Managing COVID-19 anxieties
A psychological and brain sciences professor gives us tips to help manage anxiety and regulate our emotions during the global pandemic.
By Hannah LeGare ‘19
The current pandemic may cause you to feel a sense of anxiety and fear, or a sense of disengagement…or anything in-between. Luckily, Psychological & Brain Sciences assistant professor Annmarie MacNamara is here to help.
MacNamara’s research uses neuroscience to examine emotions both in healthy individuals and in individuals with anxiety and trauma-related psychology. We sat down (virtually) with MacNamara, who is a licensed clinical psychologist, on how Aggies can recognize their emotions and cope with the emotional strain that the pandemic may cause.
“We are studying the pandemic now, but we haven’t studied it previously because it did not exist,” said MacNamara. “We can only draw on our research that has been done in regards to other stressors.”
MacNamara stated that there are differences in how people can respond emotionally to stress. In the context of the current pandemic, there will be people who respond differently to these stressors, which will affect what happens to them psychologically through coping later in life.
MacNamara commented that there are various ways in which the brain responds differently to stress. Over time, there may be a “blunted” emotional response, where people seem disengaged from their external environments. Also, there may be an “exaggerated” response to that emotion. And people can experience these emotions or any emotions in-between — all of which is completely normal.
Thankfully, there are healthy ways to regulate your emotions and cope with the external or internal stressors that affect your psychology.
“I suggest people make space for their emotions and feelings,” said MacNamara. She suggests talking to a friend, family member, or trusted loved one to process your emotions with.
She gave the example of a graduating Aggie who might feel sad that he does not get to walk the stage or say goodbye to friends at Texas A&M. “It is normal to feel those emotions of frustration, fear, sadness, or anxiety,” she stated.
Therefore, she offered practical ways to stay engaged with the world and others during this time: create a routine, challenge your expectations, and seek professional help (if needed).
Create a routine
Although there may be less structure in the day, MacNamara suggested creating a routine and pattern to reduce stress. This can mean sticking to your usual (pre-COVID) bedtime or finding a time to go on a walk consistently each day. Also, MacNamara noted that finding a time to socialize, albeit virtually, is a healthy way to stay connected with others and the local environment. Additionally, exercising is a great physiological way to reduce stress — plus, doing it outside helps you to see something new (i.e. not the same chair every hour).
Challenge your expectations
“It is important to adjust goals and expectations and be realistic about the situation we are in,” said MacNamara. She noted that we can still hold high expectations for people and events, but to recognize that things might not go as planned. “Goals are still goals.” In this, it is important to accept what you can and cannot control in situations as a way of creating a healthy space for your emotions.
MacNamara recalled the various supports and help available to all Aggies. MacNamara commented that if these emotions feel like they are “too much” or if you get worried about them, contact these services sooner rather than later. These supports are beneficial and available all hours of the day.
Texas Mental Health Hotline: 833-986-1919