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How to Manage Anxiety About the Country Reopening

06/11/2020 06:00AM | 2464 views

After weeks of social distancing, parts of the United States have started to reopen. Stay-at-home orders are being lifted, businesses are opening, and people are starting to emerge from their isolation. In my own state of Pennsylvania, the governor has lifted the stay-at-home order for many of the more rural counties that had fewer cases of coronavirus.


The days and weeks ahead are sure to bring a good deal of anxiety, as so much uncertainty remains about COVID-19. While staying home all the time might not have been fun, it also removed many sources of stress, especially concerns about catching the virus. With our reemergence comes many questions about whether we’re doing the right thing and if we’re being careful enough—and of course concerns about the actions of others. Are our leaders making the right decisions? Will others thrown caution to the wind and get you sick?

Now is a good time to prepare yourself to manage anxiety about reopening.

Below are some mind-body-spirit practices that are research-tested ways to deal with anxiety. They’re based in mindfulness-centered cognitive behavioral therapy (CBT), and are adapted from The CBT Deck for Anxiety, Rumination, and Worry.

Focus on What You Can Control

Many experts are cautioning against rushing to reopen the country, and predict that there will be new outbreaks in many areas. You might worry about yourself or your loved ones, especially if they or you are in a high-risk group.

  • When you find yourself worrying about the virus, write down your specific concern. For example, you might be worried that you’ll catch the virus at work and bring it home to your elderly family member.
  • Next, write down what you can control and what you can’t. For example, you can control whether you wash your hands and maintain social distance as much as possible, but not whether you ultimately get sick.
  • Focus your attention and energy on what is within your control, and let go of the rest by saying, “That is not something I can control.” Release yourself from the burden of impossible responsibility.

Identify Alternatives to Your Fears

The stories our minds tell us about bad things that might happen can feel real, as if we’re seeing into the future. Develop the habit of recognizing that things might turn out differently from what you’re afraid of.

  • When anxiety tells you something bad is going to happen, write down the prediction (the writing part is important). For example, “I’m going to be ruined financially.”
  • Then write down a different possible outcome (e.g., “I’ll make it through this difficult financial period”). You don’t have to make yourself believe the alternative. Simply realize that your feared outcome is just one of many stories about how things might go.

Move Through Anxiety

Anxiety often makes itself the center of our attention, leading us to ask questions like, “Why do I feel so much anxiety?” or, “How can I stop feeling anxious?” Letting anxiety hog the spotlight just creates more tension and distress, and can lead to a feeling of paralysis.

  • When you’re experiencing anxiety, ask a different question: “What task needs my attention right now?” Then redirect your energy toward doing what needs to be done, allowing anxiety to exist in the background.

Set Your Sights First Thing in the Morning

Anxiety often begins even before we open our eyes in the morning. We can feel like victims of circumstance as we dwell on potential problems and feared failures—will I get sick? Am I doing the right thing by going back to work? Am I being careful enough?

  • Decide first thing in the morning what kind of day you will have. What quality of thoughts will you cultivate? How will you find joy? Who will you love? Reclaim your power as the author of your days.

Create Space for Sacred Sleep

Getting quality sleep is one of the most important ways you can guard your mental, physical, and emotional health, but it’s one of the first casualties when stress is high. Prepare your mind and body for rest by letting go of the day behind you and COVID-related anxiety and uncertainty.

  • When you get into bed, take ten slow, cleansing breaths to release the day’s stress and activity. With each exhale, let go of anything you’re holding onto from your day, and relax fully into your mattress.
  • Sense that this time and place are devoted to rest and renewal. Put a note by your bedside to remind you of this practice when you go to bed.


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