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5 tips to manage your anxiety, stress, and uncertainty about coronavirus

It’s been quite a year, hasn’t it? When coronavirus first hit the United States in March, the idea of living in quarantine lockdown – as people in China, Italy, and other countries were doing at the time — seemed absurd, like an episode of Black Mirror. And yet, here we are. With work transforming from just another day at the office to just another day with a laptop open on your bed, children learning from home online, and weddings, concerts, and sporting events canceled, life as most we knew it has changed (per ABC). And, we’re not okay about it. We may have been sick from coronavirus, or we may have lost people we loved. At the very least, anxiety and stress are looming large in our lives.

So how can we manage living through this uncertainty? In an interview with The List, Monica Berg, international speaker and spiritual thought leader, commiserated with our collective psychological angst. “Life has changed so dramatically in 2020. I don’t know a single person who hasn’t struggled in some capacity,” she said. Berg, who is a long-distance runner, added: “We are left feeling the weight of what seems like a never-ending marathon.” She has found that some of the lessons she learned from training apply to surviving a pandemic, and offered five tips for enduring a race that doesn’t seem to have a finish line. “Don’t worry, you don’t have to be a runner for them to work for you, too,” Berg added.

Get through your day, 30 seconds at a time

When running a marathon, there is always that proverbial “wall” when you just feel like you can’t move a step further. When this happens to Berg, she summons what she calls “the 30 second rule.” She reminds herself to break down her experience of this endurance challenge into tiny chunks. “When race day comes, I mentally prepare by knowing I can do anything for 30 seconds. As the miles wear on, I parcel out the time in my head,” she explained. “I count to 30 … and then count off another 30 seconds. And another. Eventually, I will cross that finish line.”

Maybe you’re thinking that with the lack of exercise you’ve been getting while in quarantine, you can’t really relate to running for enough 30-second increments to make it through 26 miles. But Berg’s advice applies to enduring a pandemic just as much as it does getting it through a race. “When the anxiety and stress overwhelm you, take each day 30 seconds at a time,” she explained. “You can do anything for 30 seconds. When you view it that way, it doesn’t seem so overwhelming. You are able to focus on the present rather than what will come in the future.”

Enjoy the moment

It’s not just about white-knuckling it through unbearable moments — it’s also about learning to find joy in the present tense, even though life has become hard, and you may be managing stress, anxiety, or perhaps even tragedy. Berg has learned to find joy in the present during the most grueling moments of her racing career. “Even at mile 20, when you’ve come so far, but there is still so much more to do,” she finds moments of joy, she said. “The five-year-old cheering on the sidelines lifts our spirits. The running buddies who coax each other, step by step, to the finish line warm our hearts. The 80-year-old man pushing his grandson in a running stroller proves age is just a number. There are gifts everywhere, if only we look for them.”

No, we don’t have a packed crowd cheering us on as we endure this pandemic — crowds are not allowed, after all! — but you can find moments to savor in your own life, Berg noted. “Likely, you are getting to spend more time at home, which means you get more moments with your partner or children,” she pointed out. “Maybe it means you finally have the time to dedicate to a passion project.”

Transform your anxiety into energy

We may feel ourselves going into high-alert mode, as life wields new challenges at us, Berg said. “Some of us are recently laid off and wondering how we’re going to make ends meet. Some find ourselves balancing caring for our children with working from home,” she explained. “Many worry about the health of their friends and family, and perhaps, especially, elderly parents.” Realize, however, that this feeling of urgency, of needing to be on your toes so you can endure and problem-solve, actually can be empowering. “Stress is just energy,” Berg pointed out. “Take all of that energy, and next time you feel stressed, replace that word with ‘excited.'”

Just as a runner can transform race-day nerves into race-day energy, flip the script and look at your predicament as an opportunity to be your best self. “Being a family member means we must keep on keeping on — for them and for us. When you feel like you’re out of emotional and spiritual fuel, remember that there is always a silver lining,” Berg said. “Try to find the opportunity in the most difficult of hardships. Use the stress and hardship for one purpose: to help you reveal your greatest potential and truest self.”

Expect the unexpected

By now, disappointment isn’t new. Everyone’s had something (OK, many things!) that they’d been looking forward to canceled due to the pandemic — whether it was a birthday celebration, a graduation ceremony, a party, or just that feeling of walking shoulder-to-shoulder in a packed crowd, through the streets of a bustling city, enjoying being part of something bigger. But if we stop expecting things to go according to a plan, Berg pointed out, we won’t be as blindsided when life doesn’t follow our script.

This is something Berg learned as a competitive runner. “Before the race begins, I know the road ahead of me may be unfamiliar. It may serve up more hills than I trained for. The weather may change and start to rain. The day could be hotter than expected,” she said. “Still, I run because I know one thing: Whatever obstacles I hit, I am prepared for them and have the tools I need to persevere. You are, too.” Berg said surviving unexpected developments and disappointments is all about mindset. “It’s easy to become reactive or feel overwhelmed,” she said. “When unforeseen challenges arise, take a moment to remember when you overcame a similar challenge. Take deep breaths. And trust yourself to be able to navigate through the unknown … you are stronger than you may realize.”

Remember that this, too, shall pass

Marathons end at mile 26.2, a fact that helps Berg persevere to the finish line. We don’t know how long this pandemic will last, though — surely, it’s more like ultra-marathon by this point, or a race to the top of Mount Everest, compared to a couple dozen miles. The not knowing is nerve-wracking, indeed. “We’re all wondering when life is going to be normal again,” Berg said, echoing an anxiety that plagues us all. “The truth is, no one really knows when or if things will ever go back to the way they were. Scientists, doctors, and pundits are making predictions based on data. But these predictions change as fast as the data changes.”

That being said, the one thing that we can count on is that just as our lives were upended before, there will be change again. “Change is the only law of life, so know that whatever challenge you are facing, it will not stay the same forever,” Berg said.

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  • Posted on September 4, 2020