If you’re feeling more anxious these days because of the COVID-19 pandemic, you are not alone. Like, SERIOUSLY not alone. It’s a crazy uncertain time — and we’re all feeling it.
Which is exactly why we wanted to do a Q&A with Sage Grazer, who’s the co-founder and chief clinical officer at Frame — a mental health platform offering free, live workshops and more
As she says, COVID-19 anxiety is a very real thing and it can manifest in a number of different ways. Read on as Grazer answers our top questions about it.
COVID-19 Anxiety Q&A
Anxiety seems to be high for all of us right now. Can you talk about what you’re seeing in this unprecedented situation?
Sage Grazer: There’s no doubt that anxiety is high right now, and for understandable reasons. We are primed to interpret changes in our environment as threats so that we can assess and determine if we’re in danger. It becomes a lot more confusing for us when the threat is not visible. Everyone is adapting to a new way of living and there is massive uncertainty and instability across all domains of life. Many people are struggling to cope with losses caused by the pandemic and experiencing their own grieving process. People are also having difficulty establishing new boundaries between work and home life — and even new boundaries between friends and family.
People are on edge and hypervigilant, given the circumstances, but sometimes that heightened hypervigilance causes a tunnel vision and people are less aware or mindful of some of their other actions. A lot of people are having a hard time focusing on tasks like driving or crossing the street when they are out of the house because they’re anxious and mentally preoccupied. I’ve also noticed an uptick in people looking to explore therapy and find resources for their mental health right now, and that’s why I’m proud that we’re able to launch Frame during a time when mental health is such a prevalent concern.
For those who want to dip their toes into therapy before fully committing, Frame offers free digital workshops that anyone can join.
These workshops are not therapy, but were created to help people get some immediate support and also learn about what therapy could look like for them. One of our first live workshops focused on coping with anxiety while we’re all isolating from each other.
What are the tell-tale signs of anxiety? What are some lesser-known signs of anxiety?
SG: Anxiety is one of the most common mental health issues and a topic that therapists spend a lot of their time working through with their clients. Over the past six months, our team at Frame has worked closely with several amazing therapists to create content that will help you understand more about anxiety and how it plays out in daily life. We also offer weekly live-streamed workshops that allow you to watch people like yourselves work through their own anxiety with therapists on camera.
Anxiety is a normal part of the human emotional spectrum but it can become a problem when it’s negatively impacting your life and holding you back from living up to your potential. Anxiety is actually a part of our built in alarm system that is intended to help us survive on a primal level, but it can become dysfunctional when we experience overwhelming life stressors, novel changes, uncertainty, or when the anxiety is disproportionate to the stressor.
Anxiety is also contagious. Have you ever been around someone who’s nervously tapping their leg or pacing around the room? How did it make you feel? As social beings, we often mirror the people around us.
While anxiety symptoms vary for different people, in general the body reacts in a very specific way to anxiety. When you feel anxious, your body goes into alert mode, looking for possible danger and activating your ‘fight or flight’ responses.
Symptoms can manifest in both physical and non-physical ways. Non-physical symptoms of anxiety can include: racing thoughts, excessive worrying, difficulties concentrating, indecisiveness, uncontrollable over thinking, feelings of dread, panic or ‘impending doom’, feeling irritable or restless, changes in appetite, as well as wanting to escape from the situation you are in.
Physical symptoms of anxiety can include: sweating, heavy and fast breathing, hot flushes or blushing, dry mouth, shaking, hair loss, increased heart rate, extreme tiredness / fatigue or lack of energy, dizziness, stomach aches and sickness and problems with sleep.
What are some ways to reduce anxiety right now?
SG: The most effective way to get control over your anxiety is to have a better understanding of where your anxiety comes from and what triggers it. This is something you can learn and work through in therapy. In the meantime, there are definitely some helpful, actionable tips you can try the next time you’re feeling anxious.
Take deep breaths. When you’re anxious, you tend to take quick, shallow breaths. This sends a message to your brain, causing a positive feedback loop reinforcing your fight-or-flight response. There are various breathing techniques to help you calm down which many therapists can help you through in an individual session.
Accept that you are feeling anxious. Take the space to say that you’re anxious. They say, “name it, to tame it.” When you label how you’re feeling and allow yourself to express it, the anxiety you’re experiencing can lessen.
Challenge your thoughts. Part of being anxious is fostering irrational thoughts that aren’t necessarily true or make sense. You might find yourself thinking about ‘what if’ scenarios that jump to the worst possible endings. When you experience one of these thinning patterns, take a moment to pause and think about the following questions:
- Is this an accurate and factual statement? (For example, does this person really hate you or do you just feel like that right now?)
- Is this a balanced statement?
- Does this statement take into account the probability of alternatives (good or bad)?
- What’s the worst that can happen? How likely is that? Can I handle that?
When do you know if it’s time to seek outside help? What are some of the best ways to get help?
SG: I believe there is no wrong time to seek outside help. There is always the potential to benefit from having outside support that can help you reframe some perspectives that might be holding you back. Having a safe, non-judgmental space to express yourself is highly valuable for personal growth.
We came together to build Frame because a lot of people have struggled to find the mental health support that they need and we believe in the true value of appropriate clinical care. Kendall (Frame co-founder) and I set out on a mission to build a platform that leverages technology to make mental health care more accessible to a wider audience.
Frame is a platform that makes it easier to connect with therapists in different ways — both digitally and in person. Our digital workshops are designed to help you understand what therapy is and why it can be effective. And then for those who live in Los Angeles, we’re making it easier than ever for you to find your own licensed therapist to speak with. Starting in May, you’ll be able to answer a few quick questions to match with your own licensed therapist. We provide scheduling and payment tools to make the full therapy experience as easy as possible.
If you notice a friend or loved one struggling, what’s the best way to support them?
SG: There’s no magic answer, but I would say that the best way to support a loved one would be to invite that loved one to tell you how he/she would best feel supported; open the dialog. Empower your loved one to tell you what they need; we don’t have to try to be mind readers. It can be as simple as: how can I support you in this moment?
Now, sometimes it can be really challenging to admit or even fully know what we need, so you can also take the approach of thinking not how you like to feel supported but really putting yourself in your loved one’s shoes and thinking: how does this person best feel supported? Sometimes support looks like giving someone space, and sometimes support looks like being right there beside them in those tough moments.
Taking an invitational standpoint, rather than directives, gives people the option to say yes or no without having to be defiant.
Anything else we should know or tell our readers about?
SG: Yes, we are excited to share our platform, Frame, with the world. Our digital workshops are free and accessible to everyone. These workshops are designed to not only give people immediate support at home, but also help them understand what therapy could be like.
The workshops are 30- to 40-minute long live stream mental health discussions led by therapists in conversation with a volunteer participant. Users can log in anonymously from all over the country and listen in to the conversation. At the end of the discussion, it becomes interactive — users everywhere can submit questions anonymously and the therapist will answer in real-time. The sessions are then recorded and added to our library of content that users can access any time. It’s kind of like Peloton for therapy. At any time you can access the library of content, or sign up for the upcoming live sessions!
A big thank you to Sage for answering our questions and providing so many tips! –Jenn