Routine and keeping busy – the tools I use to manage my anxiety and fear caused by Covid-19

With Covid-19 so much has changed quickly, and our lives might never be the same. That is damn hard to deal with and then we have to adapt and change to be able to cope with everything that is happening. It’s even more complicated when so much is unknown. There is not even a real date when this Covid-19 disruption will be done wreaking havoc on our lives.

The unknown can be scary enough on its own but having to dig deep to trust ourselves to adapt is another level of difficulty. And even worse, we have to be social isolated as we go through this shit. There isn’t a hug waiting for me from my support system to tell me, we can do it together. That makes me feel even more isolated. We’ve lost a lot, and this totally sucks. But my heart immediately begs from me – what’s next? How am I going to survive this?

I know from my mental health battles, I have to fight the fear and anxiety that is always trying to overtake me. There have been times in my past where I let fear and anxiety overtake me, and it was never a good outcome for my mental health. It usually happened when I was pretending the fear and anxiety weren’t there, and before I knew it, I was in their grasp. My whole world view would changes, and I’d lose sight of the light in my life.

The thought of having to fight for my mental health and manage my fear and anxiety during the age of corona scares me. Do I have the mental fortitude for this fight? I know I’m going to have to dig deep, but I believe in my heart I can do this. So, I’m fighting every day to not let my fear and anxiety take control.

I use a few tools to help me with this fight. I’ve always been drawn to cognitive therapy to help me with my mental health issues, since it focuses on behavior. I have found that making changes to my behavior through repetitive practice does start to change my mental view and mental health. I have found the most success with managing my anxiety with this approach. My go to book is the Shyness & Social Anxiety Workbook by Martin M. Antony, PH.D. and Richard P. Swinson, MD.

I often react to my anxiety and fear by freezing and getting stuck in my thoughts. It makes my brain foggy. To help to keep from freezing up and keep my brain clear, I rely on ritual and routine. I try to keep my routines very simple. I follow the same pattern when I get out of bed in the morning. I get up and go straight to the bathroom to get ready for the day. I potty, then brush my teeth and wash my face, and then I put on deodorant and my face lotion. I do my hair and get dressed. I follow the same order of actions every morning. And then I head upstairs to start my day.

That morning routine gets me going, and I don’t have worry about it. It happens on autopilot with out much mental investment. It leaves me the energy I would have expelled otherwise, if I wasn’t sticking to my routine to use for the rest of my day.

When I do head upstairs to start the day, I start with a list of things I would like to do. I pick a project that makes me feel good and satisfies my soul as the first project. Make a cup coffee, read a chapter of book, and/or write in my journal. I then break up my day into chunks of time that I will work on specific tasks, I also have on the list. I don’t multitask. I like to focus on one thing at a time to help keep me focused. Also, if I know I’m only doing one thing at a time and I have time set aside to do, it helps me from getting overwhelmed.

With Covid-19 and having to stay at home, the projects and tasks I fill my day with are different. They are even more different now that I’m not working either. I suspect you will also have to change your projects and tasks to help adapt to this new normal. However, a routine for these new tasks and projects will help make getting through the days easier.

Your routine is not going to look like mine, but find a routine that works for you. The benefits I get from having my routine is that I don’t spend as much energy on these repetitive tasks I do every day. I don’t lose energy to getting overwhelmed by my tasks. And I don’t get distracted and lose energy by fighting to stay on task. I save this energy for all the things I really like to do.

I also tend to have more items on my list of projects and tasks than I could ever accomplish in a day. However, I know this from the moment I make the list, and I don’t pressure myself to get it all done. It’s not about what I accomplish at the end of the day for me. Rather, having more items than I can do in a day and only focusing on one thing at a time, helps me prioritize what I want to do. The things that are most important always rise to the top, and I have another day to work on the other projects. I often think about the phrase, “Why do tomorrow what you can do today?” but switch it to “Why do today what you can do tomorrow?” It makes me giggle and helps relieve the pressure my brain tries to put on me to get things done.

I also have a super long list of things I’d like to do and projects I’d like to work on. I’m always adding to this list as well. I’ll get to it when it is time for that project to happen. It’s rewarding when a project on the list has had issues, and the right time happens, and all those roadblocks disappear.

I have the tendency to procrastinate as well, especially when it’s a project or task I don’t’ want to do. These tasks typically are the administrative tasks in my life like opening the snail mail, paying bills, doing taxes, making dr. appointments and such. I procrastinate right up to the moment it has to be done or there will be a penalty of some kind. And when I final do the task it only takes me 5 minutes to complete. My brain also likes to pressure me to do more and to be more productive, and when I do this, I procrastinate on those projects as well. So, it’s better for me to fight the pressure from my brain to be productive and work on accepting that regardless of what I do, it is enough. When I can keep myself from getting overwhelmed, I am less likely to procrastinate.

I do use a trick to keep my procrastination from getting to me. I let myself procrastinate. I don’t beat myself up over it. I know lots of people procrastinate, so I’m no alone in this behavior. Through taking away the stress and pressure I put on myself to get a project or task done, I can work through my procrastination and get it done. So, I don’t get mad at myself, and I accept that I am procrastinating. But a word of caution, this particular behavior of mine, drives my Mom crazy. She’s always like, “Don’t you want to get it done so it’s not weighing on your shoulders?” And I’m like, “I’ll get to it when I get to it, and I’m not going to stress about it either.”

Another benefit of routine and blocking out the time during the day, is that I have structured my day to have things to do throughout it. It keeps me from getting bored. But when I am struggling with my anxiety, I like to keep busy. I like to keep my brain engaged in activities that distracts me from the anxiety. My anxiety likes to cause me to get stuck in toxic thought patterns and keeping busy helps me from getting stuck in those thought patters. I know there are issues with busyness especially when using it to distract from feeling emotions or using it as a justification of self-worth. Part of my daily routine and self-care process is to dedicate time to feeling my feels. I meditate and breathe into my feelings, so I am not using busyness to hide from these emotions. I stay busy so I don’t get stuck in my anxiety brain patterns. Taking the time each day to check in with how I am feeling also helps me work through the thoughts I get stuck in and vice versa. I can’t process my feelings when I’m stuck in an anxiety thought pattern. So, keeping me busy, keeps me from getting stuck.

I also don’t focus on productivity while I’m busy. I work to resist the need to accomplish and be productive. I don’t worry about the end goal. I focus on the process of doing the project or task and not completing it. If I am worried about the end goal more than the process that is when my procrastination kicks in. I keep busy with things that I enjoy doing, so it feels like I’m taking care of myself at the same time. Reading and writing are huge for me. Reading challenges my brain to grow and writing is how I come to understand the world around me. When I am working, I love doing good work and working hard. I love exploring my creativity and using my creativity to learn more about myself. I love to be in nature. Walking and contemplating the world around me. I love thinking about trees and bees.

Busyness can also be dangerous if I use it to define my self-value. That means I’m comparing myself to others, which is self-destructive behavior for me. So, I work really hard on not comparing myself to others. I don’t stay busy to keep up with the so-called Joneses. I’m not trying to create some side-hustle to make money, and I don’t do the things I do to prove myself. A large part of my mental health work is accepting my self-worth as inherent to my humanity and not to my productivity.

One final benefit of staying busy is that it makes me tired. When I get stuck in my anxiety, I can’t stop thinking the same thoughts, over and over. This will keep me from sleeping and give me insomnia. However, if I am tired, it’s easier to let the sleepiness take over. I also use nighttime rituals to help ready my mind and body for sleep. I dim the lights when it gets dark, I meditate, I stretch, I do deep-breathing, and I listen to music. I don’t cut my sleep short. I believe in rest and the restorative powers of sleep. I always give myself at least 8 hours each night in bed.

I admit that with Covid-19, the stress does get to me and makes it harder for me to sleep. I still relax in bed and focus on deep breathing. Even if I can’t get my brain to settle down to sleep, I’m letting my body relax and have time to recover.

So, I am a big believer in routine and keeping busy to help me manage my fear and anxiety. These are the tools I’m relying on to help me make through the age of corona. I hope these tools that I’m using, will also help you manage the stress and anxiety you might be experiencing. However, if the the anxiety and fear seems more than you can handle, please reach out to a therapist for help. This is not an easy time and therapists are here to help us get through crisis with tools and support.