Mindset Matters: Shift Your Thinking to Reduce Pandemic Anxiety

Submitted by Traci Richards, Ph.D. on April 20, 2020

View Blogs by Topic

Subscribe Here!

Coping during this uneasy time.

COVID-19 likely has you feeling a bit anxious. Shifting your approach can help you think positively and cope during this uneasy time in history.  

GettyImages-1129696669

When our body is full of feelings of anxiety and fear we reduce our ability to be rational and are often overwhelmed with unhelpful and counterproductive mind activity such as worry, “what-if” thoughts and “catastrophizing.” It’s important to notice when the mind is producing these thoughts and recognize that they enable our anxious feelings. 

It will help to shift your perspective:

1. The Greater Good.

It can be tempting to view ourselves as victims who have to hide indoors, a mindset that reinforces feelings of fear. It is more helpful to remember that we are acting in solidarity; because staying home is socially responsible and it's our civic duty.

2. Differentiate what's within our control and what's outside of it.

We cannot control the actions of others. For example, if they follow the rules, if they buy up all the toilet paper or if they act in kindness or not. Take time to identify the many ways we do have control. For example, we can control our attitude about the situation, our perspective, how much of the news we listen to, when we listen to it and what news sites we check. We can also choose our actions, including how we spend our time, how we interact with our loved ones, and what preventative measures we take, like social distancing and washing our hands.  

3. Set appropriate expectations.

Just as I recommend for individuals to be patient with themselves, we should also extend that compassion to others who may be quarantined with us. They may also be experiencing anxiety, loneliness, boredom and fear. We've all been thrown off our routines, so it is expected that we are a little off-balance and that our lives are a bit messier and chaotic.  

4. See opportunity.

This is a chance to be alone or with your immediate family. Life can take on a slow pace where quiet and stillness are an option, or massive amounts of quality time with family. For essential employees, no matter your job, this is an opportunity to impact many lives in a positive way.

5. Practice gratitude.

It can be easy to lose sight of what we have rather than focusing on what we’re missing. With intention, reflect and create a list of the things, people and situations that are still available and that make you happy, such as music, family, books, pets, singing or laughter. Your lengthy list may surprise you.

6. Keep hope.

The pandemic, like all pandemic's before it, will pass. Our scientists are working to find a vaccination and to help us know more about the virus. Our medical community is bravely treating the sick. We are each playing an important role, even if it’s just by social distancing.

This is a historic event that we will talk about for years to come. It could be helpful to ask yourself: what story do I want told of me when it’s over? What part or parts of my character do I want to shine through? We all are heartbroken when a crisis strikes, but we love a good heart-warming story about people who acted with benevolence and altruism. Seize the opportunity to turn this into a positive experience, even if you’re simply staying home and washing your hands for the greater good.

Traci Richards, Ph. D. is a Licensed Professional Counselor in the state of Virginia. She is responsible for the Behavioral Health programs at Chesapeake Regional Medical Center and also serves as an adjunct professor for Old Dominion University’s graduate counseling program. Dr. Richards has worked in various mental health settings, including private practice, and has extensive experience working with a broad range of mental health issues across the lifespan.