Don’t gather in groups larger than 50 people. Don’t touch your face. Wash your hands for 20 seconds. Sanitize. Don’t gather in groups larger than 10 people. Stay home. Do you have flu-like symptoms? You might have the coronavirus (also know as COVID-19). You’re asymptomatic? You still might have the coronavirus. Do you have groceries? Do you have enough toilet paper? Have you heard the latest update? How anxious should everyone be about the dangers of the coronavirus?
Are you feeling anxiety about Coronavirus? Are you overwhelmed yet?
Amid the growing concerns related to the coronavirus disease of 2019 (or COVID-19, as it’s been named), new articles surface every day discussing the impact that this new virus has had so far on countries around the world. Most people are feeling the impact of the virus on their day-to-day life even without perusing the latest news cycle—new mandates require people to work from home, schools are cancelled, and there’s a sudden short of toilet paper, of all things. We’re all working overtime to take precautions in order to stay physically healthy. But what about our mental health?
Here are a few tips for managing the seemingly inevitable stress and anxiety related to COVID-19:
Do what you can, then give yourself permission to focus on other things.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website has an excellent guide on COVID-19 including symptoms, what to do if you’re sick, and precautions to take in order to slow the spread of the virus. As of now, the latest recommendations are to wash your hands often (for at least 20 seconds at a time), distance yourself from others (especially social groups of larger than 10 people), clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home, and to practice good hygiene (cover coughs and sneezes, stay home if you’re sick, and wear a facemask if you are sick and have to see a doctor or otherwise go out in public.)
And that’s it. That’s all you need to do. Once you know what to do, you can take comfort in knowing that you’re taking the necessary precautions to avoid spreading the virus or becoming contaminated yourself. Anything else is out of your hands.
Practice boundaries with the coronavirus.
Can you remember what we all talked about before the coronavirus dominated everything we saw, read, or listened to on TV or the internet? This is big news, so it isn’t surprising that it’s everywhere you look. But there is a point where more information isn’t helpful; instead, constant flooding of your newsfeed with the latest celebrity or athlete who has tested positive just becomes scary and overwhelming without actually bringing anything good into our lives.
Here’s what boundaries with the COVID-19 looks like:
“I’m feeling overwhelmed by all this talk of the virus.”
“If you aren’t feeling well, I’d prefer you stayed home.”
“I appreciate you trying to help talk to me about this, but I need to deal with my feelings about the virus myself.”
“Honestly, I’m a little coronavirus’d out. Can we talk about something else?”
Boundaries are about creating change in your environment in order to allow you to manage your own feelings in the way that you need to. It may be difficult to limit the degree to which the coronavirus takes up space in your mind, but there comes a time where unplugging from the never-ending updates may free up some space for you to do other things that will further help restore some balance to your life.
Hold on to your routines—and your social support!
What did you do before the coronavirus required you to stay home? Who did you spend time with? It’s easy to begin to feel stuck when you feel as though you’re unable to continue with your regular life, especially when there isn’t a definitive timeline for when life will return to “normal.” Take a moment to ask yourself—what if this was my new normal? Do I have to give those things up completely? Or can I recapture some of my hobbies or friendships through other means?
Cinema enthusiast? Movie rentals are more accessible than ever. Try having a movie night at home with stovetop popcorn and store-bought candy. Is your yoga studio closed? There are tons of free yoga videos available on YouTube that you can do in the comfort of your own home.
Beyond removing you from your hobbies, social distancing can feel isolating. If you’re accustomed to getting together with your friends for a drink on the weekends, try to keep that routine alive. Services like FaceTime, Google Hangouts, and Zoom allow for multiple people to video chat with each other at once, so you can keep your weekly hangouts without risking contagion.
Now is also a great time to get connected with online communities who may be interested in the same things as you, or to try a new hobby like board games or Get back into reading or try cooking a new recipe. There are plenty of options; the important thing is to carve out some space to enjoy thinking or experiencing something that isn’t panic over the pandemic.
For those who make use of therapy to help manage their stress or anxiety, or those who have been considering it, the CDC’s recommendations to stay home pose a particular problem. Fortunately, many therapists are beginning to offer therapy services over an online, video chat platform. The therapists at Bergen Counseling Center are now offering telehealth services for current and new clients to help provide support during this pandemic which may also be covered by your insurance plan. Contact us for a free 15 minute consultation to see if teletherapy services would be a good fit for you.
If you experience social anxiety, you’re likely already familiar with its symptoms—the absolute dread of interacting with others, the fear of being judged or humiliating yourself somehow in the process, and, worst of all, the aftermath of overthinking your every word and gesture after the interaction until your stomach aches with the certainty that only something bad can happen next.
Experiencing this kind of anxiety can turn doing anything outside of the comfort zone of your home into a stressful ordeal. Normally, it might be easier to just stay in and avoid people entirely, but that’s not always an option. Almost every job involves some degree of social interaction and interpersonal communication, whether in person or online.
When you have to go into work, where collaboration and communication are required for the role, you have to find a better way to manage the symptoms of social anxiety. That’s why we’ve outlined 12 coping strategies below that will help you minimize the impact social anxiety makes during the daily grind of your 9-to-5.
12 Ways to Manage Social Anxiety in the Workplace
Refocus your Attention
When you’re worrying about an upcoming deadline, a hard-to-write email to a difficult coworker, your contributions in a meeting earlier that day, or another work-related stressor, social anxiety makes it easy to lose yourself in negative and self-critical thoughts. Social situations produce an exaggerated awareness of yourself that distorts both the perception you have of your performance in the moment as well as your perception of how others are receiving you, which only fuels more anxiety and self-doubt.
In moments like these, it’s important for you to externalize your focus and shift this magnified attention to something outside of yourself. Take a quick break. Watch cat videos for a couple minutes on YouTube. Depending on the circumstances and the weather, take a short walk to clear your mind by physically leaving the building. This will help silence your internal dialogue and shift your focus to whatever you encounter on your outing. Sometimes, a breath of fresh air, some sunshine, and a change of scenery can go a long way in getting you out of your head and back in the present moment.
Reframe the Situation
Sometimes all you need is a realignment of perspective. Instead of replaying your every conversation or dwelling on how your voice cracked in that meeting earlier today, try to take a step back from how you feel and figure out what’s really happening.
Try writing a quick email to yourself that outlines:
- What’s going on that triggered your social anxiety symptoms
- What you’re feeling now
- What the worst case scenario is or what you fear happening the most in this instance
Many people experience a kind of catharsis or release simply by putting words to their emotions and re-evaluating the situation in text. As you write out your thoughts, you’ll start to feel better and gradually realize how much influence social anxiety had on your emotions at work.
Get Enough Sleep
Sleep is down time for the mind as well as your body. It’s what makes you feel recharged and re-energized, a time for your subconscious to process your experiences and emotions, so by getting enough rest, you can start the day off on the right foot and in the right headspace.
When you don’t get enough sleep, however, you’ll have a harder time focusing throughout the day, experience more symptoms of anxiety, find yourself turning to coffee more and more throughout the day, and more. In fact, according to new research, not only can anxiety lead to difficulty sleeping, not sleeping enough can actually cause anxiety disorders. Set yourself up for success by setting aside 7–9 hours each night for sleep.
To ensure you’re able to get a good night’s rest each night, be sure to follow tips #4 and #5.
Drink Less Caffeine
When you’re at work and social anxiety strikes, you might struggle to find the right (or any) words to say to a coworker or superior, whether it’s in a formal meeting or simply in passing. This feeling of your mind going blank when you needed it most can make another cup of coffee seem all the more appealing, but try to resist. The jolt of caffeine from coffee, tea, energy drinks, and other beverages as well as foods can actually increase the symptoms of anxiety you’re experiencing.
Plus, it can lead to difficulties falling asleep at night, so you don’t sleep well, feel tired the next day, and then have even more caffeine the next day. Avoid the vicious cycle through natural means, like our next tip.
Regardless of the type of workout you do, from pilates and yoga to jogging and lifting, getting your blood pumping on a regular basis can do great things for your mind, body, mood, and social anxiety.
Whether you work out before, during, or after the workday, exercising regularly can help soothe many symptoms of social anxiety by:
- Relieving stress that can trigger anxiety
- Boosting your dopamine levels, which uplifts your mood and causes you to feel happier (and contribute to what’s known as the runner’s high)
- Improving your self-esteem and self-confidence
- Giving you more energy, so you’re able to get more done at work with less caffeine
- Helping you focus on the now and be aware of your feelings and body
- Burning off any pent-up energy and jitters, so you’re able to get a good night’s rest at the end of the day.
Set Realistic and Achievable Goals
With social anxiety, it can be all too easy to agree hastily to an impractical deadline simply to end the conversation or avoid the possibility of upsetting them or appearing unwilling or too slow. But, by agreeing to a deadline you already know you’ll struggle to meet, you inadvertently cause yourself more stress and anxiety in the long run trying to meet the deadline and avoid other potential ramifications.
Instead of agreeing to the first suggested due date, try negotiating the deadline by suggesting a time that better fits your schedule and is far enough away to give you time to complete your other assignments as well. Though you may worry about upsetting them by asking for more time, remember that it’s much better to complete something a few days before the deadline rather than after.
If you know you tend to procrastinate at times, try also setting mini-deadlines for various components of the project at the start to ensure you stay on top of it. This will help you avoid any unnecessary stress and anxiety down the line and will help each part seem easier to achieve in the moment. But what if you’ve already agreed to do too much?
Communicate Your Needs and Ask for Help
If you’re stressed about hitting a deadline or feeling overwhelmed with your current workload, don’t delay asking for help until there’s no chance of meeting the deadline. Missing the due date can give others the impression that you didn’t manage your time properly, so as soon as you think you might be unable to complete something on time, let the necessary parties at work know and schedule a quick regroup to see how you can split some of these tasks with coworkers. Taking this kind of initiative helps to convey to your coworkers that you care about the success of the project and can plan ahead, but more so, you’ll feel better when everything’s figured out.
Remember: Having too much on your plate is not your fault, and there’s no shame in asking for some assistance from your coworkers—after all, you’re all on the same team.
If you have a close work friend who could help, try asking them for a favor and offer to return it when they need. Otherwise, let your supervisor know as soon as you start to worry you won’t be able to finish everything on your To-Do list on time, so they can help take some of the weight off of your shoulders or re-examine those due dates.
Avoid Office Drama
Interpersonal relationships are a very common trigger for many symptoms of social anxiety experienced in the workplace. Whether it’s a micromanaging boss, a wishy-washy client with exacting standards, or a bullying colleague who doesn’t pull their weight, working with others will always present difficulties that can be upsetting and hard to deal with. This can make the watercooler a potentially toxic space in some workplaces, and negativity can be contagious. If your coworkers have taken to gossiping or ranting about another employee, try to change the subject to more neutral ground or remove yourself from the situation.
When you’re feeling so frustrated that you want to pull your hair out and vent to someone who understands the situation, it’s important to take a step back before ranting to a fellow coworker about your issues. Participating in office banter can be a great way to make friends, but you want to avoid becoming the office ranter. Talk to your friends at work about how you feel or to see if they feel the same, but strive to avoid putting someone else down in the process. Not only can this make you seem like a source of negativity in the office to others, it can end up getting back to whoever has upset you, which can produce a cycle of anxiety and unnecessary drama.
Don’t Shut Down
Social anxiety can make it feel easier to live in a bubble of solitude, staying away from all others entirely, but avoiding social situations won’t make them go away. Refusing to answer emails because of the stress they cause will only continue to cause you stress, likely more and more as you delay replying. Hiding from your manager or a certain coworker after an encounter or interaction you believe didn’t go well won’t repair the relationship. Though social anxiety can make avoidance seem like the better choice in the moment, doing so often only makes you dread going to work and look forward to 5 p.m. each day.
Instead of shutting down, step outside of your comfort zone and push yourself to stay in contact with your coworkers. If emails are weighing heavily on your mind, try having the conversation in person. Emails can be tempting for people with social anxiety, but digital communication can often cause more anxiety than simple, in-person conversations. You won’t have to question tones and word choices or wait around for the answer to your questions when you pursue a conversation in person.
And best of all: The more social you are now, the less social anxiety you’ll experience later on.
Set Firm Work/Life Boundaries
Ding Ding—we’ve all been there. It’s 7:30 p.m., and your phone is abuzz with alerts from your office email address. What do you do—other than start to worry about what the email says, if you’re in trouble, and how to respond to it?
Instead of getting absorbed in your inbox outside of work, set clear boundaries between your work and free time. Either remove your work email address from your phone or silent alerts during certain time periods, so you can mentally disconnect from work and focus on the current moment. Give yourself some down time at the end of your day, so you can relax.
Explore Employer Resources and Benefits
Employers want their employees to succeed. You’re as valuable to the company you work for as the company is to you, if not more. Companies want you to have everything you need in order to succeed. For this reason, many employers offer Employee Assistance Programs (EAPs), which connect employees with an array of mental health resources and services, depending on their individual needs.
Seek Professional Help
With the help of a therapist, social anxiety is highly treatable. If you’ve been living with social anxiety and struggling to manage the symptoms, maybe it’s time to consider seeking out a mental health professional for treatment. But the first step is usually the hardest for those with social anxiety to take, which is reaching out. Because of the symptoms, social anxiety can make it difficult to talk to others about how you feel out of fear of being judged. Just know that you are not alone—social anxiety affects over 15 million people in the United States.
And if you’re in Chicago, you’re in luck—all of the therapists at the Bergen Counseling Centers of Chicago have vast experience with patients who have social anxiety. They’re trained in Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), one of the leading approaches to treating social anxiety and stopping the negative internal dialogue that fuels so many of its symptoms. If you’re ready to talk to someone, simply fill out the contact form to the right.