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Building Bridges by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante    

Managing worry

as Manitoba lifts COVID-19 restrictions

by Cheryl Dizon-Reynante

In Manitoba, we are headed toward yet another period of transition. The government had previously announced that as of March 1, vaccine cards will no longer be required and on March 15, mask requirements and all other COVID-19 restrictions will be removed. Some are welcoming this transition while others are nervous or anxious about it. Both are valid reactions when it comes to major changes.

What is anxiety?

Different people experience anxiety in different ways. Some may use words such as “nervousness,” “fear,” “stress,” “panic,” “freaking out,” or “butterflies.” But overall, anxiety is characterized by having overwhelming worry or thoughts that cause distress and interfere with your ability to function at home, work, or in the community. Anxiety can affect our relationships with others too.

Symptoms of anxiety can include:

  • negative thinking
  • excessive worry
  • confusion
  • trembling
  • fatigue
  • feeling faint or dizzy
  • irritability
  • restlessness
  • difficulty breathing
  • rapid heartbeat
  • upset stomach or nausea
  • difficulty concentrating
  • muscle tension
  • insomnia

Everyone experiences anxiety to some level, and there is no single cause for anxiety. Usually, a number of factors will contribute to how you experience anxiety such as genetics, your brain chemistry, and life situations. You are not able to control these factors. However, what we do have power over is how we look at and interpret things that we experience. Core beliefs about ourselves, thinking style, and behaviours are factors that we can change. We can work to improve low self-esteem, try to change our negative thoughts, and adopt behaviours that will decrease our anxiety and stress.

Try some of the following effective anxiety-reducing strategies.

Think realistically

Often times, we pay more attention to the negative, rather than the positive. Another thing that humans can do is to think of the worst-case scenario or downplay our successes. So, it is helpful to try to zoom out and look at the big picture. For instance, after a difficult workday, do not focus on all the things you didn’t do. Instead, make a mental list of all the things you did accomplish, and how well you did it. This can also apply when thinking about how well you handled all the ups and downs of the pandemic.

Evaluate the benefits of worrying

If it is a situation that we have little or no control over, there is not much we can do. Sometimes we worry so that we feel that we are prepared, or that we are doing something. But sometimes this brings about feelings of hopelessness and can interfere with our everyday functioning, limiting opportunities to feel joy and happiness.

Examine your thought processes

Do you only see the worst possible outcome? Do you make broad interpretations from a single or a few events? e.g. After feeling awkward at a job interview, thinking “I am always so awkward.” Try to stay away from thoughts using the words, always, never and every. e.g. “I never do a good job at work.” Be careful not to jump to conclusions or assume what others are thinking e.g. “If I continue to wear a mask, others will judge me” or “If I stop wearing a mask, people will think that I don’t care”.

Don’t try to be perfect

We often feel more anxiety when we want to be absolutely perfect at something. However, complete perfection is impossible for anyone to achieve. The end result is that you feel more worried and hopeless because you will continually fall short of your goals. In fact, perfectionists tend to accomplish less because they spend a lot of time correcting and going over things again and again, trying to achieve an impossible standard. Meanwhile, a non-perfectionist could have accomplished twice as much work that is at an acceptable standard. Regarding the pandemic, you should not feel embarrassed if you caught COVID-19, especially if you followed public health recommendations.

Let out your feelings

With any form of negative stress, it is always best to let out heavy feelings, rather than keeping them to yourself. Talking to a family member, friend, counsellor, teacher, doctor, or spiritual leader will help you to feel better. If you do not want to talk about it, write it out. You can choose to keep a journal or rip up any notes that you make. Every one of us has been worried about something during this pandemic. There has been a lot of change, so it is normal to feel stressed.

Find ways to relax

The behaviours and activities that you choose can be a powerful outlet for stress and worry. Some people find that journaling is a great way to sort out their thoughts and let go of anxiety. Playing a musical instrument or singing can serve as a creative outlet for stress. Stretching is one of the easiest anxiety-reducing techniques because you can do this anywhere. If you find that you are feeling upset or tense, take a stretch break to find immediate relief. Yoga is an activity that combines stretching, breathing exercises and meditation, which can result in inner peace.

When in doubt, turn to the Internet or YouTube to find a variety of information and videos on relaxation, deep breathing, and mindfulness. Mindfulness focuses on the present moment, which can relieve anxiety because we are often worrying about what happened in the past and what will happen in the future. Being mindful means accepting what is happening in the present moment, and not being judgemental.

It is important to manage anxiety before it happens, not just when we experience it. This decreases the chances of having emotional and physical problems down the road.

Understandably, with big changes coming soon, there are mixed reactions among Manitobans. Some are looking forward to these changes and others are more hesitant and will continue to wear masks, and practice physical distancing and good hand hygiene. In order for us to get through this transition smoothly, we must all be understanding, nonjudgmental and patient with people who choose to adopt a different strategy than we do.

Cheryl Dizon-Reynante is a licensed therapist with the Canadian Counselling and Psychotherapy Association.

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