How to Cope with COVID Anxiety: 6 Ways to Change Stress Thinking
Updated: Jul 28, 2020
Summer is in full force, and we are continuing to face high levels of stress, anxiety, and uncertainty as it relates to the pandemic. Uncertainty is a breeding ground for anxiety because uncertainty can lead to many stress thoughts that further fuel anxiety. As we continue to adjust and adapt to different guidelines and information, it will be especially important to manage stress.
One especially important aspect of this is being aware of common stress thoughts that can come about when stress or uncertainty is higher. Not only do we want to be aware of them, but we want to actively look out for them in our thinking and critically assess them so they are not increasing stress even more.
Our thinking is immensely powerful, and managing unhelpful thinking is a key aspect of any kind of mood management. This is especially true and important right now as stress is at an all-time high for many people.
Here are six common stress thoughts associated with COVID that can worsen stress and anxiety:
1) All or Nothing Thinking
This type of thinking involves looking at situations in shades of black and white and in extremes. This will manifest in difficulty seeing in shades of gray. Most things are not black or white, but when we are under stress or experiencing high levels of anxiety, we tend to look at things in extremes.
In general, this might look like thinking about ourselves as either perfect or a failure, a good employee/co-worker/parent or a bad employee/co-worker/parent.
· Avoiding all social interaction and activity vs. not taking any precautions at all when going out and about.
· Either not doing anything to take care of ourselves, or putting intense pressure on
ourselves to be perfect, productive, or to fulfill all health goals during this time.
How to Manage:
· Since most things are not black and white, look for the gray or middle ground:
· Maybe you won’t be able to meet all of your health goals, but can you
choose a few to focus on?
· You might not be at your absolute top productivity as you might be in your office, but
can you do things to enhance your productivity and manage expectations of what this
might look like under different circumstances?
This type of thinking takes a single event and generalizes it to an overall pattern or a big picture conclusion. For example, someone might make a mistake at work and decide that they are an awful employee and never do anything right.
Key words to look out for when it comes to overgeneralization include absolute words like always, never, all the time, none of the time, everyone, no one, and other absolute words.
· The most common one is the thought, “I can’t do anything right now.”
· “There are no activities that I can do right now.”
· Other examples might include focusing on things we’re not doing well at work or at home
and making big conclusions about ourselves.
o For example, not being as productive as we might usually be at home, and
overgeneralizing this to mean we are a bad employee, don’t like our work anymore,
How to Manage:
· Watch out for the absolute words mentioned above. Start to monitor your thinking for those
words as a clue you are likely overgeneralizing.
· Another good strategy is to ask yourself if you are making general statement based on
single events. Question some of these conclusions.
· In the example I shared above, you might ask yourself, ‘Is it true that I can’t do anything at
all that I like right now?” Although it might be true we cant do the things we want as a first
choice, it’s probably unlikely we can’t do anything at all.
3) Mental Filter
Like overgeneralization, the mental filter is a form of stress and anxiety thinking that focuses on a single negative piece of information and excludes all the positive ones. An example of this distortion is one partner in a romantic relationship dwelling on a single negative comment made by the other partner and viewing the relationship as hopelessly lost, while ignoring the years of positive comments and experiences.
The mental filter can create a pessimistic view if we are only focused on the negative, which tends to happen when we are high stress or high anxiety. Something to keep in mind is when we are not in a great mood or stress is high, the mind will selectively filter negative information and ignore more positive or neutral information.
· Paying attention only to things we’re not doing well in terms of productivity, health and
· Focusing selectively on things we cannot control (increases stress fast), while
ignoring things we have some level of control over.
· Selectively focusing on things like when the pandemic will be over, when the vaccine will
come, etc., while ignoring things in our control, such as how we set ourselves up for
success, how we take care of ourselves, etc.
How to Manage:
· Ask yourself, “Am I only focusing on the negatives right now? Am I taking into account all
· If the answer is you are only focusing on negatives and not taking into account all the
information, this gives you an opportunity to look at things in a more well-rounded way.
· Keep in mind that when stress increases, the mind will always start to look for more
negative things, so when your mood starts to change, this is a good time to look at your
thoughts because they will change with your mood.
4) Disqualifying the Positives
I would really call this a 3a because when we are focusing on the negative things, we tend to ignore the positive things, or we acknowledge them but reject them as not being true. This might look like getting a compliment but thinking the person was only saying it to be nice. Or, getting a job but attributing it to luck.
· Ignoring the things we are doing well in the home, personally, and at work, and only focusing on the negatives.
· Disqualifying things we’re doing well because it is not in line with our normal productivity. For example, “I got a lot done today, but I was not as productive as I am in the office, so it doesn’t really count.”
· Or, “I went for a walk but usually I go to the gym so that doesn’t count.”
How to Manage:
· Embrace the positives with the negatives and give yourself credit where credit is due.
· Notice the things you are doing well and work on the things that you do not feel you are
doing well with tangible goals.
· Have reasonable expectations for yourself and make sure not to discount things you are doing well, even if they are small.
· Anything you are doing for yourself, for your health and wellness, around your house, for
work, etc. counts!
5) Jumping to Conclusions
This is the tendency to make predictions about the future without knowing what is going to happen. Unfortunately, we are not fortune tellers (that would be pretty cool though!), so we have no way of predicting the future. However, the stressed and anxious mind will tell us that we can predict the future.
Not only does the stressed and anxious mind tell us we can predict the future, it predicts a very catastrophic and worst-case scenario future. Although certain anxious predictions could in theory happen, most of them will not. However, imagining them can distress us almost to the same extent as if it was happening.
So, keeping a careful eye on future predictions that are based in stress and anxiety is very important.
· This will largely include predictions about what will happen to us, those we know, or in
general about the future.
· A key phrase to look out for is “what if.” If you have a series of predictions that start with
“what if,” the anxious thinking has taken off at full speed.
o “What if we don’t find a vaccine?”
o “What if I get fired and lose my job and then can’t pay my bills?”
o “What if I get sick and have to go to the hospital?”
o “What if I get a family member or friend sick and something happens to them?”
How to Manage:
· First, remember that you are not a fortune teller. You have no way of predicting the future,
as much as the anxious mind will tell you that you can.
· Although some of your predictions or conclusions could in theory happen, they are not
happening right now, and might never happen. So, spending a lot of time imagining hypothetical, worst-case scenarios is going to take a lot of mental energy and time that
you could be using for something else, while at the same time escalating your stress and
anxiety to very high levels.
· This can be challenging and takes practice, but try to stay focused in the present as much
as you can.
· Remind yourself that you can only make decisions about the information you have now. By
focusing on the present and the information you actually have, you can take action steps
to address any concerns.
· It’s pretty hard to plan for a hypothetical situation that may not happen, so do your best to
stay focused in the present.
6) Emotional Reasoning
This is one of the trickier unhelpful thinking styles that can come from high levels of stress and anxiety and is also one of the most important ones to identify and catch sooner rather than later.
This is best described as, “I feel it, so it must be true.” This involves taking how we are feeling as fact without questioning it much. Although something might feel true, that does not make it true.
This is a particularly dangerous stress thought because our emotions are constantly changing under normal circumstances, and even more so with everything going on right now. So, basing conclusions on our emotions can create extremely high levels of stress and anxiety.
A general example might be, “I feel like a bad person for making this mistake so I must be a bad person.” With COVID stress and anxiety, emotions will be high and come and go, so it is likely that this stress thought will make an appearance.
· I feel like things will never improve
· I feel like I will get sick and infect my family
· I feel like there’s nothing I can do about my situation
· I feel like I should be doing better
How to Manage:
· Differentiate between feelings and thoughts. Feeling statements are noticeably short and
brief and will start with I feel + feeling word (angry, sad, upset, worried). If it follows with a
sentence, it is probably not a feeling statement but rather emotional reasoning.
· Remind yourself that even if it feels really bad, it does not mean that it is.
· Identify the emotion present and acknowledge it rather than trying to avoid it.
Remember that stress and anxiety will always lead to negative and unhelpful thoughts, so keeping a careful eye on your thoughts when stress and anxiety are high is especially important right now and a major key to managing your mood.
The unhelpful thinking styles that tend to come from high stress and anxiety are listed above, so pay extra careful attention to those specifically and how they might come up in your thinking. Awareness is step 1 so we can manage them and prevent the mood from further worsening.
Managing unhelpful thinking will put you in the driver’s seat of managing stress and anxiety right now. Which ones apply to you? Follow the tips above to prevent and manage high stress during this uncertain time. You got this!
Looking for more? Let’s connect and be partners in your stress mastery. I will be in your corner as you learn the tools to master stress and take back your life with expert stress and anxiety coaching.
Fill out the contact form at drjuliakogan.com to get in touch! I can’t wait to work with you :).