More Ways To Deal With Anxiety – Mental Health During Coronavirus and Beyond
The Covid-19 coronavirus pandemic continues to dominate life here in the UK and elsewhere across the globe. As I write this, Prime Minister Boris Johnson has just left hospital after a stay in intensive care and the daily number of people who have sadly died in the UK has just been published and has risen over the ten thousand mark.
Each and every day we are hearing more worrying news and updates about the coronavirus and its terrible ramifications. Life is uncertain right now and none of us know when any semblance of normality may return. And even in the things we can do under the current restrictions, there’s a constant (justified) need to be alert and vigilant, to wash hands regularly, maintain social distancing and only go out for specified reasons. To beat this coronavirus, we all need to be thinking and aware, to keep abreast of the latest developments and to do all we can to protect our own loved ones and save lives.
It’s no wonder in this kind of environment that so many people are struggling right now with anxiety and stress and are experiencing an impact on their mental health.
I mentioned the first three things I would advise doing to boost your mental health and combat coronavirus anxiety, worry and stress in a recent article that you can read here: How To Cope With Coronavirus Anxiety . It’s definitely worth reading that post about protecting your mental health alongside this one.
The Anxiety Response and Covid-19
There’s no doubt that the covid-19 coronavirus pandemic is impacting upon our mental health, leading to much higher levels of anxiety, worry and stress. We know there’s an unseen enemy out there and we know that anyone of us could catch it and the potential consequences of that for us, our friends and our loved ones.
And whilst our anxiety/stress response is designed to deal with short term threats (the fight/flight/freeze mechanism), covid-19 is ongoing and persistent. We don’t know if we will get the disease and the potential impacts on health, there are economic impacts, changes to our routines, habits and the things we usually do and there are elements of isolation and loneliness from being unable to see people we usually interact with.
On top of all that, none of us know how long this may all go on for or what might come next. It’s no wonder with all that uncertainty that so many people are struggling with anxiety and stress and other mental health issues right now.
To exacerbate mental health issues, the anxiety and stress can impact on your sleep, meaning that you feel more tired and it’s harder to deal with everything the next day (and leading to the next night’s sleep being interrupted and so on). You may also find that you, or those around you, are much more emotional and tense than usual, leading to tears or arguments and even more stress.
And the whole time, every day we are confronted with more news about the death rate, number infected, impact on people’s lives and more.
Dealing With Anxiety and Protecting Your Mental Health
As I mentioned in a previous article, do remember that you don’t have to do all of these recommended things and, depending on your own circumstances, some may be more beneficial and useful than others. And, of course, if you only do a few of these things and you find it helps you to cope and get through this challenge then that would be a positive result. You don’t have to be super productive, learn new skills and thrive right now, you need to try and be as calm and strong as you can, as much as you can (although if you are being productive and doing things then of course that’s great too).
It’s natural to have moments of anxiety, doubt and worry during the current uncertain situation so be as cool as you can with that, whilst also trying to manage it and reduce it by adopting some of these things.
And do remember to call upon the three things I mentioned in that previous article (How To Cope With Coronavirus Anxiety) to focus on the right things, exercise and be active and to make use of the audio I linked to, all of which can help you to deal with anxiety.
In conjunction with those, here are some other useful strategies you can call upon to protect your mental health and as an antidote to stress, anxiety and worry caused by the coronavirus:
1. Focus On What You Can Control
There are so many things that you can’t control about the current situation affecting so many aspects of life, from health, to work and finances, to when the restrictions may come to an end. And whilst we all need to keep updated (subject to number 2, below), the more you focus on, and worry, about things you can’t control, the more helpless you will feel and the bigger the impact on your mental health.
So rather than trying to control things you can’t control, instead aim to focus on what you can control.
For starters, you can control the well publicised steps to minimise the risk of contracting the coronavirus such as regularly washing your hands for twenty seconds, maintaining social distancing and only going out for the specific allowed reasons. These aspects you can control and continue to remind yourself that by doing so, this is you playing your part in saving lives and protecting the NHS. They are positive things to do and you can focus on them and control them.
More broadly, you are in control of your day and how you use your time. So using the suggestions in this article start to actively plan how you will use some of your time. And certainly I would include exercise, connecting with others and listening to my free relaxation audio in that mix.
2. Manage The News
If, like me, your news consumption has risen by a factor of at least one hundred over the last couple of weeks, then it’s time to reign it back in a bit.
Anxiety, stress and mental health issues thrive on ambiguity, uncertainty and the unknown. Your mind can fill with all sorts of imagined worst case scenarios and possible ways things could negatively impact. And because there are so many unknowns (and so many things outside your control), it can lead to chronic stress and worry. Nowhere is there more uncertainty, possible outcomes, speculation and fear, than through the news right now, all of which your brain interprets as threat that fuels your stress and anxiety response. It’s a continuous reminder of the reasons to worry.
Combined with that, some would argue that the news can even be addictive right now. As you seek more information to counter the uncertainty, you may have found yourself watching, reading and checking the news more and more. And every so often there will be a useful update and that reward of information can draw you in further and as you watch more news in the hope of another piece of useful stuff. Your anxious brain craves information and certainty and so you watch more and more in case there is something new.
When we look back over recent weeks it can seem that so much has changed. Businesses have closed, schools have closed, restrictions have come into place and more. Yet within each day, not that much actually changes. If you spent a couple of hours watching the news on any particular day you would soon realise that much of what is covered about coronavirus is not new, it’s repetition, speculation and opinion. Much of this you probably don’t really need to consume (and that includes all the fake, unreliable news on social media).
So to protect your mental health and to reduce anxiety and stress, do aim to manage your news consumption. If you checked in on the latest developments early on in the day, towards the middle of the day and for the daily briefing you would get more than enough information and be fully up to date. Instead, and after watching the news, aim to do some things that you find more enjoyable, relaxing or distracting. Certainly it’s worth doing something more pleasurable after watching the news to break any rumination and you probably want to avoid it last thing at night so it doesn’t impact on your sleep.
3. Use Distraction
I’ve written before about how distraction is under-rated. If you are distracted by something else then there is less ‘mental space’ for whatever is causing your anxiety and stress, and it not only breaks that runaway pattern of anxiety but can also give your brain a chance to calm down. And there’s a fine line between consciously distracting yourself to not think about something, and just getting on with something else anyway.
The more you focus on anxious thoughts about the coronavirus and the future, the more anxious you will feel and the more you can find yourself thinking those stressful thoughts. As I often discuss with my clients, anxiety becomes an ever increasing, self fuelling cycle that leads to feeling worse and worse.
So make use of distraction and block out anxiety and stress.
And the great thing is that there are as many ways to distract yourself and crowd out anxiety as you can think of. You can use exercise (with all it’s positive mental health benefits), relaxation (such as one of my free hypnosis downloads), singing, music, games, going for your daily exercise, walk in nature, or anything else that engages you and occupies your mind.
I’ve also written about the mental health benefits of laughter so if you can do things that make you laugh (which my singing seems to cause for my kids!) then even better. There’s more on the benefits of laughter for anxiety, stress and mental health over in this article: Is Laughter The Best Medicine For Anxiety, Stress and Mental Health?
4. Connect With People
Us humans are social creatures and don’t always fare too well mentally when we are isolated and separated from others. Isolation can lead to loneliness and that can impact on mental health.
Yet although we need to be physically distanced to prevent the spread of covid-19, we don’t have to be socially distanced. There are many ways to keep in touch with friends and family including through technology such as Zoom, Facetime and Skype, as well as the good old (sometimes forgotten!) telephone. My mother told me the other day that she’s never spoken to me as much as she has over the last few weeks! Not sure if she meant that was a good thing or not!
So do connect and contact others around you and keep in touch. Not only will it benefit those you contact and their mental health, but it will have huge positive benefits for your mental health too.
5. Have A Routine
Most of us have found that our usual daily patterns have been disrupted at best, completely wiped out at worst. Some people may still have the routine of going out to work yet for many of us, that routine each day is no longer possible. Some may be working from home, many will be home schooling, yet all of us are now living with disruption and change in some way.
Having a daily routine can give a sense of control and clarity to each day. In particular, getting up at a similar time each day and going to bed at the same time each night can be helpful for sleep and a sense of control and certainty each day. You can also eat at the same times to give your day a sense of structure. Having a sense of routine when much else is subject to change, can really help your mental health during lockdown.
You can also give some thought to how you will structure the rest of your day. It can include work, home schooling, exercise, connecting with others, pursuing interests or having downtime. Putting that routine in place will add to your focus on being in control of what you can control as well as providing a sense of stability.
6. Accomplish Something
Whilst it’s more than ok to just muddle through each day as best as you can right now as you deal with coronavirus challenges, anxiety and stress, there’s still a lot to be said for accomplishing some things.
That could be spending more time on a hobby or interest than you normally can to progress it some way. It could be learning something new by doing an online course of some kind, professional or otherwise. Personally, I’ve been spending half an hour or so a day learning to play the guitar using the free course from Fender (Fender Play) after picking up my guitar for the first time in about thirty years!
Or simply set yourself some small goals to accomplish each day, such as getting the washing done or spending an hour gardening or doing that workout or finishing that book, or whatever else will make you feel a bit better when you can cross it off your list as completed.
There are a lot of resources out there for free right now, yet simply getting some things accomplished in any way will give you a bit of a mental health boost. If nothing else, it will be time spent engaging in something other than overthinking about covid-19.
7. Interrupt Anxious Thoughts
One of the main problems with anxious thoughts is that they can spiral way out of control. You start thinking about the coronavirus and its consequences and in a short space of time your mind has taken you down the path of a worst case scenario involving things like illness, death, poverty and destitution. It’s a world filled with anxiety and dread that may very well never happen (particularly as us humans tend to be pretty poor at predicting very far into the future and pretty poor at estimating our ability to cope with any adversity that does arise).
Rather than letting your brain go down that path of uncertainty of things that ‘could’ happen, you want to pull it back to what you know here and now. You want to start challenging some of those thoughts and dealing in evidence and facts, rather than anxiety fuelled, imagined speculation.
There are many ways to interrupt anxious thoughts and I’ve covered several ways across these articles that are well worth a read:
As China and some other countries are already showing, this challenging period will come to an end. However you are finding things right now, things will return to normal, perhaps in just a few weeks from now. Using the above strategies can help you to feel calmer and more in control through this period, so that you come out the other side feeling stronger and more resilient. And pretty much of all these things, if you adopt and practice them now, will put you in a much better place in terms of your mental health and ability to handle future challenges, once life does return to more normality.
Stay safe and take care of yourself,
Hypnotherapy in Ely, Newmarket and Online
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