April 5, 2020

My Strategies for Coping with Anxiety


I have been dealing with anxiety for a year now.

Looking back, I had been dealing with anxious thinking long before that, but failed to recognize it. It was one of the reasons why I had to leave my previous church.

You would think that these times we were in would cause a flare up, but the truth is, I was finally weaned of the medication I was on a couple of months ago, and have been doing quite well since.

One of the keys to returning to health was a counselor saying to me almost a year ago, “Write down the things that cause you anxiety, and divide them into two categories. 1. The events or items you have no control over, and 2. Those things that you can do something about.”

“Those things that you can do something about, make an action plan to deal with them. That first list… Say to yourself, their is nothing I can do about this, so I am going to set it aside for now.”

Maybe easier said than done, but it worked well for me. The poster above describes some of the things we can, and cannot control, and I will elaborate on some ways that I have been implementing this for myself.

Primarily though, I will be largely discussing the social media aspect, as that is the part that has caused me much anxiety in the past…

We are blessed in Canada with a short election cycle. Under our elections act the minimum length an election can be is 36 days and the maximum it can be is 50 days. We don’t really have the equivalent of the U.S. Primaries: Party leaders are selected by a relatively small group of party faithful, and it doesn’t get a lot of attention. But when that election cycle does hit, boy oh boy. Over a few election cycles my Facebook feed was getting uglier and uglier each time round. Until… I found a simple solution. Hence my first recommendation:

1. “Unfollow” the loudest voices. You don’t need to unfriend people. Having been unfriended in the past, I can tell you it hurts. Unfollowing is something that the other person will likely never be aware of, and you can either “Follow” them again after the cycle is over, or keep them in Unfollow mode, and check back in on them from time to time.

I found that about 1% of my Facebook friends created 80% of the negative posts. Unfollowing a couple people on the left and a couple people on the right (I am an equal opportunity Unfollower) made for a MUCH more pleasant Facebook experience.

2. Gently warn those who are posting inaccurate information. “Hey, I just say something that made me realize, that what you just shared may not be completely correct. Have you tried using Snopes? I find it really helpful when considering sharing posts of my own. 🙂 ” Always include the happy face! Then I say to myself, I am not the Internet Police, if they continue to post inaccurate information I will just report the post without comment. Eventually they may fall under category one.

When the Corona Virus hit I found that the first two strategies were not sufficient, and I could feel my anxiety levels start to rise again. I had to take further action. Notice how like the poster above says, these all fall under the category of things you can control.

Limit your social media.

There are a multiple ways that you can do this. Here are some that seem to be working for me.

3. Put down the phone. I am currently working from home, and I do not keep it within reach. It does not help my anxiety and it is not fair to my employer if it is constantly calling to me.

4. Consider keeping your phone in another room or out of your sight lines.

5. Turn of all your phone notifications. And I mean everything. They are just calling you to pick up the phone. You can let people who you do connect with that they can reach you by email or that you will check for messages every couple of hours. Turn down the volume and vibration, so that if you do have it on your person, you are not tempted to pick it up.

6. Set aside certain times of the day when you will let yourself check your phone or social media. If you are feeling anxious at a particular time, find an alternate thing to do.

7. Install an App like “Stay Free” to keep track of how much you are on your phone. Note: Turn off the Stay Free notification as it kind of defeats the purpose.
Use it to track what you are doing, and adjust accordingly. You can take a look at patterns and make adjustments. (See the previous point). You will be surprised how much time you spend on your device.

8. Don’t bring your phone to the dining table. This is your chance to interact with family. It doesn’t need to be there.

9. Don’t bring your phone into your bedroom at night. You need a calming time to fall asleep. Try reading instead.

10. Limit your news/information sources. Pick two or three trusted ones. Ones the report the facts and limit the commentary. For example, I do not Google “Corona Virus update”. I will google, “Corona Virus update + name of my trusted news source.” Or, I will go directly to the site in question and skip google altogether. Google is going to flood you with information. That is what it is designed to do. Make a conscious choice to restrict the results you are getting back, or avoid it altogether.

11. Give yourself set times when you can visit these news sources. Whether you are using a phone or computer, block out your time. Here is work time, here is play time. Don’t try to mix the two.

Get Healthy

12. Walk. Ever since I was teen I have found that walking calmed me down. I can remember as a 13 year old being really upset about something, and just walking for hours. No doubt invoking some anxiety in my parents! Walking always calms me right down. The past two weeks I have been walking about an hour each day. I find it serves as a daily reset of my anxiety levels, and as a side note, it has been helping reduce the waist line!

13. Sleep. One of the best ways to combat anxiety is a good, regular sleep. I find that when I am tired is when I struggle the most.

Some other random tips:

14. Restrict your discussion times to when you are in a good head space. Ask yourself if you are currently feeling anxious or if a discussion will cause you anxiety. If you answer yes to either one, find a way to leave the discussion to another time when you feel you can handle it without anxiety. Let the other person know why you are not able to participate at the moment.

15. Be happy for the good things happening to friends. This is my wife’s approach to Facebook. I want to celebrate with my friends when good things happen to them. If instead you are getting feeling of jealousy or envy, then maybe Facebook isn’t the platform for you. I found I did have to unfollow one aquaintance who was causing negative thoughts to rise in my mind when viewing his posts.

16. Consider using Instagram rather than Facebook or Twitter as your primary way of connecting with people. I find that Instagram is a much less political, much less negative place. Consider it as an alternative. I no longer do much at all on Twitter.

Here are some things you can do to help reduce anxiety in others:

17. Verify your own posts before sharing. Especially when it comes to missing children. If it does not come from a Police source do not share. Verify that the child has not already been found. The majority of the missing children posts that I see, the child has already been found for some days, months, and in many cases years! By sharing without verifying you are victimizing the child all over again. I realize that the child illustration is not COVID-19 related, but the same principle applies. People have already died because of bad information being shared about COVID-19.

18. Beware sharing pithy memes. The multiple memes I have read stating that “God is in Control” each immediately bring to mind the meme of Jesus pouring out a vial of Corona Virus on the earth and saying “HERE, HAVE SOME CORONA VIRUS, I LOVE YOU SO MUCH LOL”. They make me quite upset as a result. (Also why I didn’t post it here.) Keep in mind your pithy meme might actually cause someone real grief.

19. Reach out to others who are struggling. Some people are going through tough times. The number experiencing difficulties is going up dramatically. Reach out. Send a text or a message to let someone know you were thinking about them. Let them know why you appreciate them. Ask if they are in need of anything.

Finally:

20. Pray. I have found a couple of positives coming out of this Corona Virus experience. One has been the visible shows of support that people have given each other. The second has been an uptick in my prayer life. I have been motivated to pray for people, leaders, countries, and areas of the world like never before. Africa has particularly been on my mind. So have jam packed refugee camps around the world. I don’t want to end on a negative note, so I would encourage you to join me in prayer as well.

I think I have maybe just scratched the surface of this topic. I would love you hear what has been working for you, or which of my suggestions you would like to try. As usual, your thoughts and comments are welcome.

On a totally unrelated note: We had 15 at our small group Bible Study on Wednesday evening. I took a group picture!

Comments

  1. Susan Dumbrell says

    I made the decision this morning to not turn on the TV until 5pm.
    How did I spend my day?
    I chatted with my gardener, we noticed the Spring bulbs are peeking through. Admired the last of the roses.
    Telephoned and old friend whose husband has been in hospital.
    Talked with my 19year old cat, we shared cheese and biscuits.
    Perused my recipe books.

    On telephoning a friend late afternoon she said I sounded cheerful.
    Works for me. I might try a similar version tomorrow.
    QED. I am looking forward to politician free dreams.

    Stay safe and wash your hands.
    Susan

  2. Please remember that there are many people in “essential businesses” who are out there in the work world doing their jobs, people who maintain the supply chains that allow every one else to stay at home. They are at greater risk for infection and complications. Don’t forget their sacrifice, which though it is not as dramatic as that of the front line medical personnel and emergency service workers is nevertheless crucial. Pray for them, thank them and give them a word of support by phone, email, or text.

    • +1

    • Adam Tauno Williams says

      Thanks. I am “supply chain & logistics”; back-end, so my risk is pretty low. The guys out in the field making stuff move, and getting things on and off the train|truck|plain are desperately unsung IMO; when you need that stuff, it shows up, and it took a lot of people to make that happen.

      • David Cornwell says

        Last week I went to the grocery with my daughter and we made a point of thanking some of the stockers and clerks. They are putting their lives at risk. And for the record: I just purchased enough to get by for a while, trying to use common sense.

    • Michael Bell says

      Excellent ideas Robert and David

  3. Adam Tauno Williams says

    “18. Beware sharing pithy memes.” <<< THIS!

    Additionally, very likely a jillion other people have already been sharing it – for years. The road from pithy/clever to droll/repetitive is very short.

    • What? No forwarding of the “be anxious for nothing” verse?!? ;-P

      • Adam Tauno Williams says

        Please, No! 🙂 If find “God is in Control” to be maddening. “God is in Control” … or you could get off your ___ and do something you lazy self-satisfied schlub! I have to block memers in order to manage the intense urge to tell them where to get off.

  4. https://www.celebraterecovery.com/resources/cr-tools/serenityprayer

    This is as about as deep as I get but I seriously do try to abide by it. Problem is I fail often but at least I try. Mike Bell, I appreciate your articles and information you present here. It seems to me you have got things in the right perspective.
    Other than here I do not even inter act on the internet as the majority do not come to learn, listen or even share good thoughts, it is just chatter. However , I do follow twitter and whatever I find interesting but know it is no replacement for real research and truth seeking. I take the internet dialogue as serious as the Globe or National inquirer, may be true, probably not but harmless if you have right attitude. I do truly appreciate your honest sharing of your struggles, your insights and your successes. So you keep up the good work. And of course I like your tacos.

  5. While driving in Dallas yesterday’s passed a group of guys playing soccer followed by a group of guys playing basketball. Apparently they did not get the memo. That was the antithesis of worried. I’ve got OCD with the hand washing and these guys don’t have a care in the world. While we can’t paralyze ourselves with anxiety, the current situation calls for, and in fact requires, some modicum of concern and attention to the directives laid out. It is not inappropriate to feel sobriety and pensiveness under these circumstances.

    • There is a gym near our house, not one of the large chain gymns but an independent one. Caters to the “young and ‘roided” crowd – you can tell from all the discarded energy drink bottles on the access road leading up to it. They were open and busy all the way through Monday, when they finally shuttered – but it only for two weeks, according to the sign on their door.

      Point is, youth + machismo = stupidity.

      • Hi Eeyore,

        As we are talking anxiety here, there are a lot of folks that self-medicate by going to the gym. Those folks now have to find other ways to deal with anxiety and frustration to the detriment of others around them. I understand the view of the young and ignorant crowd, but for a lot of us it is a way of taking off that edge so that we are tolerable to the rest of society.

        I just scored a bench and a bunch of weight from the folks I run with. They did me a favor by giving me weights and a bench that can’t be found anywhere, and I helped them unclutter their garage a bit.

    • The governor of WA state tried to hold out from issuing a shelter in place order until it became apparent that the guys who were playing basketball at the parks weren’t going to stop on their own. I’m pretty sure that if everyone had done what was being asked, he wouldn’t have given the order.

      I keep reminding my right wing conspiracy theory friends who think that these measures are draconian and setting a precedent…

      The Law isn’t for the righteous law-abiders, it’s for the lawless and disobedient. (Nothing like hitting a fundamental with scripture!)

      • “(Nothing like hitting a fundamental with scripture!)”

        We could also hit them with their own mandate for Abstinence.

        Many of them insist that to fight HIV all people need to do is practice Abstinence–no condoms necessary, because “condoms encourage promiscuity.” And we wouldn’t want that. “Just say no, folks. Simple.”

        Problem is, Abstinence is only 100% effective if people practice it. And there’s an irony in this COVID-19 episode in Christian history that many evangelicals and fundamentalists aren’t taking Abstinence seriously for this disease.

        Can we call their bluff? It’ll work for this disease too, if they practice it.

        • –> “…there’s an irony in this COVID-19 episode in Christian history that many evangelicals and fundamentalists aren’t taking Abstinence seriously for this disease. Can we call their bluff? It’ll work for this disease too, if they practice it.”

          Excellent point and observation!

        • Adam Tauno Williams says

          +1,000

  6. Michael Z says

    You’re lucky that your Bible study has mastered Zoom; if I had taken a similar screenshot from my church’s Bible study this week, half the camera views would just be of people’s ceilings or the tops of their heads. 🙂

    I too have been taking lots of walks, but the best strategy I’ve found is the “activity binds anxiety” one – finding things to work on that totally absorb my attention, like reading a book or sketching or computer programming. Part of the problem with the internet in general and social media in particular is that it promotes a scattered, unfocused sort of attention instead of the sort of focused attention that makes the rest of the world fade out.

    • Michael Bell says

      I had general permission to share the photo, but decided to block out the names anyway. Our group may be a little more tech savvy than most. We have two University Professors, a Surgeon, an Architect, a Campus worker, and a computer programmer among our group. The rest aren’t slouches either.

      I like the activity idea. I am like my Dad, way too many activities, and not enough time. Oh, and I picked up 20 gallons of paint today to paint my house. I had ordered back in May of last year as part of a 2 for 1 sale, and thought I would pick it up (almost no contact as the store was only open to pickup orders) while I still could.

  7. I am pretty good at not worrying about stuff I can’t affect. That and my natural introversion are really helping me nowadays. Also not having any personal financial worries. Both my and my wife’s jobs are secure, with the paychecks coming in as usual. Indeed, what with lower expenses, we will come out ahead even before the feds start sending out checks.

    • Expenses… I think my van has been driven all of three miles in two weeks, when usually it’s 100mi in a week.

      My introverted self has no real problem yet either. I’m a board gamer, have tons of games I can play solo. Also, online play at Board Game Arena.

      My wife and daughter, on the other hand…. I have to be aware that they are not like me.

    • Michael Bell says

      We are okay financially… for now. And yes, the expenses are WAY down.

  8. Adam Tauno Williams says

    Physical exhaustion helps! Construction on my tiny little estate was complete last fall; 2020 is the year of landscaping. Digging ~150ft of ditch for drainpipe(s), in clayish glacial moraine… I’m happy to sit on my porch with a beer and drool.

    Like Mr. Hershberger I’m pretty good at not worrying and am in a healthy financial situation; thankful. Also seeing lowered expenses.

    • Dug a 150 ft French drain last summer… remember the digging bar is your friend… slow and easy…. it also helps with any anxiety as it makes you very tired and sleepy once you stop and sit down.

    • Michael Bell says

      I have plans to work on my rock garden once the weather warms up a bit! Love working outside. In an earlier life I was a landscaper laying sod 12 hours a day.

  9. Over the years with all the kids I have, stressful job, and anxiety running in mine and my wife’s family I have learned a few things:

    Compartmentalize – meaning leave the job stress at the job when you turn off (I work from home so it can be tough)

    Work out and exercise – I have spent the past few days gathering weights from friends garages who no longer use – I also get out and run.

    Take time to talk with people – do this on my run (I have running partners) and of course my family

    Take time to sit under a tree with your phone left in the house, breath deep, and just listen

    Stay away from the news, social media and the TV most of the time- ignorance is bliss

    Say one nice thing to someone each day – so that the anxiety does not turn you into a grumpy guy/gal

    Sleep – I never get a chance to do this – but I can dream

    • –> “Compartmentalize – meaning leave the job stress at the job when you turn off (I work from home so it can be tough)”

      By the way, compartmentalizing is easy for most guys to do, not so much for women. (It’s one of the things that drives them nuts about us guys, by the way… that ability to just store something away and not get bothered by it or need to talk about it).

    • Michael Bell says

      Excellent ideas Radagast!

  10. David Cornwell says

    Marge died last April. Every room in the house was a constant reminder of her past presence. Then in October, Athena, my dog of about 15 years old had to be put to sleep. She had always been a joy. At first, I decided to have a dog was too much trouble and I’d do without. But then I did research on adopting and ended up with a four-year-old 25lb Beagle-Lab mix,

    I made the right decision. He keeps me busy. I have something to talk to other than photographs. He makes me laugh and exercise — four walks on a sunny day!

    Right now social media is my biggest temptation. Resisting the urge to “tell off” morons is a hard one for me. The phone has been a good thing for me. I have long conversations with one of my daughters. She is a teacher with a long drive to school and calls on the way home many evenings. Now the school is closed, but she makes time to call and yesterday we talked for almost an hour.

    • –>”Resisting the urge to “tell off” morons is a hard one for me.”

      A couple days ago I posted an article about the pastor in Baton Rouge who held a 1000+ person worship service despite all the health professionals and leaders of our country and data modelers saying “Don’t Do That!” (His claim: it’s all a play to take Trump down.) While 90% of my FB friends concurred, I had two friends (of the Calvinist persuasion) step up and say, “God knows the time when we will die,” like that has anything to do with whether a church leader should willingly put his congregation at risk.

      After a few back-and-forths and getting nowhere with them (everything was about SCRIPTURE to them, and the same SCRIPTURE, used as a trump card, which leaves a person nowhere to go), I just said, “I raise the white flag. You win.” It was upsetting me too much to continue.

      • Headless Unicorn Guy says

        A couple days ago I posted an article about the pastor in Baton Rouge who held a 1000+ person worship service despite all the health professionals and leaders of our country and data modelers saying “Don’t Do That!” (His claim: it’s all a play to take Trump down.)

        Said pastor has announced who his LORD really is.

        While 90% of my FB friends concurred, I had two friends (of the Calvinist persuasion) step up and say, “God knows the time when we will die,” like that has anything to do with whether a church leader should willingly put his congregation at risk.

        Sure one of them didn’t have the handle “Seneca”?

    • “Resisting the urge to “tell off” morons is a hard one for me.”

      I’m more of the “answer a fool in response to their folly, lest they seem wise in their own eyes” kind of person – in case that wasn’t obvious. And all the more so now, when stupidity puts others’ lives at risk.

    • Christiane says

      David, our beloved dog passed several months ago, and today my husband comes and says, ‘I want to get another dog’.

      🙂

      I’m happy for you that you got your new dog and I hope to sometime soon be able to invite a new fur baby into our home to take care of us (that’s what happens, you know, even though we think we are in charge).

      Good for you that you have your new dog. May your dog be a blessing to you in these difficult times.

    • David, are you still keeping your camera exercised too?

    • Michael Bell says

      Resisting the urge – super hard for me as well!

  11. Mike Bell! Good article. What I really like about it is you give us some concrete things we can do to manage our anxiety. My late-counselor (THE best in the world, who would not only listen but provide actual things to try to help cope) would be proud of you.

  12. Mike, thanks for this. I also just blogged today about creating simple rhythms in the midst of disorder. One simple practice I want to engage in more is what one person called the 5-3-1 practice.

    Take 5 minutes and just be. Not even with the goal of prayer or meditation, though those are good and can be done at another time. Just sit and look out the window. 5 minutes and just be.

    Note 3 things you are thankful for. There are many more to recount. But the goal is to keep it simple for now. 3 points of thankfulness.

    Do 1 act of kindness. There are a host of ways we can show kindness, even in this very challenging time. A daily, intentional act can go a long way. 1 act of kindness.

  13. Klasie Kraalogies says

    This is practical Stoicism. You might remember that I have a high regard for the Stoics, as stated more than 2 years ago in my Unbelief series. Here are 2 relevant quotes:

    “The chief task in life is simply this: to identify and separate matters so that I can say clearly to myself with are externals, not under my control, and which have to do with the choice I actually control. Where then do I look for good and evil? Not to uncontrollable externals, but within myself to the choices that are my own.” — Epictetus

    “The first step: Don’t be anxious. Nature controls it all. And before long you’ll be no one, nowhere—like Hadrian, like Augustus. The second step: Concentrate on what you have to do. Fix your eyes on it. Remind yourself that your task is to be a good human being; remind yourself what nature demands of people. Then do it, without hesitation, and speak the truth as you see it. But with kindness. With humility. Without hypocrisy.” ? Marcus Aurelius

    • There’s a significant philosophical overlap between Stoicism and Buddhism. But a difference is that Buddhism says you don’t have to wait even a little while to be “no one, nowhere”, since you are “no one, nowhere” right now. To Heraclitus, Buddhism would say you can’t set foot in the same stream twice, because neither streams nor you exist — and neither do feet!

      • Klasie Kraalogies says

        Stoicism is definitely not ethereal. It is practical and VERY down to earth.

        • So is much of Buddhism. No religious philosophy is more down to earth than Zen Buddhism. It is in the doing of the most ordinary things, such as making and drinking tea or practicing archery or doing calligraphy, that one realizes ones true nature, which is impermanent all the way through. The idea and practice is that the impermanence of the self can be grasped in the very midst of life by direct intuitive insight. One can learn to see what Marcus Aurelius is talking about by directly observing the impermanence in the process of what is commonly thought of as the self. This frees one from the fear of loss of the self, or any good the self might cling to, since one knows by direct experience that there is nothing to be lost. The Buddha was an eminently practical man, and the religious philosophy that has devolved down from him, at its best, embodies that practicality. Among the practitioners of Zen, this practical spirit was frequently combined with of a sense of the humorously absurd — hence the nonexistence of feet.

  14. If you have time, doing something creative helps, too – the focus thing. I’ve been crocheting a baby blanket for a friend of a friend (newish immigrant about to give birth to her first child after many years of trying). I have a knitting project and a sewing project, too. I’m playing the piano. I’ve baked some bread, and both my husband and I have each and separately made a small batch of cookies – if you do the walking, as Mike advises, the extra carbs won’t be much of a problem 😉

    My priest is livestreaming morning and evening prayer, and Zooming bible study and parish meetings. Our bishop has allowed for Sunday Liturgy with no more than 4 people (priest, altar server, 2 singers) to be livestreamed. Many monasteries are also broadcasting on Facebook or YouTube. I crochet while listening to my favorite academic teacher, Fr John Behr. I’m doing stuff but actually feel a little lazy sometimes, with not being able to go out to do things.

    Virtual (germ-free) hugs to all of you, friends.

    Dana

    • Michael Bell says

      Thanks for the creative idea Dana!

    • Dana, I agree that doing something creative helps. I have a lot that needs to get done in my work (but that’s all going to be delayed anyway, so no rush), but the past few days I’ve opted out of what needs to be done for what’s creative. I’ve been getting reacquainted with my chain saw and finally made a planter out of a stump from a maple tree that we had taken down a couple of years ago. It’s taken way too much time, gasoline and backache because chainsaws are designed for cross-cutting, not plunge-cutting along the grain down in a hole. But there it is, and Jeri will put some flowering begonias into it when the weather warms up. I’ve also been pruning some lilac bushes and find I really enjoy that. Next up, the apple tree, but I’m getting too old to climb.

  15. Paula Hughes says

    Michael, I am thankful for the times that you made me aware of a fake news post or inaccurate information. Being in the healthcare arena, I have not found the news to cause me anxiety. When in fact, I see inaccurate information, I use that as an opportunity to make others aware of why it is inaccurate and what they should do. It does frustrate me when it is inaccurate though. That’s the public health side of me. I think what you were doing is wise. Glad we are Facebook friends. We have had daily updates from our pastors in a video, as well as Sunday sermons on the Internet. However most of the people in our Bible study group Are not computer savvy. I suggested Zoom but it was not attractive to them.

  16. Thank you Mike. This is helpful. It reminds me of the “Serenity Prayer”.

    All good helpful comments too. I’m trying to read the Psalms each day and talk to God. It’s hard to pray when I get anxious because, as you know Mike, it often leads to despair.

    Doubling my meds helps too. 🙂

  17. anonymous : Why? Good comments flowing and you have to go there. Remain anonymous and silent

    • Michael Bell says

      Anonymous’ comment is now gone. Just didn’t seem appropriate for the topic.

      • Thanks, I am picking up and enjoying good vibes from the article and comments. I have cabin fever and I do not even have a cabin. Time to follow the advice about working on the items in your control circle . At times I cannot even control my bladder so my control is very limited. We need to stay as positive as we realistically can. I have to stay home, I not only want to instinctively touch my own face but others, so I isolate myself before the state does. Anyway life goes on and it is a good life, this is the day the Lord has made, I read that somewhere. Rejoice in it or I will touch your eye.