As lockdowns begin to ease in many states, some of us can’t wait to get our hair cut or see friends (at a social distance). However, some of us still feel anxiety over COVID-19 and the dreaded second wave and potential lockdown that experts have predicted. We can look forward to the vaccine for relief—but when will it come? Do we have to feel anxious and depressed until it arrives? In looking to brain and mental health expert Chris Wyllie, we can find ways to alleviate stress now.
Turning Off the News Doesn’t Always Help
In season 4, episode 51 of the Making Bank podcast, Chris Wyllie and show host Josh Felber discuss the collective anxiety we may experience in this time. Our anxiety can deflate our attempts at positivity. Felber mentioned turning off the news to manage stress, a common relief tactic promoted on Twitter, family members, and perhaps ourselves. However, Wyllie says this is ineffective.
How could stepping away from a source of stress not help alleviate that stress? Wyllie believes it may work in the moment, but not for the long term. Tuning out the news and social media isn’t wrong, but it’s more helpful to have additional ways to manage. Ignoring the news doesn’t allow you to learn to cope with your feelings. As he says in the episode, “if you have to hide from everything—turn things off—that’s not really the definition of having personal power.”
Wyllie believes that personal power is the key to coping with anxiety. He puts forth that most anxiety stems from the realization or fear of running out of control. But how can we reduce our anxiety if we can’t control the very thing that is causing it? Wyllie encourages us to recognize what we don’t have control over and what we do. If we focus on the things we can control—ourselves—we gain back our personal autonomy.
Wyllie encourages focusing on active behaviors instead of passive ones. Taking a walk, meditating, journaling, cooking, or art projects are all great ways to actively participate in clearing our minds. Whether it’s Savasana or singing, a deliberate action instead of an avoidant one helps us regain our independence. Through active participation, we can reclaim our feelings as our own and not as products of fear. Once we can reduce our anxiety, we can look towards shifting our thoughts to a more positive frame.
Opportunities Not Obstacles
Another great way to gain a positive mindset during this time is to view obstacles as opportunities for growth. We’ve all hit walls in the past couple of months. Perhaps it’s the loss of your job or strain on your relationship due to lockdown. In this unusual time, it may feel like there are certain decisions we can’t make or goals we can’t reach. However, Wyllie encourages us to shift our perspective on hurdles. How we used to jump over that hurdle has changed, but not our ability to do so.
Sometimes this line of thinking feels unrealistic. It can leave you saying, “Really? Are you serious right now?” But let’s first examine the alternative.
Say, for example, your relationship is suffering under quarantine. Maybe the two of you have spent too much time confined together. Maybe lockdown has brought up old issues—or new ones—and you’re not sure if it will work out. It’s tempting to maintain the same patterns or wait for quarantine to end. As you can’t control when lockdown will lift, you may feel like you can’t solve the issues at hand. You may feel like you’re in limbo.
Wyllie encourages us to think about jumping over the hurdle in a more creative way. Instead of viewing quarantine as a burden on your relationship, maybe it is an opportunity to learn more about each other. Maybe you could establish a routine that allows you to be an individual, but within a relationship. If you are naturally conflict-avoidant, perhaps now is the time to speak through issues you were too afraid to face in normal times.
These times have been emotionally and financially stressful for many people. There will be fights and there will be challenges—and that’s okay. Tackling conflicts is something we have always done in our lives. At one point, all of us thought that walking was difficult, or driving, or our first job. Although we have never encountered a pandemic before, we’ve faced once “new” challenges in the past that we then conquer.
Wyllie believes that if we understand we can change, we will have the power to do so. If we can shift our perspective, we don’t have to add to our own stress. With a more positive view, we can view obstacles as opportunities for growth. We allow our brains to adapt to change, and we will change with it.
Wyllie also mentioned reasons why forgiving yourself can ease stress and bring you into a more positive mindset.
He discusses how we can create our own anxiety by imagining the worst-case scenario for certain events. We scare ourselves and then feel weak for being scared. As he points to, being frightened by the worst possible outcome is natural. It would scare “any human,” not just ourselves, and sometimes we need to cut ourselves some slack.
What Wyllie is really talking about is how we have emotions about our emotions. We may feel sad, then feel angry that we feel sad. By layering emotion on top of emotion, we create more stress and drive ourselves into a more negative mindset. If we can peel away those additional layers, we can relieve ourselves of some pressure. In these times, it’s important to remember that it’s just as natural to feel upset as it is to feel happy. If we can learn to forgive ourselves for our initial negative emotions, we may work through them faster and reach a happier outcome.