Adjusting Anxious Expectations During the COVID-19 Outbreak

April 18, 2020 George Abitante

I don't know about you, but I have begun to notice anxious expectations taking up a larger part of my brain space in the last week or so. A strange tension has been building that pits the current emotional struggles of COVID-19 against the seeming abundance of available time. Shouldn't I be getting even more done because there's less I can go do? But shouldn't I also be okay with less from myself because of the emotional demands of social distancing? These are just two examples of competing anxious expectations you may be experiencing during this time.

How we think about ourselves, our self-worth, and anxiety is significantly affected by a crisis like this, and so conflicting thoughts like these can pop up frequently. So today, I want to talk about anxious expectations and how we can all take steps towards achieving as much peace as possible during this time. 

Notice Your Anxious Expectations

As with most challenges, I believe the most important step towards improving is actually identifying what is happening. For some of you, it may be anxious expectations about providing educational materials for your children to make sure they keep learning enough despite remote learning. Perhaps you have anxious expectations about what it means to be a friend during this time and feel like you should be calling friends and family more than you are.

These are all potential sources of anxious expectations, where we expect the most of ourselves despite this being a time when, in actuality, we probably have less to give than we usually do. Non-judgmental awareness of these moments can help you begin to identify what specifically is creating your anxious expectations. As you begin to notice these moments, writing them down can be a great way to maintain awareness over time. 

Break Down Anxious Expectations

Once you've identified the sources of your anxious expectations, it's time to do something about them. I tend to find that for myself, anxiety is never just a source of distress -- it's a clear indicator of what I value in life. So when you notice anxious expectations about talking to friends and family come up, for instance, consider that this is just your body telling you how much you care about supporting the important people in your life. Just that simple shift in perspective can help tremendously, and it really turns a negative into a positive.

It may also help to negotiate with your anxious expectations about what can be done. If your anxiety is telling you to make your own study materials every day to help your kids learn, you may negotiate for a more reasonable expectation like taking an extra 15 minutes a day to read with them, or finding them a resource online that they would enjoy learning from. Anxious expectations tend to be unrealistic and unnecessary, but bringing those expectations to a reasonable level can actually create something beneficial. 

Anxious expectations are challenging, but with some careful consideration, you can use them to your benefit. This is a challenging time, so take every opportunity you can to be kind and gentle with yourself, and transform your anxious expectations into valuable insights into your values. Stay safe and well, and thanks for reading. 

APA Reference
Abitante, G. (2020, April 18). Adjusting Anxious Expectations During the COVID-19 Outbreak, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2024, June 24 from

Author: George Abitante

George received his Master's degree in Clinical Psychology from Northwestern University and is pursuing his PhD in Clinical Psychology at Vanderbilt University. Find him on Facebook or follow him on Twitter @AbitanteGeorge.

Lizanne Corbit
April, 21 2020 at 1:40 pm

This is a wonderfully helpful post. I think this is one that everybody can actually relate to on some level. We are all being faced with so much change right now that it's inevitable we will come up against some expectations, even just from how things "used to be" or "were before". We have to adjust and recognize when our expectations may be unrealistic. This is done with so much gentleness and awareness. Thank you for sharing.

April, 21 2020 at 3:45 pm

Hi Lizanne,
Thanks for your comment! I agree that adjusting to a new set of circumstances requires a great deal of understanding and patience!

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