Coping With Stress and Anxiety in Uncertain Times

“When we’re responding to things emotionally, it’s important to take a step back, take a deep breath and…take a look at what the actual facts are as opposed to what our feelings are.”

The past weeks have been challenging for everyone, to say the least. With so much uncertainty on a global scale, it’s no wonder people are experiencing a heightened sense of stress and anxiety. In all honesty, I almost delayed the launch of the Sage Aging podcast and blog because of all the chaos. In the end I decided the strange time we find ourselves in was precisely the reason we needed to get started right away. We reached out to Licensed Clinical Social Worker, Aaron Landry, to get his advice about coping with stress and anxiety in uncertain times. While we chose this topic in direct response to Covid -19, the solutions he offers are applicable in any situation.

Coping Strategies

Aaron says: “We have a tendency to have this belief that we really like change. We like things to be fast paced and we like things to be exciting. But for most of us change is actually a really scary thing and we like our routines…when those routines get disrupted, it can feel very overwhelming for people. And this pandemic certainly falls into the category of something we’re seeing that has disrupted our everyday routines and maybe feels a little scary, a little overwhelming for some people.”

To take control of the overwhelming feelings, Aaron suggests the following:

  • Take a step back from the situation and evaluate the facts
  • Respond based on facts, not emotions
  • Limit your exposure to the media – stay informed, but don’t watch/surf all day
  • Stick to normal routines as much as possible
  • Take care of your physical health
  • Pray, meditate or use guided imagery
  • Use journaling

 

Signs of stress

Sometimes stress can manifest in physical ways and most people are not aware that it is happening. Taking a self- inventory from time to time is important. If you are aware, you can usually make the necessary changes to alleviate the problem. Stress may present in the following ways:

  • Difficulty sleeping
  • On edge
  • Short tempered
  • High level of frustration
  • Significant increase or decrease in appetite

However, “if you find yourself kind of withdrawing or just wanting to sleep all the time, those would probably be indicators that you need a little bit of support. The good news is we actually have therapy that are available through online chat rooms or online platforms” in the event you can’t see your own doctor right away.

Stress and anxiety are not things that we can completely avoid, but we are in control of the way we respond. “We have control over our emotions, our emotions don’t have control over us.”

Listen to this conversation in its entirety or keep reading for the full transcript.

Sage Aging Episode 1 Transcript

Liz Craven (00:07):

Aaron, thank you so much for joining us today. If you asked me a month ago would I be having the first episode of my podcast be about dealing with stress related to a pandemic? I would have not believed you. But here we are. I think it’s a wonderful opportunity for us to really just kind of get in touch with ourselves and find productive ways to deal with this. And that’s why I thought it was important for us to do this episode first because a lot of people are dealing with so much stress. It doesn’t matter how old you are, age doesn’t matter in this instance, but we all are dealing with a stressor in a different way. So you have caregivers who are trying to provide the best care to people and give them a sense of comfort and a sense of safety. You have older adults, some of whom are isolated in their homes by themselves. Really just so fearful about what’s outside the front door. You have families who are caring for children and their parents and every situation in between. And so I’m, I’m thankful that you’re here today to talk to us a little bit about that and maybe we can help some people make some sense of all of this and share some strategies for coping in the situation we find ourselves in. But first I would love it if you’d just tell us a little bit about yourself.

Aaron Landry (01:37):

Sure. So my name is Aaron Landry. I am a licensed clinical social worker. Thank you for having me. It is an absolute pleasure to be here and be able to kind of talk with folks a little bit about what’s going on. I’ve been practicing about, Oh, since 2004 and essentially, I’ve been on critical stress debriefing teams. I’ve responded to crisis situations, I’ve responded to emergency situations and then I’ve responded to just everyday life situations and what’s interesting is I think we have a tendency to have this belief that we really like change. We like things to be fast paced and we like things to be exciting. But for most of us change is actually a really scary thing and we like our routines. And then when those routines get disrupted, it can feel very overwhelming for people. And this pandemic certainly falls into the category of something we’re seeing that has disrupted our everyday routines and maybe feels a little scary, a little overwhelming for some people.

Aaron Landry (02:37):

That being said, there certainly are things we can do. I’d say step one is, when we’re responding to things emotionally, it’s important to take a step back, take a deep breath, and then kind of take a look what the actual facts are as opposed to what our feelings are. And the facts are that the odds of somebody getting sick, especially to the point they don’t recover, are extremely, extremely small. We still know that the average flu has much more impact as far as mortality than this current flu. It doesn’t mean that you don’t be responsible, and I think most people are actually being very responsible. They’re following CDC guidelines, they’re washing their hands, keeping their distance. So I mean, I think knowing the facts is certainly important. Not turning on the media is an okay thing to do as well.

Aaron Landry (03:29):

When you’re constantly looking at that negativity, it can feel overwhelming. So it’s okay to say, okay, maybe I’ll watch the news for an hour. I’ll go on Facebook for an hour, but then I’m going to turn it off and then I’m going to give myself some sort of normal routine, as normal as possible. If I usually get up and get dressed and go to work in the morning, well maybe I can’t go to work. I’ll get up, I’ll take a shower, I’ll get dressed as if I was going to work. I normally exercise, then I’m going to set myself up a little exercise routine in the morning. I normally go to bed at nine. I’m not going to go to bed at midnight. Certain things such as, we always say in the mental health world that there’s a mind, body connection. You take good care of your mind, you take good care of your physical health.

Aaron Landry (04:15):

Those things are connected. So if you exercise, if you have a good eating regimen, if you get plenty of good sleep, then you’re going to feel a lot better than if you’re not doing those things. So those certainly are important. And then the other thing I always talk about is making sure you’re thinking good thoughts. And if you’re having a lot of worried thoughts, a lot of panic thoughts, just write them down. You know, this is my worst case scenario, what I’m concerned could happen and then write down what the opposite is. Well, here’s my best case scenario. I’ll grow closer to my family, I’ll…you know, whatever the best case scenario is for you. And then in between those two things is what I call you achieve your realistic thought. I’m concerned, but I’m taking care of myself, taking all the right precautions and I’m going to use this time to my benefit. That’s probably a realistic thought.

Liz Craven (05:09):

That’s really amazing. And I think that you brought up a lot of good points there that are so important for people to recognize. And, the taking in of the media and the social media especially, it’s scary. It’s doomsday every day according to some people, while others are dealing with this. I know in my own neighborhood there is a Teddy bear hunt going on, which is amazing. You know, a parent decided, hey, let’s give these kids a way to cope that’s fun. And so we’ve all hidden Teddy bears in our windows so that as families are taking their walk around the neighborhood in the evening, they can locate the Teddy bears and have some fun. I think it’s so important that we do redirect our thoughts and we redirect our emotions into something that’s positive and good.

Liz Craven (05:58):

So that was a really great point and I appreciate you bringing that up. So as it relates to strategies for coping, I think that’s something that people just don’t know where to begin with. So I’m having these anxiety thoughts. I’m, I’m stressed and I’m sitting in my house… which that in itself, for people who are accustomed to being on the go can be a big change and something that really drives them to a place that they don’t enjoy. How can people cope in that sense as it relates to being tied to the house and not being able to roam as much as they’re accustomed?

Aaron Landry (06:44):

Well, I want to touch on something that you said and then I’ll slide over into that. It’s ironic because I’ve heard about that Teddy bear thing even where I am.

Aaron Landry (06:52):

And I think that sometimes those acts of humanity and compassion, and kind of really watching out for your neighbor, they don’t necessarily get posted on Facebook or on social media, but you hear of them. And those are the types of things that people are doing to really look in on one another and take care of one another that you may not hear about. But when you do hear about them, it’s like, Oh, okay, there is still a lot of positivity going on in this world. Uh, so I think those are important acts of human kindness that we should probably remember are happening at a higher rate than we necessarily hear about. As far as what you can do, that is very individual. And the reason I say that is for some people, if you’re an exercise person, you might want to get up in the morning and jog around the block for an hour.

Aaron Landry (07:41):

For other people, they’d be thinking, why are you torturing me? I think it depends on what it is that you do to relax, you know, if it’s exercising, then go for a run. If it is playing with your dog, play with your dog. For most people though, what I’ve found to be a helpful is journaling. I’m a big believer that if you have a magnifying glass, whatever you put that magnifying glass over, it gets made larger. So if you put that magnifying glass over everything that’s going wrong, then that’s going to feel overwhelming. But what if you journal and you start off your morning by journaling about all the things that are going right? I know my family’s taken care of, I have food in my fridge, I have a roof over my head. All the things that are positive in life then you’re probably going to kick off that day in a pretty good way, right?

Aaron Landry (08:33):

Taking time to pray or to meditate or to just do some guided imagery and some debriefing just to kind of let all those thoughts flow out of your mind and just kind of get yourself centered. And it doesn’t really take a long period of time if you close the bathroom door to get away from the kids and you just take 10 or 15 minutes. But it’s about getting yourself centered and relaxed. Breathing is a big part of that because when we get tense, we tend to tense our muscles up. We tend to take shallow breaths. Um, so I think from time to time, do whatever it is that you do to get centered. And I know that there’s some people will be like, well, I’ve never done that. That’s not in my comfort zone. So the nice thing about being in your home and having some time on your hands is you get to practice in a safe place.

Aaron Landry (09:24):

Stepping outside of your comfort zone and maybe practicing some skills that you haven’t. And through the wonder of technology, there’s all these calming apps, meditation apps, guided apps that are all free that you can download online that’ll help you walk through how to do that, which is another piece. We have this social technology that we didn’t have 10, 20 years ago where we can literally put somebody up on a video chat. And even though they’re, in their home, and your’re in your home, you can put a face to a name and there’s something about hearing a human voice and seeing another human, even if it’s through a video chat, that has a different level of connection than sending a letter or sending a text. So that in and by itself can have you feel deeper levels of connection and feel less isolated.

Liz Craven (10:19):

That makes an awful lot of sense. So let me ask you this; From people that I’ve spoken to, they’re finding that the stress level that they’re experiencing is manifesting in a variety of different ways physically. What might people be looking out for as it relates to how they’re feeling physically and different ways that stress and anxiety can manifest. How should they be looking to change routines or cope with that piece of the stress and anxiety equation?

Aaron Landry (10:54):

That is a fantastic question because not everybody even realizes that they’re under stress. So some things to look at is certainly if you have a partner, you’re probably cued into what their baseline is. And if your partner is walking around and they are a little bit more on edge, they’re, a little bit more short in their responses. If their frustration tolerance is down, if they’re not sleeping well, you know, sleep is just so important because it’s during that deep REM sleep that we have process a lot of our day and we’ve all had times where we don’t sleep well and wake up or feeling a little bit cranky the next day. So if people aren’t sleeping well for two, three days in a row, that’s probably a sign that their anxieties up, a decrease or a significant increase in appetite.

Aaron Landry (11:43):

There are people right now that because they’re at home, they don’t have a lot to do and they’re feeling anxious they just start eating. And it’s not because they’re are hungry, it’s because it’s something to do, but that’s not necessarily a healthy habit of life to get into. So I think just kind of being aware of what your mood is, how about your distress tolerance is how your sleep is. Those things will come out. If you feel yourself starting to not want to do the things that you used to find enjoyable, if you find yourself kind of withdrawing or just wanting to sleep all the time, those would probably be indicators that you need a little bit of support. And again, the good news is we actually have therapy that are available through online chat rooms or online platform. Teladoc is one, telehealth, better help.

Aaron Landry (12:36):

With these subscription services, even if you can’t go and see your therapist, you can at least talk to a therapist on the phone or through video chat. So if you do get to the point where you feel like professional help would be an option and those services are made available on an online platform and in the state of Florida, the state of Florida is that due to the current situation, we’re going to open that up and relaxed rules on that so that more people will be able to get online help than ever before.

Liz Craven (13:06):

That’s fantastic. I did not know that. And for our listeners, we’ll be sure in the show notes to put links to these things that we’re discussing here so that you can have access to those. So as it relates to the different roles that people play in life, you know, we have sandwich generation folks who are caring for their parents. They’re caring for their children. Some of them don’t have access to their parents. They are living in, maybe an assisted living community or a nursing home and they’re on lockdown. So what would be some good strategies to help families stay connected when they’re separated this way?

Aaron Landry (13:50):

So I’m a big believer of, set up a call time, even if it’s just a five minute call to check in and know that your loved one’s okay and that they’re feeling healthy. A call time would be important. The other piece I would say to that is that reaching out on a consistent basis, knowing that your loved one’s taken care of, but also with caregivers, it is so important because they are in the role of a caregiver, that they make some time to put themselves first and make sure that their own needs are taken care of. Because normally what happens when you’re in the role of the caretaker –  my parents are taken care of and the kids are taken care of and everybody’s fed and the house is clean and this is done, then I’ll make a little time for myself and we know we never get down the list to the bottom. And what happens is if you are the primary caretaker right now for your family, if you run yourself down and you’re going to have that much less to give, so it’s not being selfish by putting yourself first. What if you say? Okay, I take an hour in the day, get myself centered, take care of myself, and all of a sudden you have much more energy, you’re in a much better place to then give fully to the people around you.

Liz Craven (15:01):

That is great advice. And I am a proponent of that. I’ve been a caregiver multiple times myself for parents. And it can be very taxing and it can be very overwhelming. And there are days when you just look in the mirror and you forget who you are and I think that a lot of caregivers end up feeling that way. So that’s great advice for them to take some time, take a minute, lock yourself in the bathroom if you have to and find a few minutes for yourself that you can just breathe.

Aaron Landry (15:34):

Probably the most important thing is to realize a couple of things. One, this is temporary until you’re not in it alone. And if you have people around you that you can connect with. So if you have brothers and sisters and you’re in a caretaking capacity, you can form your own little informal support group. Because I always say a problem shared is like a problem cut in half. So if you have somebody that you can just vent to and say, Hey, I’m in this situation and it feels overwhelming and they’re in the same situation, so I get it, I’m taking care of my parents as well, then that automatically makes you feel better. And by sharing it with somebody who’s not going to judge you. They may be able to give you some impartial advice like, yeah, I didn’t think of that from that perspective because they’re in the same boat that you are. So the more you have opportunities to utilize what’s around you to be able to have that sense of connection, and I think that’s going to be helpful. And then certainly focusing on the positive. There are things that are certainly beyond our control right now, and a lot of that is external, but then there’s so much within our control. Most of that is within ourselves. We have control of our, over our emotions, our emotions don’t have control over us.

Liz Craven (16:45):

That’s fantastic. I think that that is probably the best takeaway from the entire conversation is that we are in control and we get to choose on a daily basis how we feel and how we react to the environment around us. Thank you again so much for your time. I really appreciate it. And I know that there will be a lot of people who listen to this conversation, who will appreciate being brought back to center again. And I’d like to just encourage everyone to remember who you are. Look in the mirror, remember that this is temporary. Remember that we do have control over our thoughts and the way that we respond to situations. And so take each day for what it is. Find the silver lining in every day. And I think that we’ll all be better off if we do that

Liz Craven (17:36):

Thanks so much for joining us. Aaron.

 

Liz Craven

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As I’ve been preparing to launch this podcast I’ve enjoyed revisiting stages of my own life and reflecting on how this topic became such a passion for me. While I’ve built my career on helping older adults and their families connect to needed education and resources, my connection to the aging and care process goes much deeper.

Some of my earliest childhood memories are of my own multi-generational family living together in one home. I was 4 or 5 when my grandmother moved into our home to help care for my sisters and I while our parents worked. Soon after, her father and grandfather moved in as well. We had 5 generations living under one roof! That was a beautifully chaotic adventure and knowing what I know now, I have so much respect for what my parents and grandmother did.

Fast forward to age 24. Newly married and pregnant with our first child, I spent several months with my in-laws to help care for my husband’s grandmother who had Alzheimer’s. Fast forward again to about 2009 – Wes and I have two teenagers about to head to college and his mother is diagnosed with cancer. Several years later, my mother is diagnosed with cancer. Several years after that Wes’ stepdad is diagnosed with Alzheimer’s disease and his father is suffering from severe dementia. You can see where this is going right? For the better part of the last 10 years we have been the caregivers. We see it as an honor and privilege to have been able to do that for our parents.

The key to navigating our later years is being proactive about gathering information before we get there and staying engaged once we do. To be sage is to be wise. There is wisdom in taking the time to ask questions, seek solutions and know your options before the need arises.

Each week we will discuss relevant topics of aging with experts who can help us to understand and be better prepared for aging. We’ll also introduce you to some Sage Agers who are totally owning their journeys through life. No topic will be off limits and we will deliver open and honest conversation meant to educate and empower our listeners. Each episode will also be available in video and blog formats.

Whether you are proactively seeking to broaden your own knowledge, a caregiver for a loved one or a professional working in the aging care industry, this podcast is for you. We hope you will join us as we explore and celebrate Sage Aging.