Pandemic anxiety is making us sleepless, forgetful, and angry. Here are tips for coping.

Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

IN BRIEF

Anxiety, depression, freaking out a little, oh my! If you have found yourself not really feeling like yourself during the pandemic, you're so not alone. We see you, and here are some ways to cope.

It is only logical that during these unprecedented times, so many people are experiencing high levels of anxiety. Researchers are also interested in this pressing matter, going to great lengths gathering data about how the current global situation affects us as individuals. To that end, many new studies are being conducted. One of them concluded that in the United States, one in three adults have been afflicted with symptoms of anxiety or depressive disorder during the coronavirus pandemic. This research revealed a steady monthly increase in anxiety levels in individuals:

  • Weekly anxiety average for May: 34.5%
  • Weekly anxiety average for June: 36.6%
  • Weekly anxiety average for July: 40.1%

A tracking poll conducted by the nonprofit organization KFF (Kaiser Family Foundation), reported a significant increase in the negative impact the pandemic is having on the mental health of adults in the United States. The number went from 32% of respondents in March 2020, to 53% in July, just 4 months later. (1)

Many of the individuals expressed their constant worry over the possibility of their close friends, family, and/or themselves getting sick. Added to this, respondents also expressed deep concern about the economic downfall. All of this results in high levels of pandemic anxiety.

Pandemic Anxiety Disorder Signs 

People facing pandemic anxiety may notice symptoms such as tense muscles, increased heart rate, gastrointestinal distress, excessive sweating, increased heart rate, and tightness in the throat. However, some other pandemic anxiety signs may not be as noticeable, or people experiencing them just don’t see the relation. Issues like irritability, trouble falling or staying asleep, difficulty concentrating, and forgetfulness are often overlooked.

It is helpful for individuals who may be experiencing these symptoms to adopt coping mechanisms. With an aim toward alleviating the pandemic anxiety, new ways to cope with these new feelings can help a person move through them more easily.

Irritability 

Due to the current situation, many individuals are finding themselves cooped up indoors together, and this can of course cause irritability. However, people encountering pandemic anxiety may also see their irritability levels spike drastically when encountering somewhat challenging everyday situations.

When the body becomes hyperstimulated by its stress-response, the nervous system becomes reactive and hypersensitive. Consequently, encountering everyday challenges may seem bigger and overwhelming for individuals with pandemic anxiety.

Tips to Reduce Irritability:

  • Get plenty of rest, it helps by putting your nervous system at ease.
  • Take a break or walk away when you start to feel irritated. 
  • Make a conscious effort to “under-react” instead of “overreact” to situations.
  • Talk to family and friends about your irritability issues. Let them know what you are going through and apologize if needed. 
  • Pay attention to your food intake. Some studies show that certain foods like trans fatty acids can elevate irritability level. Opt for a diet rich in mood-supporting foods. (2)
  • Think about any underlying unresolved issues that may increase your irritability levels. 
  • Seek professional help to deal with panic anxiety.

Trouble Falling or Staying Asleep

The anxiety-insomnia cycle is a tough one to deal with. The anxiety fuels insomnia, and insomnia increases the anxiety. During this pandemic, many are affected by sleeplessness.

The constant worrying about their health, their family and friends’ health, and their work too, stimulate their pandemic anxiety. This makes it nearly impossible to get a good night of rest, and can be a very frustrating situation. 

Be Serene IR topical works amazingly well to initiate sleep and is even more useful to help one fall asleep after waking in the middle of the night. 

And, there are some other steps one can take to help alleviate the sleeplessness. Neurologist and sleep medicine doctor Brandon Peters, in Seattle, in his book  “Sleep Through Insomnia”, recommends the following: (3)

  • Limit the intake of alcohol and caffeine. 
  • Keep the bedroom dark, cool, and quiet.
  • Set a daily bedtime and stay away from screens at least an hour before going to bed.
  • Get plenty of sunlight (if possible) and exercise.
  • Keep away from stressing news regarding the pandemic before bedtime.
  • Remove visible alarm clocks in the bedroom.

Difficulty Concentrating

A study conducted by the Department of Psychology from the University of Pittsburgh and the Department of Psychology from West Virginia University showed that almost 90% of the individuals experiencing anxiety had difficulty concentrating. Also of note: as anxiety levels grew higher, the ability to concentrate was diminished. (4)

Thanks to the fight or flight response, our ancestors had an opportunity to survive by developing the ability to focus on a threat. This ensured their immediate safety, and continuation of the species as well. Modern humans are still wired the same way, our brain focusing on the things that can endanger our livelihoods. So in this unprecedented worldwide pandemic, is understandable that a lot of focus in a person’s life goes toward monitoring the latest news updates, thinking about ways to keep our friends and loved ones safe. This of course makes it harder to concentrate on other matters like working remotely, home-schooling kids, or keeping up with virtual meetings. 

Jonathan Abramowitz, a clinical psychology professor at the University of North Carolina, gives the following tips for improved concentration, for individuals suffering from pandemic anxiety:

  • Reduce the to-do list, stick to the essential things.
  • Remember that it is only natural to feel different during these stressful times.
  • Limit your time on social media and consuming the news. Limit it to two to three times a day, and do not exceed more than an hour each time.
  • Every evening, prepare the to-do list for the next day. 
  • Rank the tasks by urgency and importance, and assign them a time slot.
  • Schedule break times throughout the day.

Forgetfulness

These days, many people are having trouble remembering important information. Simple tasks like remembering highlights of a recent work meeting, or recalling the steps to a new but simple process, are difficult now. To perform these tasks we use what scientists called working memory (WM).  Working memory (WM) is the process of retaining information in the mind for a short period, usually seconds. 

A recent review of a study conducted in 2016 had shown the negative relation between higher levels of anxiety and loss of working memory. (5)

Here some quick tips to improve working memory: 

  • Find a creative thinking activity such as crosswords puzzles, Sudoku, arts and crafts, video games, anything that stimulates your memory.
  • Tell someone about your new activity, this will help you to remember it.
  • In the evenings go about what you did during the day. You can also write it in a journal or diary. Try it, even if is not much happening these days.
  • If you catch yourself forgetting things, try making a list or set alerts on your phone.
  • Explore relaxation activities such as yoga or mindfulness.    
  • If possible, spend time in nature.  

This pandemic is unprecedented for us all, so it’s completely normal to feel different or out of sorts. Just knowing that you’re not alone, may go a long way toward helping you regain some balance and perhaps breathe a little deeper.

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Sources

  • https://www.kff.org/coronavirus-covid-19/issue-brief/the-implications-of-covid-19-for-mental-health-and-substance-use/
  • https://pubmed.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/22403632/
  • https://www.amazon.com/Sleep-Through-Insomnia-Anxiety-Discover/dp/172822201X
  • https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC5748347/https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6351483/

About Dr. Morgan Camp M.D.

Dr. Morgan is an expert in Functional and Integrative Medicine with a Strong Emphasis in stress related illnesses like anxiety and insomnia. In addition to his 20 years of work in Functional Medicine, he has expanded his practice to include work on the deeper aspects of our being that point to the root cause of our illnesses working with Mind Body Wellness, Energy Medicine, and Healing with Consciousness.
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