If you’re struggling with anxiety about COVID-19, you’re not alone.

“Many of my patients describe feeling anxiety during this difficult time," said Valerie Lipetz, MD, during a free online health lecture. "I will share strategies to help build mental resilience and nurture your emotional health and well-being as we continue to wrestle with living through a pandemic.”

______________________________________________________________________________

VIDEO: Watch Dr. Lipetz’s online lecture on "How to Build Resilience During the Pandemic."

______________________________________________________________________________

Developing Mental Resilience

Dr. Lipetz stated that with everything going on, people can find themselves feeling hopeless, helpless or with low mood. Those who already struggle with anxiety may find the uncertainty of the pandemic exacerbates their feelings. Others who are used to keeping busy may suddenly find themselves alone with their thoughts more, and missing friends and family outside of their household.

She said mental resilience is our ability to adapt to life’s challenges and setbacks. It won’t make issues disappear, but it can help you see past them, enjoy life more and handle stress better.

“Acknowledging your feelings is a first step to building resilience. Do you feel anxious about the pandemic? Angry? Fearful? Sad? Research shows the simple act of naming our emotions and accepting them rather than fighting them away has been found to benefit well-being and is often the quickest way to feel immediately calmer,” said Dr. Lipetz.

Symptoms of Anxiety and Stress

“It’s important to understand that you cannot control anxiety from occurring – this is your brain’s automatic survival mechanism,” explained Dr. Lipetz. Anxiety is experienced physically. “You may feel your heart racing or your palms sweating,” said Dr. Lipetz.

Anxiety can occur on its own or as a reaction to stress. Autostress occurs when your body’s response to stress continues for an extended period. Signs include:

  • Chest tightness—feeling like you can’t breathe
  • Heart palpitations
  • Muscle tension—aches and pains
  • Headaches
  • Difficulty sleeping
  • Restlessness and inability to relax
  • Digestive issues

Managing Unhealthy Thinking Patterns

Dr. Lipetz listed five unhealthy thinking patterns that occur when we fixate on a threat, uncertainty and negativity, all which can cause anxiety. She provided examples of how people are experiencing these unhealthy thinking patterns during the pandemic:

  • Threat Scanning. Is exactly that. You may be frequently checking yourself for COVID-19.
  • Catastrophizing. Your mind jumps to a worst-case scenario. You may feel you’re going to lose everyone to the pandemic.
  • Hypothetical Worry. The feeling of “what if;” what if I get too close to someone and catch the virus? While these things may be possible, it’s unhelpful to worry about them continuously.
  • Emotional Reasoning. When your mind tells you that your emotions reflect reality. For example, you feel lonely, so you think no one cares about you.
  • Fortune Telling. This is when your mind negatively interprets predictions as facts. If you take a COVID-19 test you assume it will be positive.

Dr. Lipetz shared how thought challenging is a simple yet powerful cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT) technique for reducing anxiety and a great tool for managing unhealthy thinking patterns. As mentioned, anxiety is best described as the unhelpful thinking patterns you experience when your mind fixates on threat, uncertainty and negativity. Thought challenging helps by broadening your focus to include the bigger picture.

"ABCDE Thought Challenging" is one technique you can experiment with:

  • Attention – When you feel distressed, stop what you’re doing and pay attention to your inner dialogue. What is your mind telling you?
  • Believe – Do not automatically believe your thoughts!
  • Challenge – Defuse anxiety by broadening your focus. What’s the bigger picture? Is the thought fact or opinion? What might you think if you were feeling calmer?
  • Discount – Acknowledge that anxiety has been dominating your thinking and let the unhelpful thoughts go.
  • Explore options – What would be helpful to focus on right now? What options do I have available?

Other Tips to for Reducing Anxiety During the Pandemic

Dr. Lipetz provided numerous other ideas for reducing anxiety, including examples of distractions, exercise, socializing options accessible during the pandemic and how to start a daily breathing practice. Those tips included:

  • Signing up for BCH’s myStrength.com. This interactive tool helps you improve your mood and overcome challenges. The access code is bchcommunity.
  • Taking control of your media diet. Anxiety is easily fueled by consuming this kind of information. Consider how often and what media sources you’re following. Follow trusted sources and tune in only once a day.
  • Considering what’s in your control. If you’re prone to hypothetical worry (i.e., the ‘what if?’ thoughts), you may find it helpful to practice noticing these thoughts and then redirecting your attention to things within your control such as eating well, exercising and limiting media exposure. Research shows that when we shift our focus to what we can control, we see meaningful and lasting differences in our wellbeing, health and performance.
  • Practicing mind body medicine techniques. Browse meditations found on bch.org/mindbody under Mind Body Meditation.
  • Maintaining structure helps build resilience and enables you to adapt to challenges. If your normal activities are currently unavailable, Dr. Lipetz recommends creating a daily “to do” list, developing weekly goals, focusing on breathing, organizing your workspace, sticking to a regular sleep schedule and committing to an end-of-the-day ritual (that doesn’t include alcohol).
  • Downloading the Corona Virus Anxiety Workbook, available through the Wellness Society website.

Dr. Valerie Lipetz is certified by the American Board of Internal Medicine. She has been practicing locally since 1991 and is a lifetime Boulder resident. To schedule an appointment, call (303) 415-4250.

Please click here to view/download slides from her lecture on how to build reilience during the pandemic.

Want to receive notification of special events and lectures? Sign up to receive email notifications.