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  • Writer's pictureLori Maney Lentini

Ways You Can Lower Your Stress Today by Focusing on What is in Your Control.

Anxiety and stress are at historically high levels as 2020 continues to mess with our lives and minds. Together, let’s show it who the boss is!


I didn’t see it coming, did you? This year started like any other. High hopes and renewed enthusiasm for all I would accomplish and change in my life. You know, the usual New Year’s Resolutions about self-care, spending time with family, connecting with friends, starting a new hobby, changing jobs and finishing that project around the house. Well, you know the saying — be careful what you wish for, right? Lesson learned. Change is what I wanted…. change is what I got. I never imagined this!

Here we are almost a year later and I am still trying to recover from the shock and awe of 2020.

We went from shaking hands as a sign of respect to it being an action that can kill you.

We went from bosses not approving working from home to them begging employees to figure it out and rescue businesses and keep community and educational services operating.

We went from homeschooling as the exception to it being a way of life.

We imprisoned our loved ones in nursing homes and hospitals for their own protection. Many died alone.

We started hoarding toilet paper ( I can’t even imagine how we explain this one to our grandkids one day).

We went from car manufacturers producing vehicles to making ventilators for hospitals.

We went from dreaming of taking a relaxing cruise to thinking why would anyone ever do that again?

We went from Friday nights out at local bars or restaurants to sitting in our living room in our pajamas and “getting together” virtually.

Businesses temporarily restricted or closed. For some the closure is permanent. Our 24/7 fast-paced world has been put on an indefinite hold.

Social distancing is now part of our vocabulary.

Change, any change, even positive ones, cause stress. Change requires us to adjust. Humans don’t cope well with change. Change doesn’t care and it isn’t asking for our approval. The world has become uncertain and the Coronavirus has changed all of our lives, probably forever.

I am stressed. Who isn’t? Will life ever return to normal? Will I have a job? Will my elderly parents survive this pandemic? Just a few of the thousands of questions we are asking ourselves.

Stress is one thing, but anxiety is yet another. Let’s face it; stress is so 2019. Have you moved on to anxiety?

There is no vaccine or magic cure yet for anxiety so it is up to each of us to learn coping skills that work for us. What works is very individual. You have to keep at it.

Anxiety is the fear of something happening in the future. Anxiety comes in many forms and degrees. Mental health is critical to our overall health. There are two types of anxiety: regular, “normal” anxiety and pathological anxiety.

Normal is the emotion everyone experiences from time to time. This anxiety can be annoying. It can cause your mind to go blank or make you lose your place during an important presentation. It is the kind we see in the media — the nervous groom dropping the ring in the middle of the ceremony type thing. It isn’t all bad. Some stress is healthy and creates motivation. It is good to just push through this type of anxiety.

But when the degree and intensity of anxiety becomes severe enough to interfere with multiple areas of our lives, directly causes interpersonal or professional problems — it could be more serious. Resulting in clinically significant distress or impairment in social, occupational, or other important areas of functioning. This clinical anxiety is basically normal anxiety’s steroid-taking, jacked up, bully of a twin sibling.

Anxiety of any “type” strikes often and unexpectedly, and at the most inconvenient times. It jumbles our minds putting us in a state of overdrive and physical exhaustion. Looping, repetitive thoughts take up mental processing power and limit our ability to concentrate. Pervasive thoughts take over about future threats and impending failure inhibiting our ability to relax, de-stress or live in the present.

Maybe your experiences with fear and anxiety are or have been infrequent and manageable up until now. That is great, but maybe, just maybe, you and/or your family members have been edging closer to a harder-to-manage stress. If you have crossed that line or feel like you are about to, the good news is it will be o.k. You are o.k. Life with anxiety can be difficult but with INSIGHT into what is going on, acceptance and coping skills, life will go on. Take a deep breath.

You are not alone. I live with anxiety. My children live with anxiety. My friends and coworkers live with anxiety. Before COVID-19, 1 in 4 people in the U.S. already had an anxiety disorder. That is over 40 Million of us.

We thought we were an exclusive club as we fought the social stigma and found ways to reach out and support each other. We understood it is important to have hope. It seems our club is now open to the general public. It’s one of the few things that are still open.

Anxiety is on the rise. There are real reasons to be afraid. I am. I live in New York, one of the epicenters of the Coronavirus in America. Our lives are full of uncertainty, especially right now.

Yes, there is a great deal we can’t control, but there is much we can control. A state of chaos is fertile ground for anxiety.

In a world filled with this much uncertainty, controlling even small aspects of your life will bring a sense of balance and reduce your anxiety. Figure out something you can control and do it. Then figure out the next small action you can control and do that. It will build and you will regain some control and reduce your stress.

My dad is home on Hospice, and I am providing him 24/7 care. He is 83 and medically frail, exactly who this virus is killing. I am doing everything possible to disinfect and social distance to give him a fighting chance. I am afraid for him. I am afraid of losing him.

It doesn’t feel like I can control much, but this is what I can do:

He is home where he feels safe and comfortable. I can make him his favorite meals and drinks, keep him company, manage his pain, share memories, laugh, watch T.V. with him, and make sure he is clean, dry, and warm. These are things I can do, and they matter. They make a difference.

My mom has cardiac dementia and is in final-stage heart failure. She is in a nursing home and has severe memory loss. Pre-pandemic I went almost every night, fed her dinner and put her to bed. I want her to remember me for as long as possible. I have now been locked out of the facility and haven’t seen her since March 9, 2020 . I worry about her care. I worry she thinks I abandoned her. I worry that she is scared and lonely.

This is what I can do: I arranged for the staff to FaceTime me with mom once a week. I mailed pictures and cards to hang them up in her room. I talk to the floor manager once a week to stay updated on her health. I have the cell phone number of my favorite aid who works there. She is wonderful. When she is on shift, she will text me updates about Mom.

My daughter is a doctor in Chicago. She is exposed daily and I worry she doesn’t have the protective gear to keep her safe on front lines. I worry about her being exposed, working horribly long hours, taking care of herself, her mental health and the lasting impact this trauma will have on her. She lives with anxiety and depression without all this added pressure. If she gets sick, who will take care of her? I am afraid she will need me, and I won’t be able to be there for her. This is a tough one. I am the mom. It is my job to protect my child, regardless of how old she is. Honestly, I can’t do a whole lot.

This is what I can do is: Check in with her every day, tell her I love her and send her care packages and pray for her health and safety.

My son lives down south and is a body builder. He discovered in high school working out for several hours a day is the best way for him to feel in control and manage his anxiety. The gyms are now closed. This has created a crisis for him. The intensity and type of workout he does can’t really be done at home. He is struggling to find ways to exercise to meet his physical goals and manage his mental health. This has shaken his daily routine and taken away the thing that helps manage his anxiety.

This is what I can do: Let him know I care, talk through ideas for what else he can do, offer him money to buy pull-up bars or equipment, suggest he ask his coach for advice and ideas for home workouts. Encourage regular visits with his therapist.

I could go on and I am sure you could, too. This is tough on all of us. Tougher than we have faced before and in ways we didn’t see coming. My point is, just like you, I have real-life situations that are truly terrifying and justifiably so. But even with real reasons to be scared, we have to try not get lost in the anxiety of “what if“ .

So yes, life is scarier than usual, but we owe it to ourselves and our families to Control what we can.

Use telehealth services to see a therapist and/or psychiatrist.

Try to keep your thoughts in the present, take time to focus on what you are grateful for in your life right now — today.

Try some of these activities: practice deep breathing, try yoga, adult coloring, meditation, exercise, walking, listen to music or an audio book, read a book, play a board game, tackle a home project, watch a movie, try some karaoke, learn to play an instrument, learn a language, take a course online, adopt or foster a pet, draw, sew, paint, write, journal, try a new recipe and practice self-care. You can try some of these alone or with children and family.

Above all, turn off the news.

Among all the ways our lives are going to be impacted by this moment, it is my goal that we have broadened understanding and compassion around mental health issues. For the lucky ones, anxiety will end when the pandemic ends.

Hopefully there is the silver lining. Now that scientists have made advances in developing vaccines for Covid-19, maybe someone will focus on advancing medical research for mental illnesses ….. A girl can dream!

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