9 Ways to Cope With Anxiety as a Family During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Life during COVID-19 can be especially difficult for those living with anxiety. Experts offer ways families can work together to ease anxiety symptoms and get through the challenges together.

The constant news about the COVID-19 pandemic is enough to worry anyone. But for those who are living with an anxiety disorder (about 40 million adults and more than 4 million children in America), this news can be more than just unsettling—it can cause anxiety to spin out of control.

"COVID-19 is causing so much anxiety because the situation is unprecedented and uncertain," says Alexandra Friedmann Finkel, LCSW, a therapist and co-founder of Kind Minds Therapy in New York City. "People are craving answers, security, and comfort, and the media is not able to provide that as information is developing moment by moment."

So, what can you do if you or your loved one is experiencing anxiety during this time? Implementing these expert tips into your daily life may help ease your mind.

Cropped shot of a woman meditating at home
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Focus on What You Can Control

As with life before COVID-19, there are things we can't control during the pandemic. That includes the virus itself, what the media is reporting, policies that the government is or isn't putting in place, and the financial market.

But there are things we can control, like getting vaccinated, washing our hands, wearing masks when recommended, engaging in positive coping strategies, and our reaction to the situation. Staying up to date on recommendations from trusted sources like the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) can also go a long way in easing anxiety about the unknown. Giving your energy to these things may be helpful in putting your mind at ease, says Finkel.

Take a Break From Social Media

There's nothing that can relieve stress faster than getting rid of the stressor, says Finkel. Social media can be a great way to stay connected, but it can also become a real source of stress for adults and children alike. When you're with your family at home, set up a "no phone hour" or "no social media Saturday." Routines that require you to unplug will help you disconnect from the stressors and connect with loved ones instead.

Tara Egan, D.Ed., of Charlotte Parent Coaching, LLC, in Charlotte, North Carolina, agrees: "The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet. It may be tempting to use that as a primary modality to entertain themselves, but it can also lead to more feelings of uneasiness, insecurity, increased dread, and even doubt."

Start a New Hobby Together

When anxiety is high, the go-to may be to hop on the couch and binge a few shows on Netflix, but using TV as a distraction is not necessarily the best way to cope. Instead, start a new hobby with your loved one. Trying something new helps take the mind off stress by providing a new focus.

You could try things like knitting, crocheting, or maybe even yoga. Or perhaps joining a book club or taking a daily after-dinner walk is more your style.

Keep a Schedule

Though we're no longer stuck at home, many of us are still spending more time at home than we did before the pandemic. Maybe you or your partner are continuing to work from home several days a week. Or maybe you've come to appreciate the convenience of virtual sessions with your therapist compared to going into the office.

When you spend a lot of time at home, it can be easy to fall into unhealthy routines. From not practicing proper hygiene to lying in bed longer or putting off chores, the simple act of not having a consistent schedule may only add to the stress and anxiety caused by a pandemic. Set a schedule—and add some fun elements to it as well.

"While being at home with my family, I am grateful for the time we have for simple rituals like family dinners. We try to involve the entire family, so it feels like something new and fun," explains Anna Cabeca, D.O., triple board-certified OB-GYN and author of The Hormone Fix.

Practice Self-Care

Self-care is a great way to reduce stress. That's why it's important to encourage yourself, your partner, or your child to find a method of self-care that works and do that. "For some of my patients, we've found that music can be powerful self-care," says Finkel. "Create a playlist to do work to, take a walk to, or just listen without distraction."

Other forms of self-care that therapists recommend include reading a book, organizing or cleaning a messy space, taking a long bath with candles and soothing sounds, or simply taking a few moments to rest or meditate (you can use a meditation app like Insight Timer, Calm, or Headspace, and there are apps that are perfect for kids).

Something as simple as doing a face mask can be enough to relieve some anxiety, so find whatever is most relaxing for you and add it to your routine.

Prioritize Exercise

Research shows that exercise is one of the most powerful ways to reduce anxiety, thanks to the burst of endorphins you get after breaking a sweat. "Releasing endorphins is an effective way to fight stress and anxiety and to give your mind a break from everything," says Finkel.

Whether you've fully embraced at-home workouts or you thrive on the camaraderie of going to the gym or an in-person exercise class, there are more exercise options than ever before. If you need fresh air, get outside. Go for a run or walk. Take your kids to the playground or bring your furry friend to the dog park.

Start a Regular Happy Hour

Maintaining social connections is important for your mental health. You can do this by planning regular dates, says Rachel Dubrow, LCSW, a therapist in Northfield, Illinois. "One good suggestion is to make contact with one friend and one family member daily if you live alone and at least one person daily if you live with others," says Dubrow.

Consider starting a fun happy hour at the end of each day. Whether it's by mixing up new cocktails to try together (either alcoholic or non-alcoholic) or simply setting some time aside to talk about things unrelated to COVID-19—like new books, movies you want to watch, or places you want to see—creating regular opportunities to socialize and check in with loved ones can help you stay connected and decompress.

Tara Egan, D.Ed.

The best thing you can do is to encourage your friend or family member to step away from the internet.

— Tara Egan, D.Ed.

Focus on Gratitude

Mentally detox by taking time to reflect and be thankful for the little things. For Hayley Parker, food blogger and writer at The Domestic Rebel, using a gratitude journal was one of the best ways she found to cope with her anxiety. "I have started writing down five things I'm grateful for each day. Sometimes I find the usual, obvious things like 'that my family is safe' can be too broad, so I do little things like 'my coffee was delicious this morning' to help me redirect anxiety and stay present," says Parker. "The future is unknown and that is horrid for my anxiety, so staying present helps."

On that note, it's also critical to focus on compassion to help your loved ones who are experiencing heightened anxiety. "When they're opening up, don't dismiss their fears with statements like, 'Oh, stop worrying. We'll be fine,'" says Dr. Egan. "Instead, make statements like, 'Yes, it is pretty stressful in our world right now. Let's make a plan of how we can follow the CDC's recommendations so we can stay safe and healthy.' Validate their emotions."

Try Therapy

If you, your partner, friend, or child are struggling on an even deeper level, encourage them to seek professional help. With the pandemic came greater access to mental health services, from virtual therapy visits over video chat to apps like Talkspace and Sanvello.

Even with in-person sessions becoming more readily available again, many therapists are still offering teletherapy, and insurers are consistently covering video sessions, says Nina Kaiser, Ph.D., a clinical psychologist and founder of Practice San Francisco. "This makes support accessible from home for anyone, anywhere—and professional support is more likely to be helpful to someone experiencing severe anxiety than anything that we as partners can say or do."

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