Taming Anxious Thoughts While Getting Back Out Into the World

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Venues are opening up again, masks are coming off, and people are having a positive kind of fever — spring fever. But for those who experience anxiety, this can all feel a bit daunting. In post-COVID lockdown life, my anxiety has been particularly hard to manage, but I have found that understanding more about anxiety, and how to cope with it, has helped. Perhaps it can help you too. 

Signs of High-Functioning Anxiety

High-functioning anxiety usually refers to someone who manages daily life well but may experience worries or stresses on the inside. Signs can include constantly overthinking and overanalyzing, dwelling on past mistakes or even nervous habits like nail-biting, hair twirling or leg shaking, according to the Rose Hill Center for Mental Health Treatment. These days, when I find myself absent-mindedly biting my nails while out and about, I get even more anxious as I worry about contracting COVID. It is helpful to take a deep breath, stop what I’m doing, and ground myself in the situation.

 Other signs include the need to please others, difficulty saying no, as well as fear of failure and striving for perfection. As the world gets back to some sense of normalcy post COVID peak, it can be especially difficult for those with anxiety to remember that it is perfectly fine to turn friends’ invitations down. 

Managing Your Anxious Thoughts

There are many ways to cope with your anxious thoughts. I use daily mantras and post them at my desk. Some mantras I like include: Just breathe, be yourself, accept and value yourself, forgive yourself, etc. To remember to breathe, I use the mantra: “Smell the flowers, blow out the candles.” While breathing in and out, I imagine beautiful bouquets my husband has sent me in the past or fun birthday parties watching people blow out candles in their cake (or blowing out my own).

How to Help a Friend or Family Member 

If a friend with high-functioning anxiety wants to continue wearing a mask in a place that no longer requires them, try and understand their feelings and support their decision without much fanfare. If they’d rather eat outdoors instead of inside, don’t argue with them about how you’d rather stay in. Being accepting and encouraging is important to help your friend get back out into the world.

Advice from Experts

Tina B. Tessina, PhD, (aka Dr. Romance), psychotherapist and author of It Ends with You: Grow Up and Out of Dysfunction, defines high-functioning anxiety as anxiety without crippling panic attacks. Tessina advises to help calm anxiety, pin the thoughts down by writing them as “What if?” questions and then answering each question.

For example, you might worry: “What if I lose my job?” An answer might be: “If I lose my job, I’ll find another. Just to be sure, I’ll connect with a job search site and put my resume out there so I know there are other jobs.” Tessina says, “By facing your fears like this, you’ll remove the reasons for the anxiety.” 

Dr. Sarah Weisberg, a licensed psychologist and founder of Potomac Therapy Group says it’s natural to worry and seek reassurance or concrete answers to questions when faced with the high level of uncertainty of a pandemic. “Unfortunately, we don’t have answers to every question right now so for a person with a high-level of anxiety, it’s important to try to step away from this black or white way of thinking and instead embrace what you can control.” 

The Bottom Line 

Dealing with anxiety can be difficult at any point in life, but as things go back to some semblance of normalcy post-pandemic, it can feel even more challenging to manage anxiety. If you’re dealing with anxiety, be sure to lean on your support (friends and family), as well as to seek help from a mental health professional, if needed. 

Tags: Mental Health, Self Care

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Written By

Kate Oczypok

Kate Oczypok is a freelance writer based in the DC area. She lives with her husband and dog and also teaches piano lessons. See Full Bio

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