Photo Credit: Jewish Press

A study performed for the Max Planck Institute for Human Cognitive and Brain Science shows that when we witness someone in distress, we experience stress as well – even if we don’t know the person.

It’s no surprise then that when we see anxiety on a global scale, we are affected. Below are some thoughts and tips on how we can reduce anxiety.

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* Know the facts. Don’t read every text, news article, and post. Instead choose one or two trusted sources to garner the facts. Don’t get obsessive. Learn what you need to know and move forward.

* Ask for help. We are all struggling right now. We are all vulnerable. Brene Brown, author of Daring Greatly, notes that the word “courage” actually comes from the Latin word for “heart” (cor). Courage can be about sharing your heart with someone else.

* Connect. During these times of isolation, it’s important to connect with friends, family, and neighbors. Reach out through video conferencing, phone calls, e-mail, text, etc. You need to hear people, and they need to hear you. This will get serotonin pumping in your system, helping you feel calm and happy.

* Practice selfcompassion and self-care. Therapist Eve Menezes Cunningham explains, “[W]hen we’re anxious, we typically try to control more, but so much is now beyond our control…. Be kind to yourself – anxiety is a normal reaction to have in a really unusual situation.”

There are so many things that are out of our control. It’s important to recognize those things and give ourselves space to be out of control – and also attempt to take care of ourselves in small ways. This can mean participating in an online yoga class, calling a good friend, or taking a long walk (if that’s permitted where you live).

* Understand that uncertainty is hard, but not negative. According to Robert Leahy, the director of the American Institute for Cognitive Therapy and author of The Worry Cure, we are all stuck in “an international human trauma, where everybody has a sense that their life, or the lives of people they love, is threatened.” When we’re anxious, he says: “We tend to equate uncertainty with the worst outcome. For example, after 9/11, I heard so many people say it’s inevitable that there’s going to be another major attack on New York City, or a nuclear attack by al-Qaeda. That never happened.”

Recognizing that uncertainty makes us think the worst, which almost never occurs, can help you overcome your worst moments.

* Maintain perspective. When you’re living in the midst of a pandemic (just saying that word is scary, right?), it’s hard to gain perspective. We don’t need to have perspective all the time, but it’s important to remind ourselves that this will pass, even if we don’t know when.

When we’re stressed, our bodies create cortisol. Cortisol lowers our immune system, which can compromise our ability to fight disease. So, even though the world is far from rainbows and unicorns right now, a few times a day work on putting a slightly happy spin on the future. Imagine a time when this is over and you have either gone back to normal or made some positive changes. This will help lower your stress and boost your immune system.

The reality is that we’re all living in uncertain times. The news screams death and disaster. We hear about friends who have lost loved ones. We may have lost loved ones ourselves. We are all grieving. It’s our choice now how to respond to that grief.

We will all respond with anxiety at times – that’s inevitable. But maybe we can also choose to respond with kindness. I am reminded of the 49-year-old woman in central Israel who passed away from the virus. Her death left twin four-year-old boys as orphans because her husband had passed away a few years earlier.

Within 48 hours, the Israeli public donated more than half a million dollars to care for the boys – this while one out of every four Israelis is currently unemployed. We don’t need to donate to spread kindness; we can do it through connection and service. As a society, that is how we will survive. After all, kindness is contagious too.

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An acclaimed educator and social skills ​specialist​, Mrs. Rifka Schonfeld has served the Jewish community for close to thirty years. She founded and directs the widely acclaimed educational program, SOS, servicing all grade levels in secular as well as Hebrew studies. A kriah and reading specialist, she has given dynamic workshops and has set up reading labs in many schools. In addition, she offers evaluations G.E.D. preparation, social skills training and shidduch coaching, focusing on building self-esteem and self-awareness. She can be reached at 718-382-5437 or at rifkaschonfeld@gmail.com.