Updated: Jun 29, 2020
If you’re feeling anxious lately, you’re not the only one. We’re in the middle of a pandemic which occurs once in a decade, so this is something we’ve never experienced before. We’re bombarded on a daily basis with negative news about the rising infection-levels, low ICU capacities, people panic-buying groceries and extended lockdowns with no end in sight. When we’re in such uncertain situation where we feel like we have no control, staying mentally healthy could become a challenge for many. Being isolated at home during a pandemic can not only cause anxiety, but it can also impact our sleep, memory and emotion regulation. Also people with existing psychological disorders such as patients with Social Phobia, PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), GAD (generalised anxiety disorder) and OCD (obsessive-compulsive disorder) are being affected by the coronavirus as they are receiving less regular therapy, more exposure to their fears and less social support due to social distancing.
Although it seems hard to do something about your anxiety and excessive worrying, taking care of your mental health should be your top priority right now. Here’s couple of things you could do to manage your anxiety and excessive worrying;
Focus on what you can control
When we keep focussing on things we can’t do anything about, such as the current situation (how long the pandemic will last, how it will affect the lives of many or the economy) or people’s behaviour (how are they going to react), we are left with feeling overwhelmed and drained. However, what we can do is having control over our own thoughts, emotions and behaviour towards it. For example following up your governments’ measurements to minimise the spread and flatten the curve. There are many other ways to gain control which I will describe further with the following points.
Maintain social connection
Having to stay at home does not mean we can’t be in touch with anybody. We are social animals and are hardwired for connection. If we isolate ourselves from other people, we can become lonely which in turn triggers other psychological issues. That’s why it’s important to stay connected and doing so has never been easier with technology at our fingertips. Use video calls such as Facetime, WhatsApp, Skype or Zoom to call your family members, friends and colleagues. Don’t let the pandemic dominate each conversation, rather talk about other stuff that is going on in your life. Social media can be powerful to stay connected in a greater sense with your community and the world, but be mindful to turn it off when you feel it makes your anxiety worse.
Importance of self-care
Being at home constantly can make us lazy when it comes down to self-care. Which is strange as we have all the time now, right? It’s difficult, I feel you. First of all, it’s important to have routine to maintain a sense of normalcy. Make sure to hold onto a schedule you’d have on a regular workday too. Take time to prepare yourself nutritious food, maintain good sleep hygiene and exercise regularly. You’ve probably heard of Youtube where you can find tons of new healthy recipes you can try out or find in-door exercises, yoga and pilates. Get your daily sunlight and fresh air by sitting on your balcony or garden. Be mindful of unhealthy habits such as being on your phone just before going to bed, scrolling through Facebook and Instagram endlessly, watching television for hours, etc.
Use grounding techniques
Grounding techniques are things you can do to bring yourself in the present moment - the here and now. There are many different grounding techniques and one of these consist of using our senses - sight, hearing, taste, smell and touch - to connect our body and mind with what is happening right now. This is called the 5-4-3-2-1 grounding technique:
Look for 5 things you can see around you
Acknowledge 4 things you can touch with your hands, feet & body
Become aware of 3 things you can hear
Find 2 things you can smell
Name 1 thing you can taste in your mouth
Journal your worries
According to research, journaling proves to be a quite effective stress-management tool to deal with anxious thoughts and excessive worrying. You’re the only one who is going to have access to your journal, so truly write down anything (even if you’re ashamed of some of those thoughts) about the past, the present or concerns about the future. Do this at least once a day, maybe before going to bed, in order to literally empty your head onto a piece of paper. You don't have to remember anything or think about anything anymore, because you've written it all down somewhere. This could also help you sleep better.
Meditate to change your relationship with your thoughts
Meditation could also be seen as a grounding technique to bring our focus and attention to the present moment. It’s a myth that with meditation you’re supposed to empty your head. No, it is rather learning to observe & accept our existing thoughts and emotions without judgement and bringing our focus to our breath. Find a comfortable place to sit or lie down, close your eyes (use eye pillows if you’d like) and focus on your breath. Every time your thoughts wander, acknowledge them and bring your attention back to your breath work. It sounds much easier than it is, trust me. It’s a skill that needs years of practice to master. But so worth it once you can reap the benefits.
Check the news as little as possible
When we are constantly confronted with negative news on television, internet and social media, we can feel exhausted and more pessimistic the rest of the day. Although it’s tempting to constantly check the newest updates regarding the pandemic, don’t do it. There won’t be any major changes in a day anyway. Just check the news once a day; after breakfast would be a good time ( and not immediately after you wake up). You could finish your day by looking up good news regarding the pandemic or other positive happenings. Do this in the evening and not just before going to bed.
Identify your anxious thoughts and gently challenge them
This part is an extension of journaling your worries. Once you’ve written down your anxious thoughts and concerns, you don’t have to stop there. It’s even more effective if you start asking yourself how you could reframe those thoughts to shift into a more positive mindset. Challenge the thoughts by asking yourself how credible they are and why? After that, write down rational thoughts and again ask yourself how credible they are. You can now compare both to find out which thoughts are more realistic and logical. Although this is a very simplistic form of cognitive therapeutic methodology, it is a good start.
Use ASMR for relaxation
For those who don’t know the term yet, ASMR stands for Autonomous Sensory Meridian Response. It’s described as a warm, fuzzy feeling that starts on the scalp and moves down the neck and spine. Triggers include whispering, tapping fingernails, repetitive hand movements like turning pages in a magazine, wrapping up a gift and much more. If you’re lucky enough to experience ASMR, use it to your advantage to calm yourself down and for better sleep. Don’t believe me if it’s real? Check out: https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC6010208/
Seek professional help for your mental health
There are many things you can do yourself to reduce your anxiety, but when you feel it’s not enough and you need help from a professional, don’t hesitate to reach out. Therapy (and coaching) is getting more and more mainstream and even people who don’t necessarily get diagnosed can have benefits from receiving therapy. If you want to stay anonymous, online therapy is the perfect alternative which happens to be the norm in this pandemic anyway ;)
Remember, we’re all in this together. And I believe that this too shall pass. Reminding ourselves that we have the strength and resilience to get through this and staying hopeful about the future is the only way forward. There will be days that we will feel bad, but we will have to give ourselves some slack, pick ourselves back up again and carry on. Every day that we are able to do so, counts as a good day. And we can be proud.