During times of elevated stress, it can be incredibly challenging to preserve a sense of normalcy and calm. The good news is that there are strategies and resources available to help you keep your goals on track while making the necessary adjustments to deal with changing circumstances. Even with so much uncertainty and change, it's possible to stay focused on your work and turn obstacles into opportunities.
Here's how you can set yourself up to respond effectively to life's challenges when managing crisis anxiety is your top priority.
"Brain hacking" to bypass the anxiety cycle.
Anxiety is an obstacle to productivity. Effectively dealing with stress, to some extent, means tricking our brains into processing it differently. In the New York Times, psychiatrist Judson A. Brewer wrote that we can "leverage certainty" to train our prefrontal cortices to avoid the negative feelings associated with the unknown. By diverting our thought pathways from fretting about what we don't know to focusing on things we do, we condition ourselves to focus on the good feelings that come with acknowledging what we know to be right and true.
First, monitor your inner dialogue for thoughts and questions about stressors that are unknown or out of your control. For example, you might be wondering if any of your classmates or coworkers have a communicable illness. If you came in contact with an infected person and touched your face, you could be worried about getting sick.
You can't control everyone else's hygiene and safety habits, and it might not always be appropriate to ask the people around us if they're washing their hands. Assuming that you're following the recommended precautions, it's not productive to panic over what others might be doing.
What we can control are our own habits and practices. When counterproductive thoughts encroach upon our inner dialogue, replace and overwhelm them with verifiable, controllable data. Don't worry about whether everyone around you has washed their hands; focus on that you just washed your hands five minutes ago, and that you've been really diligent about washing your hands after touching objects that other people might have touched.
Focusing on how your diligence has positioned you for safe, healthy outcomes can help you forget about your worries. Positively reinforcing productive thoughts helps banish panic and negativity. Focus your energy on making necessary, quantifiable adjustments to deal with life's circumstances—this can help you stay focused on your goals.
Maximize the power of technology.
That an unending stream of up-to-the-minute information can be delivered directly to your phone is a double-edged sword. News sources often inundate us with negative statistics and developments, and information overload can lead to analysis paralysis.
But technology can be our ally if we use it properly. In the New York Times, Brewer cited research that found that app-based mindfulness training reduced anxiety between 57 and 63 percent after two to three months of use. The study included participants who exhibited generalized anxiety disorder, so the results suggest that technology can soothe people with anxiety issues.
A simple search for "anxiety relief" in your app store will provide you a broad selection of apps, such as stress-level trackers and games specifically designed to reduce mental tension.
Work on wellness.
The body and the mind are not separate. Making healthy choices reinforces the healthy thought patterns you need to keep up with class assignments or work projects. Other simple changes you can make to stay on track include hydrating frequently—don't just drink water; avoid sugary and alcoholic beverages—and adopting a dietary regimen that emphasizes smaller meals that incorporate vegetables, fruits, and whole grains.
Deep-breathing exercises and regular stretching can also reinforce your healthy choices. Consider making meditation, yoga, and other anxiety-reduction techniques part of your routine.
When work and school become overwhelming, pick up the phone and call a friend, classmate, or coworker. Ask for help if you need it, or just strike up a conversation to take your mind off of things. Social distancing doesn't mean that you have to be completely isolated. Life can—and should—remain a team effort.
Consider telehealth options.
Whether you're a student, a working professional, or both, you don't have to deal with your stress alone. Addressing anxiety ought to be a team effort, and qualified clinicians and health professionals are ready to assist you.
Thankfully, access to mental healthcare is easier than ever and doesn't even require you to leave your home. Remote access allows for healthcare delivery—or telehealth—through the internet. Now you can have a virtual counseling session in the comfort of your own home.
The benefits of telehealth are myriad. Transportation time and costs are cut or eliminated, patient comfort is increased, and healthcare costs are reduced because fewer patients require hospital admission. Research published by the National Institutes of Health found that telemedicine reduced hospital admissions and readmissions by 38 percent and 31 percent, respectively. Sixty-three percent of telehealth patients also spent less time in the hospital. Ask your college adviser or human resources department about the telehealth resources available to you if you need them.
Give your brain a break.
Crisis anxiety can be exhausting. Using a few positivity-reinforcement methods can help you banish stressful thoughts and replace them with more productive inner dialogue. With these resources at your disposal, you might be able to break the anxiety cycle, refocus on your academic and professional goals, and thrive in these challenging times.