“We went to our goddaughter’s outside birthday party and stood away from the main group in the driveway and got teased,” she says. “Another friend just came back from Florida and a week later posted a photo with six friends, no masks and arms around each other. I have social anxiety already and if I pull into a store that seems crowded, I just leave. My boss wanted to have a socially distanced hang out and I basically made up a reason to not go.”
Kyle Harris, a 29-year-old bartender in Nashville, Tennessee, says his anxiety is “through the roof.”
“I recently started working again at a bar and I was there for two days until they told us an employee tested positive for COVID-19,” he says. “Seven other people were immediately around them and have all been sent home to get tested and self quarantine. I told my manager I didn’t feel safe so I left work to get tested and now have to self-quarantine.”
Harris says that his employer is taking few precautions, allowing groups of eight in booths and parties of 15-20 on their patio. “I just don’t understand how people think going out to these types of places is a good idea when clearly no one is safe,” he says. “Employees at my place of work have to wear masks but guests do not, and an employee still tested positive.”
With all the uncertainties that lie ahead, it makes sense that people are feeling increasingly on edge. “Whenever something feels uncontrollable or unpredictable, there is a higher level of anxiety, fear, and distress about it,” says Rajita Sinha, Ph.D., Founding Director of the Yale Stress Center.
While we can’t control the actions of our friends, family members, and neighbors, there are strategies to help keep those anxieties at bay.
1. Arm yourself with information.
“As frustrating as it is, the only person who can protect your boundaries is you,” says Friedman. “While we can’t control how seriously our elected officials, co-workers, boss, or loved-ones take these safety measures, we can control our own actions.”
2. Stay connected.
Even if you live alone, don’t isolate yourself. Sinha points out that connecting with family and friends—even through a Zoom call—can make a significant difference in terms of feeling supported. Seek out people that are having a similar experience of this moment—not everyone is hitting the bars and taking plane flights right now.
3. Don’t ruminate in your fear.
Dwelling on what could happen only only feeds into your anxiety. “Anxiety is the over-estimation of the severity and likelihood of the worst case scenario. When we are anxious we tend to anticipate the worst. Reminding ourselves what is and is not in our control can help us to reality check.”
4. Practice mindfulness.
This includes monitoring your news and social media consumption to certain times of day—and then being able to disconnect.
Another way of being mindful is how you treat your body. What does your alcohol intake look like? What are you eating or not eating? Are you getting exercise? Implementing a routine can be helpful in creating healthy habits that can ultimately put you in a better headspace.
Friedman also suggests checking in with yourself about what underlying fears may be informing your band feelings. Don’t just stop at “anxiety”—give your emotions a name. Is it safety or safety for others? Social pressure? Fear of looking paranoid? FOMO from the sense that everyone is breaking the rules without you?
“Identifying the underlying fear can help to target the root cause of the anxiety rather than continuing to address the symptom,” says Friedman. “Once the underlying fear is identified it’s easier to figure out what steps to take.”