Leadership / 04.01.20
11 Tips to Reduce Anxiety and Stress During COVID-19
The outbreak of COVID-19 has turned the entertainment world that we know and love upside down. Ticketing professionals have stepped up to the challenge of mass event cancellations and postponements on a scale that we’ve never seen before. They are dealing with customers, processing refunds, encouraging donations as an alternative to a refund, issuing credits and, for vendors, helping their clients as much as they can every step of the way. This is not easy for anyone, and you are not alone if you are feeling overwhelmed with different emotions.
In the best of times, anxiety and stress can take a toll on our health and well-being very quickly. COVID-19 is a particularly rare situation, but it’s scary from so many perspectives. We want our loved ones, peers, friends, customers and communities to remain healthy. We want to help the children in our lives to be less afraid. Some of us know people who have COVID-19 and are recovering. And most of us know people who are alone and isolated.
So, what can we do when COVID-19 creates anxiety and stress? Here are 11 tips curated from INTIX members and health care organizations to help you cope.
- Talk to a professional. This is the first recommendation if you are feeling significant amounts of anxiety and stress, or if you have a previous clinical diagnosis.
Outside of meeting with a local professional, “there are lots of apps available now and websites where you can have confidential therapy sessions without actually having to be in a room with someone,” says Kay Burnham, Vice President of Guest Services at the Segerstrom Center for the Arts and our current INTIX Board Past Chair, who spoke at INTIX 2020 about how mindfulness can help you lead, learn and live better. “That’s a great way to get support and to help ease your anxiety, especially if it’s at a significant level.”
- Focus on what you know. Try to recognize when your mind is telling you stories about what might happen instead of focussing on facts. Anxiety and stress come from the unknown that can make a difficult situation seem worse.
“People joke about the zombie apocalypse, but when we start talking in those terms, even jokingly, it seeps into the way we think,” Burnham says. “Recognize when you’re sitting and thinking ‘Oh my God, what is going to happen?’ Is that just in your head? Start asking yourself where is the evidence; what evidence do I have that this is going to happen? As soon as you start to look at facts versus gaps that your mind is trying to fill in, you can start to ease your anxiety.”
- Get the facts. There is a lot of information circulating about COVID-19, both online and via social media. Some of it is true, but a lot of it is not entirely accurate. The situation is also changing rapidly. Joseph McGuire, Ph.D., M.A., a child psychologist with Johns Hopkins Medicine, says it’s important to get your information from credible sources like the Centers for Disease Control or the World Health Organization.
“Knowledge and preparation can help reduce feelings of panic,” McGuire says. “Individuals can use information from trusted resources to develop personal plans of action.”
- Look for something positive in every situation. Everything in our industry changed so quickly with COVID-19. When things started bubbling up and major events were suddenly being canceled or postponed one after the other during the third week of March, Jacquelyn Holowaty, Vice President of Client Experience and Ticketing for Spectra, felt her own anxiety come flooding back.
“It was such a short window that I don’t think my brain had time to comprehend the enormity of everything that was happening all at once,” she says. “It just became this melting pot. I knew nothing was getting into my brain that was positive at that moment, and I had to sit back and say, ‘OK, if I’m going to get through this, I have to get out of these weeds, get through everything and start finding the positives in all of this.’ That was the first piece of just saying, ‘Today is not an OK day, and I can’t control that it’s not an OK day, but I can control and make tomorrow better. I can’t control the exterior stuff that happens. I can’t control what the government is going to do. I can’t control what events or promoters are going to do.’ I’m really trying to focus on making the most positive impact on what we can control. We talk about being customer service focused in our industry and that it’s all about the fans. This is our chance to really shine and show the fans we are going to get through this for them and with them.”
- Be mindful. McGuire and Burnham agree that grounding yourself in the present moment and practicing mindfulness will improve the way you feel.
“Mindfulness is a great technique that can help reduce stress during challenging times,” McGuire says.
“When we focus on something outside of ourselves, our body will naturally go into a state that is more relaxed and not in a worried or panicked way thinking about someone else,” Burnham says. “Personally, I’ve been doing a lot of loving-kindness or Metta meditation, which is a kind of self-guided meditation, or you can find it on any of the apps that are out there. What it does is it focuses your mind and your thoughts on sending love and support to others. I find that calms my nervous system. It activates the parasympathetic nervous system, which is the antidote to our fight-or-flight response or stress response.”
- Don’t keep it a secret. It’s hard for some people to share how they are feeling. For the longest time, Holowaty thought she couldn’t tell people about what was happening to her. Today, she is open to sharing her past experiences because she wants to help others.
“My version [of anxiety] was a little bit of a panic attack,” she says. “I would have this overwhelming feeling. My body would feel like it was getting filled with sand, heavier and heavier, and I could feel this happening, but I didn’t know why. Normally nothing triggered it. I could be sitting there happy and all of a sudden I couldn’t tell you what was making me upset, what was making me feel so heavy and weighted down, but I was very aware that it was happening. I was able to tell my husband, ‘I’m having that feeling again,’ and he would ask what I needed to do. Sometimes I would say the floor is too dirty; I need to sweep and mop the floor. I’m not an overly clean freak, so it wasn’t something that was a normal thing, but there was weird stuff that would trigger it. For people who don’t understand anxiety, that’s my version. Other people will have completely different versions of how they feel when they’re anxious. They may back away. They may really isolate, not just because we’re in self isolation; they may really get quiet, and you may not hear from them. That’s where you really need to reach out and say, ‘Hey, I haven’t heard from you in a couple of days and wanted to check in.’”
- Know that it’s OK to feel however you’re feeling. Have you cried recently? You’re not the only person who has burst into tears out of nowhere. Do you feel anxious and stressed about an uncertain future? Others are feeling that way, too.
“It’s OK be emotional. It’s OK to be upset. It’s OK to be angry. Those are all completely normal emotions that everyone’s feeling,” Holowaty says. “You’re not the only one feeling that way in our community. Be open and talk about it, because there are so many people with INTIX and the entertainment industry who want to help. They will be your support system even if you’ve never met them face to face. In ticketing specifically, there’s a connection. You get what other ticketing professionals are going through, and you want to be there to help them, no matter what it is. Be vulnerable enough to say, ‘I’m struggling guys’ and here’s how I’m feeling; allow yourself to say it out loud. You’ll probably get a flood of people coming back and validating those feelings, saying, ‘Hey, I feel that way, too’ or ‘Hey, I’ve never met you but send me a chat, we’ll FaceTime; let me know if you need me and we’ll figure out something.’ Even if it’s virtual since we can’t meet in person right now, the virtual community that exists is so easy to access and leverage.”
- Find ways to connect. Some people live alone, and others may just feel alone. Having human contact is an important support mechanism in these times, says Burnham, and there are all kinds of technologies that allow us to stay connected. Many of them are free.
“There are Google Hangouts, and Zoom has a free level of service. I have found that hopping on a video chat with someone helps to ease anxiety. There’s something about physically seeing another person and being able to connect with them that way that just helps you calm down and work through situations in a more rational manner,” she says. “Getting on a phone call from someone across the country and saying, ‘What are you going through? Here’s what I’ve gone through.’ Talking about how you’re both processing things, even from a technical standpoint of how you are processing your refunds or how you are handling the influx of patrons. It fosters a sense of not being alone. You remember that other people are going through it; you’re not the only one, and that sense of community is so important while we’re self-isolating.”
- Start or participate in a virtual happy hour. Celebrating small victories with industry friends and peers is a great way to keep positive. It can also help those who may not be comfortable reaching out to someone about their struggles just yet.
“There are Facebook group chats; there’s the INTIX forum; start a group chat somewhere. There’s all these places. Let people know, ‘Hey, I’m here to talk, private message me.’ You don’t have to wait for them to reach out to you,” Holowaty says. “One of things we’re starting is a daily coffee talk. Whoever wants to log in from 9-9:30 a.m. in their local time zone, have a cup of coffee and just talk. It can be about anything. It could be about fun. It could about something you struggled with, too. Creating opportunities for people to know they can be part of something without having to reach out is huge because some people are never going to say they’re struggling. All they really need is to hear and see other people. For some, that can help get to the next stage, and then once you build that comfort zone, hopefully there will be more personal interaction.”
- Leverage coping strategies. The Anxiety and Depression Association of America (ADAA) has numerous suggestions for times when you’re feeling anxious or stressed, including eating well-balanced meals, limiting alcohol and caffeine, exercising and getting enough sleep.
Holowaty agrees and says coping strategies play a huge role in reducing anxiety and stress.
“Everyone’s going to have their own version of what it takes to get past feelings of anxiety and trying to find the light at the end of the tunnel. For some people, it’s working out, going for a run or being by yourself for a few minutes. For others, it’s reading a book or talking to people on the phone. There are free meditation resources, yoga streaming online, anything and everything really, so find what works for you,” Holowaty says. “The moment the lights start turning back on and the crowds start coming back, it’s going to be a global celebration. To get to that though, there are going to be some more downs before we see some ups. Everyone needs to know that whatever their version of coping looks like, there are so many resources out there, especially now.”
- Remember to breathe. Taking deep breaths is one of the strategies suggested by the ADAA. Inhale and exhale slowly, they say. This was also the one message that Burnham says she would want to share with INTIX members.
“I have signs up in my house that say, ‘Just remember to breathe.’ When I see them, it makes me take stock of my internal anxiety. I look at it, take a few deep breaths and my physical anxiety calms down,” Burnham says. “So, just remember to breathe; take those moments to breathe.”
While we are all learning to help ourselves cope, many of us want to help others, too, whether it’s a neighbor, friend or entertainment ticketing colleague. How can we help each other? There are so many ways, even if it’s sharing a roll of toilet paper.
“On the Nextdoor app in my neighborhood,” says Burnham, “there are a number of people who are posting and saying, ‘Look, I have plenty of toilet paper. If you are running low, please let me know. I will drop off some on your doorstep. I will find a way to get it to you.’”
These types of small gestures — being of service and helping others when we can — is certainly one way to focus outside of ourselves and to make a crappy situation just a little bit better. Pun intended.
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Tags: Leadership , COVID-19 , Coronavirus