Coping with Anxiety Following COVID-19 Lockdown

In the months immediately after the emergence of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19), most communities created stay-at-home orders to reduce the spread and to avoid overwhelming the healthcare system.

These efforts appear to have worked, and many communities have begun to reopen. But the pandemic is not over, and it’s still very possible to catch COVID-19. So if returning to normal activities makes you feel anxious, that’s not unusual.

“This is a rational response, given the experience we have all been through with this pandemic,” says UNC Health clinical psychologist Echo Meyer, PhD. “It is understandable and expected, and anywhere from 20 to 30 percent of people feel anxious about moving forward” as they resume ordinary activities such as going out to eat or working in an office.

While it’s normal to experience anxiety as your community reopens, Dr. Meyer offers these four tips to help manage it.

1. Focus on the facts, but limit your news consumption.

Knowledge is power, but it can also be anxiety-inducing if you’re spending too much time watching and reading the news, especially if it’s not from a reliable source, Dr. Meyer says.

“The right amount of knowledge is what helps us feel efficacious and powerful, but too much or the wrong kind of information is a risk,” she says.

Check in with a trusted news source once a day to help you make informed decisions, and then find something else to do.

2. Practice mindfulness.

Try to engage in some mindfulness activities if you feel worried or anxious. Jon Kabat-Zinn, PhD, the founder of a popular mindfulness training program in the United States, defines it as “paying attention in a particular way: on purpose, in the present moment and nonjudgmentally.”

This can be as simple as pausing to take a deep breath, which can help you become more aware of any heightened anxiety that you may be feeling, Dr. Meyer says. That awareness can help you observe your anxiety, rather than getting lost in it, and can help you achieve calm.

3. Be a problem-solver.

Before you engage in an activity such as going to your neighborhood pool or getting your car inspected, make sure that you know what safety measures are in place and that you understand your risks. This way, you are taking control and can make an informed decision about whether you feel comfortable participating in that activity.

“Active problem-solving is a great strategy for combating anxiety,” Dr. Meyer says. “You’re taking control of that situation. You might not know how to handle the entire pandemic, but you know how to handle this situation.”

4. Get professional help to manage stress.

Right now, stress is the norm for the majority of people, Dr. Meyer says. So don’t be afraid to seek professional mental health help to manage that stress. “It does not need to be a crisis. It may just be a fatigue-related experience of a highly stressful situation, which we are all feeling right now.”

Dr. Meyer says two to five sessions with a skilled provider can be very helpful for easing anxiety at this time.

“People don’t have to have a diagnosis to reach out for stress health support,” Dr. Meyer says. “And if people do that a little bit more readily, then everybody will be better off moving forward.”

If you think therapy might be right for you, talk to your doctor. If you don’t have one, find a doctor near you.