Manage Anxiety Around Re-Opening and Uncertainty

Pandemic Anxiety

Manage Anxiety Around Re-Opening and Uncertainty

When many of us hear the term “reopening,” we automatically feel anxious. Keep in mind this feeling is quite functional, as our body and brain are trying to protect us from the unknown. However, it can be extremely painful to tolerate these fearful emotions.

I’ve felt it myself and have been speaking about re-opening anxiety a lot lately with clients and on social media. I’m sharing some of these tools to help you and your family feel more control and less anxious about the unknown.

Grounding Techniques to Reduce Anxiety

There are so many wonderful tools that can help us feel more regulated, even in frustrating situations or when we are stuck in fear-based thought patterns. The first thing I encourage anyone to do is to attend to their body’s needs somatically.

Our body is constantly trying to talk to us, to keep us safe and help us process the world around us. Therefore, grounding techniques and mindfulness tools can bring our nervous system into a parasympathetic state, which is necessary when attempting to move through frustrating situations and intense emotions.

Here are two of my favorite grounding tools:

Try the 5-4-3-2-1 method. Working backward from 5, use your senses to list things you notice around you. For example, you might start by listing five things you hear, then four things you see, then three things you can touch from where you’re sitting, two things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. 

Make an effort to notice the little things you might not always pay attention to, such as the color of the flecks in the carpet or the hum of your computer.

Touch something comforting. This could be a blanket, the fabric on the chair you’re sitting on, the carpet under your feet, a smooth stone, or anything that feels good to touch. Think about how it feels under your fingers or in your hand.

Here are a few grounding exercises you can do anywhere:


Reduce Anxiety with Distress Tolerance Skills

The ACCEPTS Skill is a Dialectical Behavior Therapy (DBT) technique that I have found to be useful for getting through these intense emotions. The idea is when you can’t make things better right away, distract intentionally. The temporary distraction from the anxiety or intense emotion shifts your thoughts and your physiology. Think about it, have you ever been so worried about something but then your friend calls and you forget about the fear for a little while? It’s likely that when you get off the phone, your anxiety is significantly lower. This is a distress tolerance skill.

ACCEPTS is an acronym to help you remember this Distress Tolerance Skill. The goal is to aim for doing the skill for 3-5 minutes at a time and then check back in on the intensity of your emotion. If it’s reduced, great, if not try another one. to practice daily, so when emotions are high, you’re able to recall the skills that work with more ease.

  • Activities — Do something to engage your mind. Call or video chat a friend, for a walk, clean an area of your home, or cook something. Do an art project or mindful coloring book.
  • Contribute — Go do something nice for someone. Check in with a relative you haven’t talked to in a while. Ask a neighbor or roommate if they need help. Give back to an organization you are passionate about helping (think about if you are moving, taking things to Goodwill).
  • Comparisons — Compare yourself to a time when you felt different. Did you get through a stressful time in your life before and come out okay? Was there a time in your life where things seemed worse than they do now?
  • Emotions — Create different emotions. Watch a funny YouTube or scary movie. The goal is to remind your mind and body that other emotions exist. Look up clips on YouTube that make you laugh. Listen to upbeat music. Call a friend who lifts you up.
  • Pushing Away — Push the painful situation out of your mind temporarily. Leave the situation mentally; build an imaginary wall between you and the situation.
  • Thoughts — Replace your thoughts. Play a word game or do a puzzle. Go on Pinterest and make a new inspiration board. Do a puzzles or Sudoku. Play a word game or look for things in your space for each letter of the alphabet. 
  • Sensations. Identify other sensations. Take a shower and be mindful of the smells, feelings, and textures. Squeeze a stress ball or use puddy, we love Crazy Aarons Thinking Puddy. Do sprints or jumping jacks. Notice how your body feels different and this releases some of the anxiety you have been holding in.

A Few More Tips:

  • Practice. It can help to practice grounding and distress tolerance even when you aren’t experiencing distress. If you practice these skills before you need to use it, it will take less effort when you’re in an anxious or frustrating moment.
  • Avoid judgements. For example, if you’re grounding yourself by describing your environment, concentrate on the basics of your surroundings, rather than how you feel about them.
  • Check in with yourself. Before and after using the skill for 3-5 minutes rate your distress as a number between 1 and 10. What level is your distress when you begin? How much did it decrease after the exercise? This can help you get a better idea of whether a particular technique is working for you, and can help you gain confidence over your emotions.


Authored by: Emily Roberts, LMHC

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