Medically reviewed by Shahzadi Devje, Registered Dietitian (RD) & Certified Diabetes Educator (CDE)
Personal tips to help manage anxiety during the outbreak of a pandemic.
I woke up and tried remembering what day it was. According to my phone, it was a Tuesday. It felt funny to be in bed at 7:30 am - not rushing about the house, getting the kids ready for school. Days and nights seem to mesh into one another.
I went downstairs and put the kettle on. It’s normal to see parents piling kids into cars for school at this hour. Dog-walkers and runners are usually out for exercise. However, these days it’s different.
Lone cherry blossom trees stand tall amidst late winter snow. Spring has arrived. Toronto’s nippy air isn’t bone-chilling anymore. It is still cold, yes. But it’s spring cold, when birds start singing and trees come to life.
Yet, there is no sign of human life on my street. People have stopped socializing for the time being. Governments around the world have named it “social distancing”. Our planet is going through a health crisis, a global pandemic. There is a rare disease called COVID-19: the new coronavirus. It has spread around the world like wildfire. Scientists, doctors and healthcare professionals are still trying to decipher what it actually is. There is no vaccine and no cure. It multiplies and doubles through infectious droplets in coughing, sneezing and overall human contact. Therefore, all of us must stop socializing for some time. Every person in the world. We are to stay home.
Sounds like a film, doesn’t it? It reminds me of A Quiet Place. The plot revolves around a family struggling to survive in a post-apocalyptic world inhabited by blind extraterrestrial creatures with an acute sense of hearing. They attack people who utter any sound. Only in the real world, said creatures are the new coronavirus. Close human contact might put us at the risk of catching it.
Those who can work from home have stopped going to their offices, and educational institutes from around the world have switched to online classes. Events, travel plans and workshops are indefinitely cancelled until further notice. Shops, businesses, restaurants and cafes have shut down, the world over.
It is a strange and apocalyptic time. Never in my life did I imagine the new decade would start on such an unusual note! However, in such unprecedented circumstances with routines falling apart, holding onto our mental health (alongside immunity) has never felt more important.
Like many people across the globe, I also experienced the anxiety and panic this virus has brought with itself. With no work routine, no school for the kids and no gym, I felt quite stressed and helpless. How do I motivate myself to change out of pyjamas every morning? I can’t go to the gym - do I let my workout regime falter? What about work? How do I manage my anxiety? A lack of routine can often cause our fitness, nutrition goals, mental health and other wellness-related ambitions to suffer.
And that is understandable. Likewise, you must also be overwhelmed with the inordinate amount of information everywhere. It can be demotivating and cause anxiety. Maybe you’ve lost that sense of purpose that comes with a structured wellness routine. You might also be angry at how long it took you to establish a healthy regime consisting of exercise, hobbies, activities and self-care. All of that might seem in vain now. I understand because I felt the same. However, I changed my mindset. It didn’t happen overnight, but I managed to guide myself into a more positive direction.
Tips to help manage anxiety
Start with acceptance
I started with acceptance. Yes, corona is currently on a world tour and we must accept that for a while, it’s here to stay. Acceptance brings a sense of clarity. And clarity makes space for kindness. Kindness towards ourselves and other people. It is okay to let the unknown cloud our judgement for a bit. We are allowed to feel vulnerable. What’s not okay is dwelling on it for too long.
Count your blessings
Slowly, I started counting my blessings. At least in this situation, I have a loving family, a roof over my head, food in the kitchen, and Wi-Fi to stay connected with the outside world. A good internet connection guarantees a plethora of content for both mental and physical well-being. All these extra hours will also allow me to spend more free time with my family. All I needed was a structure that’ll fit around these new limitations.
Establish a family routine & tag-team
Like any parent, my husband and I wanted to have some semblance of a routine for our three kids first. We encouraged them to find creative ways to stay physically fit and mentally agile. We molded our work schedules around their routines and vice versa, in order to accommodate all family members.
My husband and I decided to take turns in going to the basement for online meetings and work calls. This allows us free time to spend with our children in turns. My eldest, Miss R (16) is now my workout buddy. Not only do we have fun exercising with dumbbells and bands, it’s also a great way for us to have some quality mother-daughter bonding time.
Our youngest, Master IZ (6) has a lovely little schedule that allows him to read, play in the garden, watch a film and do school work. Our middle one, Master IK (14) is great at keeping himself and his baby brother fit through football. If it’s not snowing, they also head out to the back garden to play. Together with my husband, my kids and I now also enjoy making meals together. In fact, Master IZ is definitely my little sous chef!
Let go of perfection and be kind
It's understandable that some of us might be struggling with binge-eating of less-nutritious foods. It is almost predictable to indulge in a few treats with so much ongoing stress. It's is okay to enjoy a few extra sweet treats. Your body doesn’t change overnight. And, as long as we enjoy such food items as treats, it is perfectly acceptable to cut ourselves some slack. Kindness has to start with ourselves first. Let’s shift the focus off of body weight, to the power of positive perspective.
Find the silver lining
There is a silver lining to the most adverse of situations. Times like these test our patience and resilience. This global pandemic has affected thousands across the globe. It is perfectly okay to feel on edge. However, even when we're trapped inside four walls for our own safety, we can find ways to feel emotionally and physically relaxed.
The collective mentality of all or nothing isn’t the kindest approach to dealing with unexpected situations. Life is not perfect, and unprecedented circumstances such as the coronavirus are beyond our control. We must graciously accept that the entire world is fighting the same battle, and have a more optimistic outlook towards life. As Rumi infamously said, “the moment you accept what troubles you’ve been given, the door will open.” And I have accepted that now is the time to step back and adjust, in order to leap forward again.
How are you doing during this uncertain time? What have you found to be helpful to manage anxiety? Share your tips in the comments below!
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Shahzadi is an award-winning registered dietitian (RD) regulated by the College of Dietitians of Ontario and certified diabetes educator (CDE), approved by the Canadian Diabetes Educator Certification Board. A YouTuber and notorious foodie, she's dedicated to helping you end your cooking wars, transform your health, and be the best version of yourself! Shahzadi is an on-air nutrition expert for CTV Your Morning and a regular contributor for Global News and other national media outlets.