Managing Anxiety During the COVID-19 Pandemic

  • Recognize it is normal to have anticipatory anxiety but set aside a certain amount of time for worrying
  • Practice staying in the present
  • Engage in certain relaxation techniques that can be helpful

Content created with help of Dr. Monica Starkman, Associate Professor Emerita, Department of Psychiatry, University of Michigan

U-M Psychiatry Anxiety Disorders Program (Adult)

Every day, we face enormous amounts of information and news about the ongoing threat of the coronavirus pandemic. The fear of illness or death and the loss of sense of personal safety can invoke feelings of anxiety. While social support through social media or online tools can be a powerful way to decrease anxiety, there are also additional simple but scientifically effective things you can do to better manage stress and anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Acknowledge that it is normal to have anticipatory anxiety but establish time periods during which you allow yourself to worry.

Worrying about the worst that can happen is common but, in addition, allow yourself to also think about scenarios that are more likely, such as having symptoms that are mild and uncomfortable rather than life-threatening.

Give yourself 15 minutes each day to spend on worrying about the virus. Verbalizing or writing down your feelings (see Daily Thought Record Worksheet in 'helpful links' below) can be a way to externalize feelings of anxiety. When that time period is over, you can continue the rest of the day. If those thoughts of worrying reoccur, rather than suppressing them, allow them to do so but remind yourself that there will be time tomorrow to dedicate to this.

Find ways to stay in the present

Remind yourself that you are okay and find ways to connect to the things that you are doing in the present. Pay more attention to how the food that you are eating tastes or the sensation of your fingers as you type on a keyboard or on your phone. Feel how your exhaled air tickles your nose.

Breathing techniques and simple eye exercises can be effective

Breathing techniques can trigger your autonomic nervous system to reset and restore relaxation. Take a deep breath, inhaling deeply through your nose to the count of four, and then exhale to the count of 6. Do this three times.

Another strategy is a simple exercise with your eyes. First, look up while keeping your eyes open. Then keep looking up as you slowly close your eyelids. Inhale deeply and let your eyes relax into their normal position, while keeping your eyelids closed. Exhale. Enjoy this feeling of relaxation for as long as you’d like. You can also try picturing yourself in a setting that you enjoy: on a beach, in a meadow looking up at the sky. Then slowly open your eyes.