Anxiety during Covid-19
It is a time of uncertainty, confusion and frustration. No matter who you are, you’ll have been affected by our current climate. In recent weeks we have been plunged into uncertainty with constant news about the Coronavirus pandemic. The world we have always known ceases to exist as we are forced into isolation to prevent the spread of the disease. Already this is starting to take its toll on people's mental health, especially those already living with conditions like anxiety. The fear of being out of control and the inability to tolerate uncertainty are common characteristics of many anxiety disorders.
Understandably, we are all concerned about the news, but for many people it can make existing mental health problems worse. In a document published recently by the World Health Organization on protecting your mental health during the outbreak, the following recommendations were made:
Reading lots of news about the Coronavirus outbreak could lead more severe sufferers of anxiety to have panic attacks. Having long periods away from news websites and social media can help with anxiety. Support helplines such as Anxiety UK can also be very helpful.
So how can we protect our mental health?
Have breaks from social media
- Limit the amount of time you spend reading or watching things which aren't making you feel better. Perhaps decide on a specific time to check in with the news
- There is a lot of misinformation swirling around - stay informed by sticking to trusted sources of information such as government and NHS websites
Mute key words which might be triggering on Twitter and unfollow or mute accounts
Mute WhatsApp groups and hide Facebook posts and feeds if you find them too overwhelming
Watch TV (not the news!) or read books instead.
Stay connected with people
Despite the difficulties facing us currently, we have never been more well-equipped with ways to stay in touch while in quarantine. You can meet face to face with individuals or a group via Zoom, Skype, video calling/face-time and fun new platforms like Houseparty. Strike a balance between having a routine and making sure each day has some variety by agreeing regular check-in times, so you feel connected to the people around you.
With weeks and months of the coronavirus pandemic ahead, it is essential to make sure you take some down time. Mental health charity Mind recommends continuing to access nature and sunlight wherever possible. Take a holistic approach by doing exercise, eating well and getting enough sleep. Anxiety UK suggests practising the "Apple" technique to deal with anxiety and worries:
- Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Don't react as you normally do. Don't react at all. Pause and breathe.
- Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don't believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
- Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don't have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
- Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else - on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else - mindfully with your full attention
Adopt a growth mind set
During times of fear and panic, when we are facing the unknown we can tend to get caught up in a fixed mind set, filling the void (unknown) with all the scenarios of things that could go wrong. And it’s easy to get stuck in this space too. Here are some ideas to help us gain momentum and move into a growth mind set:
- Live NOW – create a clear picture of what you would like next
- Ask yourself how you want this moment to
be, your response is the one
thing you can choose right now
- Be appreciative
- Be grateful
And remember to breathe. One of the most effective ways of managing overwhelming feelings is to breathe. This might sound too simple to be true, but by slowing our breathing down, we activate another system in our body which acts as a brake, letting our body know the 'danger' has passed.
The summary of strategies outlined in the diagram below will help you manage your anxiety and the cycle of thoughts, behaviours, feelings and physical symptoms which arise as a by product.
If you are still struggling you could consider online support - many counsellors and therapists have now adapted their practice for online work, so if you see a therapist that you think would be a good match for you, contact them to discuss your options. While it might feel different establishing a connection over the telephone or via online platforms, it remains an effective way of accessing support and getting the help you need right now.
Remember this time will pass. Before too long we will be in a different space, having learned much about ourselves and the world around us.
Take care. Stay safe.