Idaho, Iowa, and North Dakota

How to Handle the Stress of Things Opening

May 20, 2020

This COVID situation is really hard to handle and it feels like it came out of nowhere. Last year we wouldn’t have thought that we would have been in the Great Toilet Paper Shortage of 2020, yet alone been asked to practice social distancing for weeks. One of the hardest parts of this whole thing is that it’s a huge unknown. We don’t realistically know what the future holds since the world that we’re living in right now is different than last year.

Depending on where you are in the world, social distancing has been going on for a while, long enough that a lot of us have adjusted to what it’s like to stay at home. We may not want to go back, but things are starting to reopen. If you’re finding yourself feeling stressed about the idea of things opening back up, here are some things to help feel a little less overwhelmed:

  1. Notice if you’re assuming the worst. We often assume the worst will happen as a way to make sure that our hopes don’t get destroyed, but then it can be hard for us to find hope if we always expect the worst case scenario. It’s just as possible that something we want to happen could occur. If you feel as though you don’t want things to open up, it can be helpful to remember that just because things are opening up now doesn’t mean they will stay open or that they will be open the same way they were before.  
  2. Remember what you can and cannot control. Unfortunately we cannot control other people, as much as we may want to. That’s not to say that other people aren’t important in our lives, but that we just can’t control them. That includes the people that make the decisions to open things back up. It can make us feel like we have no choice but to go back to work, but technically that is a choice you can make. This isn’t an easy concept to think about, because our choices have consequences for us that we may not like and that makes us feel as though we don’t have any ability to choose, but recognizing the ability that we have to make choices can be powerful in our lives. Other people, from government officials to our bosses, aren’t puppet masters controlling us with strings. Realizing that we’re the ones who make these choices for ourselves is really important. It helps us see the power that we do have. Even if the decision we go with is the same in the end, it helps us see that we’re the ones who made the choice, not someone else, and it can also help us see that we have other options available to us that we normally automatically dismiss.
  3. Stay in the moment. When everything feels overwhelming and we’re jumping to conclusions about what the future will hold, finding ways to stay in the moment can help ground us. This can look like taking deep breaths and imagining your lungs filling with air. It can also look like holding something hot or cold and noticing how that feels against your skin. Or it could be keeping a daily goal and reminding yourself of that goal throughout the day. But staying in the current moment helps us focus on what we can do and keeps us from jumping to conclusions about what might happen in the future.
  4. Use positive affirmations. Positive affirmations are positive phrases that you tell yourself throughout the day. Oftentimes our brains see negative things as having more weight than positive things, so having more positive phrases or thoughts helps outweigh those negative things. The idea of a positive affirmation is we pick a positive phrase, such as “I will survive today” that we repeat so that we help ourselves have more of a positive tone throughout the day.

It can feel so overwhelming to be tossed into these situations that we don’t agree with or we don’t feel prepared for, but you can handle it. You’ve handled everything up until COVID, you’ve handled everything being shut down, and now you can handle things opening back up. If you tell yourself that you can’t handle it, you’re more likely to see this situation as being horrible, something you can’t stand, and you’re more likely to feel stressed. But if you tell yourself that you can handle this (even if it’s uncomfortable or you don’t want to), then you’re more likely to feel less stressed. This isn’t even lying to yourself because you’ve got this!

Meet the author

Danielle Wayne

Danielle is an anxiety therapist. She specializes in helping busy millennials manage their anxiety so they can perform at their best. Danielle has been featured on Apartment Therapy, SparkPeople, Lifewire, and Now Art World. When Danielle isn't helping her clients, she's playing video games or spending time with her partner and step children.

Learn more about Danielle

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