School is out for the year, vacation time has been rearranged and you’ve been isolated with the same humans for what seems like a lifetime. Whether you’ve been diagnosed with anxiety, or are feeling extra stressed lately, you’re not alone. There are ways that you can boost your mood and feel better about the future, according to family therapist Tevis Steere LCSW, who practices at Steere Family Therapy.
You might be surprised to know that “anxiety is something everyone deals with on a regular basis,” Tevis says. So, it’s not just you with those racing thoughts and pulse. Times of isolation and lockdown can significantly increase anxiety, Tevis says, so most people are thinking negative thoughts during uncertain times. “People are handling this very differently,” Tevis said about the quarantine during the peak period in April. “Some people are thriving; some are functioning better,” he says. “Some are going to pieces and having trouble.”
We are all challenged on a daily basis when it comes to work, running errands, and dealing with relationships, but usually people can deal with those stresses when they can understand what’s happening around them. During periods of uncertainty, however, it may feel like everything is closing in. How people deal with their stress, Tevis says, can be the difference between distorting reality and having unrealistic thoughts, and being rational enough to create positive change.
During the quarantine, Tevis met with those dealing with stress and anxiety in unconventional ways like Zoom chats, FaceTime, by phone, or by practicing outside. He says the appropriate response to anxiety is accept it––don’t fight it––and understand that you’re going to be anxious and then figure out how to work through it. By accepting the feeling, it cuts the feeling in half.
So, what if a family member in close quarters is dealing with the anxiety of isolation? Tevis says to first tell them you can see how they could feel that way and to nurture them on some level. Once they feel like someone is on their side, they will feel less anxious and more rational. When people are more secure and calm, they can feel less uncertainty. Next, ask them how you can contribute in a positive way. Maybe they can get away for a walk and get back to their true self. Focusing on the dynamics, and identifying and practicing awareness, can create a calm household, he says. We must step outside ourselves and not allow our loved ones to avoid feelings, because those can come back in a behavior later.
Tevis suggests adults remain calm for their children and allow them to talk openly. “It’s challenging and uncertain,” Tevis says, “(But we must) pay the appropriate amount of attention to challenges.” He says to allow the child to acknowledge their feelings in order to feel understood and feel better, and then help them solve the problem.
Tevis says even though there is a lot of tragedy in the world, through suffering we can learn and come away with something, whether it’s more understanding of other people or learning about ourselves. He says we must learn how to continue life and to take care of each other. We should slow down and stay in the moment. “You can’t make decisions about the future right now,” Tevis says. “If you can’t forecast days from now, scale it to shorter increments. One day at a time or one minute at time.”
“You can’t make decisions about the future right now. If you can’t forecast days from now, scale it to shorter increments. One day at a time or one minute at time.”
– Tevis Steere LCSW, steere family therapy
More tips to combat anxiety, from the Anxiety and Depression Association of America: