Novel Coronavirus Anxiety? It Might be Time to H.A.L.T.

Dealing with Coronavirus Anxiety

These days everyone is feeling a little (or a lot) anxious. For those of us who are also managing our daily recovery from another life-threatening disease — addiction – the anxiety can feel like a double whammy. Add to that the isolation some of us feel at having to stay at home and having our in-person meetings interrupted – well, it can feel overwhelming.

Luckily for us, we have a Twelve Step program. The same tools that we practice every day can also help us walk through our current pandemic crisis. One of these tools is something that most of us heard early on in the rooms of AA or NA.  “Never get too Hungry, too Angry (or Anxious), too Lonely, or too Tired.” In other words, you can do H.A.L.T!  We can apply H.A.L.T. in several ways.

First, check in with yourself throughout the day. Take a couple of deep breaths and ask:

Am I Hungry Right Now?

When did I last eat? Was it healthy food that helps balance my mood with the right amounts of protein, healthy fats, and complex carbohydrates or was it junk food that gives me a high and then a crash? Here are two simple strategies can help you feel better fast:

  • Eat regularly and include lean protein (chicken, fish, beans) and complex carbohydrates (veggies and whole grains) to help stabilize your blood sugar and your moods.
  • Eat the “rainbow.” The more color in your diet, the more chance that you are getting foods that help restore the neurochemicals and antioxidants in your brain that addiction took way (think blueberries, strawberries, carrots and, yes, broccoli).

Am I Angry?

Anger is what we call a “second hand” emotion; often, what’s really underneath is anxiety or fear. Just recognizing this can help us become less angry and put us in a space to ask another person or our Higher Power for help.

  • It helps to start out by simply accepting and acknowledging that we are anxious and afraid. That’s normal for now.
  • Then, take a few deep breaths and notice where in your body you feel that coronavirus anxiety and fear. Try befriending it and asking what it’s specifically about. Each of us will have a different answer. For some, it’s the fear of becoming ill ourselves; for others, it’s financial worry; for yet others, it’s concern for a loved one.
  • No matter what your specific anxiety or fear is about—the Serenity Prayer works. In this instance, the action part is important. For instance, what can you do right now to become healthier if your fear is becoming ill? If it’s money, how can you cut expenses? Can you save? If it’s another person, can you talk with that person and make a plan?

Stuck for a solution? Reach out to others and brainstorm. You are not alone. Which brings me to…

Am I Lonely?

People need connection, recovering people perhaps most of all. The first word of our First Step is “we.” Although it’s a little different now, we can still connect.

  • We can use our telephone and call another recovering person to check in. We may be able to Facetime or Zoom if we have smart phones, tablets or computers.
  • For those who are less tech-savvy like me, don’t be shy about asking other people to help you. You can make some great new friends and learn in the process.
  • You can also do it the old-fashioned way: write a letter. This is a wonderful time to tell another person how much you care about them.
  • On the other hand, the person you may be lonely for is yourself, especially if you are in a house with your entire family and are not used to this. See if you can take a walk by yourself or ask for 30 minutes alone in your bedroom.

And last, but not least …

Am I Tired?

It sounds strange to say, but people can get really tired from sitting around all day and watching the 24/7 TV coverage of all the crisis news. This is especially true if we’ve altered our normal waking and bedtimes while we’re at home.  The solutions may sound counterintuitive at first; be open and give them a try.

  • Limit the time you spend watching or reading pandemic crisis stories and news. Pick one or two good sources for facts (cdc.gov or https://www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) and a local news channel so you can know what’s going on in your area. Try to pass on as much of the other as you can or at least take frequent breaks.
  • Get outside. Go for a walk or a run or a bike ride or plant a springtime flower or vegetable garden. Do that house repair or lawn project you’ve been planning. Exercise not only increases your energy; it helps you sleep better at night.
  • And, speaking of sleep, try keeping your waking and bedtimes consistent in the age of coronavirus anxiety. All the good stuff about “sleep hygiene” applies now too — cool and dark bedrooms used only for sleeping and cuddling, stopping your electronic device use 30 minutes before bedtime, eating only a light snack of protect/complex carbs at bedtime (yogurt/granola, peanut butter or cheese and crackers are good choices).
  • Naps are a wonderful gift to yourself and everyone else. See if you can establish a household nap time. Cats and dogs like this too!


You Can Overcome Coronavirus Anxiety

Finally, be gentle and patient with yourself and others during this time. The past is gone, and we can’t know the future. We do, however, have the gift of this day in this time and place with these people, and we are sober and clean. If we let it, that can be enough — more than enough.

This guest post about coronavirus anxiety was authored by Cinde Stewart Freeman, RN, LACDAC, QCS

Cinde Stewart Freeman is Cumberland Heights’ Chief Clinical Officer and has been with Cumberland Heights for 25 years.

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