Is COVID-19 anxiety affecting your work?
As COVID-19 continues to spread throughout the country, our daily lives have been altered dramatically. These are unfamiliar, frightening times, and it's natural — expected, even — to feel anxious. Unfortunately, if you are still working, there is a job to be done.
For some, immersing themselves in work may be a welcome escape from outside stressors. For others, however, working may feel more challenging than ever. If this is you, first know that it's OK to feel distracted and overwhelmed. That said, you'll still have to find a way to work through your worry so you can accomplish your tasks.
As you navigate this challenge, consider these strategies to help you calm your anxiety and maintain productivity.
Know when to tune out
It may feel productive to refresh your news page every 30 minutes — you want to know the latest about what's happening, of course. However, constantly checking your feed is neither helping you deal with the crisis nor helping you through your to-do list. Rather, it pulls your attention away from your work and toward information that is likely contributing to your anxiety.
Be decisive about when you check for news. Start with an article or two while you sip your morning coffee to get any important updates. Let yourself check briefly once during the afternoon on your lunch break, and then not again until the workday is done. The goal is to limit your overall media consumption (especially when you're supposed to be working) to prevent information overload.
If you worry that you won't be able to resist the urge to refresh, there are tools that can help you. Start by looking into browser extensions that block websites. You can create lists of the sites you want to avoid, and the extension will prevent your browser from opening those site pages within your set times. There are similar apps, such as Forest, that will keep you from checking these sites on your phone.
Staying informed may sound contradictory to the benefits of tuning out, but it's not; it's about putting quality above quantity. When you do check for news, make sure you get your information from trustworthy sources.
Does the World Health Organization (WHO) have any new recommendations? What about the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)? Are there updates from your city or state? These are the types of essential information you should know, and you should get them from as close to the primary source as possible. Focus on facts, not commentary.
When you know you have high-quality information, there is less uncertainty — less room for your mind to go off asking questions. As a result, you can go about your day feeling more at ease. Plus, when you filter out the media that you don't need, it will be easier to turn back to your work.
Take care of yourself
Self-care is always important, but at a time when anxiety is running high, it becomes essential. Meditate, eat your lunch, go on a walk (keeping your distance from others), or do a quick home workout. Taking occasional breaks for yourself will help you direct your mind to something new, like hitting a “refresh” button.
It may feel unproductive because you aren't in front of your computer — you may even feel guilty about it. However, if you would otherwise be staring at your screen for an hour without getting much done, walking away for 20 minutes and returning with more focus means a much better outcome.
Communicate with your boss
From family to education to work, this is not a normal time. Therefore, it's understandable that your productivity may fluctuate. If your COVID-19 anxiety is becoming debilitating, communicate your struggles with your boss. They may be willing to offer flexibility for your deadlines or even a more flexible work schedule to help relieve some pressure.
If your boss can't offer those things, consider taking a day or two off from work. The virus may not go away in that time, but you can turn off your brain for a while and hopefully return to work feeling more calm.
Get professional help
If you've tried these strategies and still haven't been able to curb your anxiety, consider reaching out to a mental health professional. They are trained to help people like you in situations like these, so they can guide you in coping with your worry, finding a sense of calm, and getting back to work.
Thankfully, there are a number of ways you can seek this kind of counsel. The CDC has tips geared specifically toward dealing with stress in the time of the pandemic. There are also apps like Talkspace and BetterHelp, which connect you with professionals you can work with digitally. And of course, more mental health workers than ever are practicing teletherapy, so you can conduct regular sessions either over the phone or through video chat.
Feeling anxious during the time of the coronavirus is understandable, and there are millions of professionals throughout the country dealing with a similar struggle. As you work through your worry, be kind to yourself and take the necessary steps to support your mental health. Once that is under better control, you'll be able to approach your work with greater focus and regain productivity.
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