Managing anxiety during the pandemic

Imagine it’s a long-weekend in the summertime and the weather is perfect. You’ve just come back from a hike on your favourite trail and you’re now comfortably sitting with the sun gently warming your face, overlooking the clear lake. You’re in your happy place—a place that brings you true joy and you don’t have a care in the world…

Russell Schuster

President, Cardinal Health Canada

Then the growing to-do-list, the busy schedule of the upcoming week, or the meeting that didn’t go as well as expected all flood your mind. You replay scenarios from the prior week, or begin to think about how to build that big presentation—both your mind and your heart begin to race.

This is how anxiety generally manifests itself for me—a feeling of restlessness or unease—even sometimes when things are seemingly at their best. Being present and at ease becomes a significant challenge.

Now, let’s imagine it’s wintertime and the weather is cold and grey. You’ve just finished watching the news and you’re processing the new COVID-19 case numbers, increased hospitalizations, and are now reconfiguring your life to accommodate online schooling. You don’t really have to imagine that scenario, because that’s what we’ve been living through over the past two years. In this world, we are always present in our anxieties, which can feel almost impossible to overcome.

What I have learned over the last few years is
that anxiety can be your Achilles heel, but it
can also be your superpower.

Anxiety is the negative side of a desire to improve, achieve, and be our best selves. My mind can manifest a feeling of worry that will only hold me back versus seizing the opportunity to positively improve aspects of my professional and personal life. Learning how to harness the positives of anxiety, while navigating the downsides is no easy feat, but it is possible.

Here are a few things that work for me:

Keep things in perspective. Your mindset can play a significant part in how you feel. With anxiety, it can be easy to start thinking irrationally—such as a tendency to think of worst-case scenarios. When you feel this way, acknowledging that it is your anxiety talking versus your rational thought is a great first step. You may not be able to remove the stress from your life, but you can change how you respond to it.

Focus on what you can control. Especially right now, it is important to accept that some things are outside of your control and that change is a chance for something new. We all have enough on our to-do-lists without expending extra energy worrying about things we cannot control. Accepting circumstances that cannot be changed can help you focus on situations that you can alter or influence.

Stay in the now. Yesterdays must be left in the past and tomorrows are not a guarantee. So, if we are focused on what we can control, it is critical to recognize that where you are and what you are doing right now is the most controllable moment you have. Be present, pay attention, and don’t feed the stress cycle.

Prioritize healthy relationships. We generally have two types of relationships—ones which energize us and ones that leave us feeling drained. Managing relationships—time of day, length of time, and whom I interact with before and after—plays a key role for me in managing my stress. I try to start and end each workday with interactions that energize me. It helps me start with a positive note, and ensures I’m in the best mindset for when I log off for the day and walk downstairs from my office and see my family.

Above all else, be kind to yourself. Regardless of your personal situation, I think it’s safe to say that a host of circumstances challenge our ability to be our best right now. If you feel anxious or overwhelmed, take a moment, appreciate what is going well, have gratitude for the positives in your life, and take a few deep breaths.

We are all humans first. Learning how to navigate the anxiety triggers of work and personal life is a continuous journey. The first step is recognizing that others are feeling exactly like I am—and, some are struggling even more. Being open about our challenges and finding trusting relationships where we can discuss what we’re feeling are so important to managing stress and anxiety.

Finally, asking for help is not a sign of weakness, but a true measure of strength. While the above-mentioned tactics are best practices of mine, if you need help with anxiety or any other mental health concern, I strongly encourage you to seek advice from a healthcare professional. Consider them your personal coach in how to navigate the downside of anxiety and celebrate the positives of your inner self.