge that anxiety has been is dominating your thinking and let the unhelpful thoughts go.
Explore options – What would be helpful to focus on right now? What options do I have available?
The THINK Technique
True? – Is this thought 100% true? If not, what are the facts, and what is opinion?
Helpful? – Is paying attention to the thought useful to me or others?
Inspiring? – Does the thought inspire me or does it have the opposite effect?
Necessary? – Is it important for me to focus on the thought? Is it necessary to act on it?
Kind? – Is the thought kind? If not, what would be a kinder thought?
Thought Challenging Tips
Writing or typing your thought challenging process is more powerful than trying to do it in your head. We recommend trying out the free CBT Thought Diary app (Google Play, iTunes).
If you’re not used to paying this much attention to your inner dialogue, thought challenging might feel unnatural at first. That’s okay. Over time, it’ll start to feel easier.
This isn’t the most appropriate tool if you’re feeling very distressed, as it can be hard to think rationally when your emotional brain has taken over. Try defusing your emotions with a distraction activity (see the following page) and returning to thought challenging once you’re feeling calmer.
Reducing Anxiety through Distraction Activities
If your mind continues to spiral with unhelpful thoughts, distraction can be an effective tool for nipping it in the bud. It’s important to note that a distraction activity must be very attention absorbing to effectively reduce anxiety. When an activity isn’t working well, spend some time reflecting on why this could be and how you could make it more attention grabbing in future.
Distraction activities have the added benefit of helping you feel happier, more motivated and more energized, as well as combating feelings of boredom.
Low activity and social disconnection are the two most fundamental maintaining factors of low mood, motivation and energy.
To feel better through building up your drive system (see page 8 of our Understanding Your Mental Wellbeing Guide), you need to increase your activity levels and ensure you’re meeting your social connection needs (which we’ll address later).
Here’s a checklist of 74 ideas for healthy distraction activities. Tick the ones you like the sound of to add to your distraction activities list alongside your own ideas:
Browse mindfulness and meditation resources to try - find lots in our online guide!
Work on personal development through journaling - here’s a list of prompts
Browse new healthy recipes
Plan your meals
Work your way through this list of films that have helped people with their mental health
Do the 7 Day Happiness Challenge from Action for Happiness
Watch free online documentaries
Play on a trivia or games app
Learn some basic yoga poses - we recommend Yoga with Adrienne on YouTube
Learn calligraphy or hand-lettering
Learn how to play a musical instrument
Talk to a volunteer listener (see pages 20-26 of The Social Connection Planner)
Read a biography about someone who inspires you
Do some mindful coloring - check out our free mindful coloring sheets
Rediscover old music you liked when you were a teenager
Watch a live stream theatre show from The National Theatre
Make a list of things to save up for
Have a relaxing DIY foot soak
Do a free online nutrition course
Download Bumble BFF and chat to new people in your area
Reorganize or redecorate your living space
Do a jigsaw puzzle
Make a list of goals for the year
Find a new podcast to listen to
Update your CV
Make a list of books you want to read this year
Search Pinterest for craft or DIY project ideas
Do a free online drawing class
Search Facebook for local groups with volunteering opportunities
Arrange to catch up with someone over video chat
Explore new music
Do a workout video
Brainstorm ways to save more money
Learn furniture building or upcycling
Make a life experiences bucket list
Get a 30 day free trial of Audible and listen to an audiobook
Do a free online coding course
Build your Mental Wellbeing Toolkit
Use Jackbox Games to play games with friends
Join an online book club
Start learning a new language
Do the 4-week Best Possible Self Exercise, an evidence-based intervention for improving wellbeing
Plan some thoughtful birthday or Christmas gifts
Start a side project to earn extra money
Write a poem or short story
Make a cookbook of your favorite recipes
Make a list of things you’re looking forward to when the pandemic is over
Become a volunteer listener (or chat to one) on 7Cups.com
Watch a live stream gig from Sofar Sounds
Watch TED Talks
Use the Netflix Party extension to watch Netflix with your friends online
Do a home improvement project
Do some gardening
Make a list of topics you’re curious about and research them online
Do a spring clean
Search Pinterest for family bonding ideas
Search Pinterest for indoor kid’s activities
Learn knitting, cross-stitch or embroidery
Find a new board game to play
Do exercise song videos with your kids
Take part in a virtual pub quiz
Start a dream journal
Watch a live opera stream from The Metropolitan Opera
Do some Baking
Feel more connected by finding a pen pal
Learn how to invest in this free online course
Explore ideas for camping in your backyard
Browse our free tools library!
MOTIVATION FOLLOWS ACTION. “What assistance can we find in the fight against habit? Try the opposite!” - Epictetus
If you’ve been inactive and feeling low for a while, you’ll likely be experiencing low motivation and energy levels.
You can build up your motivation and energy by increasing your activity. Don’t think – just do.
Motivation will follow!
Check out this video on the opposite action technique for more guidance.
Okay this should give you plenty to keep your mind busy during this stay home pandemic time. This information has been provided from the Coronavirus Anxiety Workbook an uncopyrighted document published by the wellness society. you can find them at www.thewellnesssociety.org .
Take Care and Be Well!