14th April 2020
If you are feeling anxious or worried right now, you are not alone. Anxiety is a natural human experience and has been one of the most common and natural responses people are having to the abnormal situation that is occurring in the world at the moment. Feeling anxious in certain situations can help us to successfully avoid danger, activating our fight or flight response; this is what our brains do in order to keep us safe. While your brain is just trying to do it’s job to keep you alive, happy and healthy, our incredible brains can go into overdrive, leaving you feeling consistently worried, panic, overwhelmed and exhausted.
It’s normal to feel anxious
Although it is normal to be feeling anxious at this time, that doesn’t mean there aren’t things you can do to manage your anxiety effectively and reduce your experience of panic and overwhelm. You can channel your anxiety into helpful behaviours: get informed, plan, and prepare. We often feel anxious when events feel out of our control, and when we think we don’t have the capacity, skills or ability to cope. Anxiety tricks us into thinking about the worst-case scenarios in vivid and frightening detail, so it may be helpful to shift your focus to what you can control and do for yourself and others.
Helpful strategies to manage anxiety during a crisis
During times of stress and anxiety, hyperventilation and shallow breathing is common. Purposeful, regular breathing can help to reset the fight or flight response and prevent the onset of panic and the unpleasant physical symptoms related to anxiety. It is also helpful to remember that not only will this situation that COVID-19 has created eventually end, feelings are also temporary. Breathe and remind yourself this feeling will pass.
Monitor your self-talk
What is happening in your internal dialog right now? What things are you telling yourself, and how much power are you giving to those thoughts? Are you aware of the power you may be giving to them?
Remember thoughts are just thoughts, not necessarily facts. During times of high anxiety we are likely to also experience an increase in negative thoughts that are not serving us well. Further, are there more helpful thoughts that you could be adopting? For example; could you look at this situation as an opportunity that you may not have otherwise had to get things done that you have been putting off or not had time to do?
Limit or avoid unhelpful media exposure or misinformation
Being exposed to constant, alarming and anxiety-evoking news convinces our minds and bodies that there is something to panic about. The more we hear or read the more panicked and frightened we become, and the less time we spend engaging in helpful thoughts and behaviours that will facilitate physical and mental health. If you are tuning into the news, limit the amount of time and only get the updates rather than constant stories and ensure you tune in to factual and accurate sources.
Focus on what is in your control
As Russ Harris says so well “the single most useful thing anyone can do in any type of crisis – Corona-related or otherwise – is to: focus on what’s in your control. You can’t control what happens in the future. You can’t control Corona virus itself or the world economy or how your government manages this whole sordid mess. And you can’t magically control your feelings, eliminating all that perfectly natural fear and anxiety. But you can control what you do – here and now. And that matters. Because what you do – here and now – can make a huge difference to yourself, and anyone living with you, and a significant difference to the community around you.”
Maintain the basics
Consider sleep, diet, exercise, water intake, avoiding alcohol and drugs. We all hear about the benefits of being on top of these basic principals, and it is because these basic needs are fundamental to your overall physical and mental health! We have all experienced the struggle of trying to do anything without sleep, and have probably all experienced what happens when we have not eaten regularly or enough (umm hangry?!).
Further, we know that exercise is good for our bodies and our minds, so why not channel some of your body’s increased adrenaline into some physical exercise, release some endorphins, and feel the sense of accomplishment. The Black Dog Institute has released information on a study that found that as little as an hour a week of exercise can be highly effective in fighting depression.
Ensure you aren’t skipping on the fundamentals as these protect your immune system and your body and mind from unhelpful anxiety.
Look after yourself
You might be wondering what self-care is. Self-care is any activity that we do deliberately in order to take care of our mental, emotional, and physical health. It is helpful to reflect on what self-care looks like for you.
What are the things you do to feel relaxed, de-stress, reset and refocus? For example; If it is a walk, what about going for a walk is helpful for you? Does it help you to feel grounded, accomplished, or energised, or does it help release some of that built up stress in your body? Maybe it is a break or much needed alone time? Although a walk may be something a lot of people mention as self-care, people engage in this activity for different reasons.
It is helpful to reflect on what this particular self-care does for you. This is a a mental skill and a helpful one to be aware of so that you can select strategies based on what you need at the time. Relaxation techniques, meditation and mindfulness practices are some skills that can assist with self-care, so we would recommend you check these out too!
Keep up a daily routine
Create a sense of normality, through maintaining your daily routine. Sticking to your usual routine as much as possible (even if you’re in isolation) can assist us with feeling a sense of calmness and reduce feelings of overwhelm. Consider including a regular pattern of sleep, diet, and exercise, as well as including your other routine daily tasks. It might be a case of amending your usual routine and creating a “new-normal”. While it might feel good to switch on Netflix during the middle of a workday, this can actually be a reminder that things are not normal at all, which can trigger our fight or flight response.
Just because we need to be physically distant doesn’t mean you have to be socially isolated or alone. We do need to be a little more creative to assist us to stay in touch with our family, friends and work colleagues. Try a phone call, message, social media or even a virtual hang out or activity together.
Spread kindness and compassion
This is a difficult time for everyone, and we are all in this together. Showing kindness and compassion towards YOURSELF and one another is something that is within all of our control. Practising positive self-talk, a type of self-care where you speak to yourself with compassion, will aid in reducing feelings of anxiety.
Reach out for support
If you continue to feel anxious or distressed despite trying these strategies, or need support implementing strategies and improving your self-care, give us a call on 02 8814 5703 to discuss how The Talbot Centre can support you. Whilst it is normal to be feeling anxious and overwhelmed you don’t have to cope with it alone.
Psychologist, Baulkham Hills NSW
Michaela is a caring and compassionate psychologist who is passionate about reducing barriers and increasing access to high quality psychological support to improve every person’s mental health and wellbeing.