With Coronavius continuing to headline around the world it is not difficult to feel anxious.
Whilst ample advice is given on how to best prevent the physical aspects of the disease COVID-19, such as frequent and proper hand washing and avoidance of social contact (GOV.UK, NHS), little is said about the impact this pandemic can have on mental health and how to cope with the anxiety it provokes.
Coronavirus can affect us directly or indirectly and understandably we may experience, for example:
- Worries about catching or spreading the disease
- Fear of the severity of symptoms and death rates
- Worries about vulnerable loved ones contracting the virus
- Financial and economic pressures and losses
- Stress of dealing with self-isolation or quarantine
- Significant changes in our social life and daily routines
- Restrictions to our freedom of travel and movement
Anxiety: the mind-body link
A strong immune system is our body’s primary defence mechanism. Whilst it may not prevent us from catching the Coronavirus, it is designed to fight off all kinds of illnesses caused by viruses and bacteria.
In uncertain times, when we are faced with the unknown, it is normal that we experience anxiety. Our brain tries to reduce this anxiety by attempting to close the gap of not knowing. Tirelessly it searches for answers. This can get us stuck in an unhelpful cycle of re-triggering anxiety when no solution is present to the problem at hand.
When we experience anxiety or panic the fear centres in our brain are being contacted which, in turn, release stress hormones. This is a normal function of our body. It makes us run when we hear a fire alarm for example.
When high levels of anxiety and stress continue over prolonged periods of time it can have a corrosive effect on our body/mind system, lowering our immune system. So it is important that we give ourselves some rest, i.e. calm down regularly, in order to maintain as best we can our physical health and mental wellbeing.
Look after yourself by keeping with a healthy lifestyle that includes regular exercise, a balanced diet, time to relax, and a good nights’ sleep.
News and social media
Keep an eye on your media and social media habits and watch out for when you find changing what you would normally do. Being up to date with news can be helpful but too much news checking might just be the opposite, i.e. anxiety provoking.
Check what sources you trust for your information. There are plenty of websites and social media sources that sensationalise or scaremonger or promote fake news. To help you distinguish facts from rumours, gather information from the WHO, GOV.UK, and NHS.
Take your feelings seriously
It is understandable to feel worried or scared about this new and still quite unknown Coronavirus. Sometimes it can help to explore why you feel this way with a friend or trusted person. Don’t be shy to reach out to mental health professional if you feel overwhelmed.
Take control of your anxiety & let it go
Expressing your anxiety can help you gain clarity and make you feel more in control. Write down what you feel in a journal or a letter to yourself. Then put it aside, let it go and do something else.
Beware of thinking errors
Recognise your thoughts and challenge any thinking errors with more realistic and reassuring thoughts that calm and soothe you. For example, some common thinking errors are catastrophising, all-or-nothing thinking, and overgeneralising.
When you are anxious your mind runs at 100 mph and this means that you live in a dreadful future which has not happened yet. Pause for a moment and check what is actually happening in reality in this present moment.
A mindful body scan or mindful breathing exercises can help to slow down and guide your mind to focus on the here and now. Relaxing your body and mind is a core strategy in the management of anxiety.
Exercise your body
Keep moving your body. Even if you can’t go out to the gym or outdoors, there are plenty of online resources for individual and group classes for all sorts of exercises. Maybe use the opportunity to start something new that you’ve always been curious about.
Making yourself useful and helping others in their time of need can have a positive effect for both, the person receiving support and you, the helper. Don’t forget to protect yourself properly.
Share positive news
Many people recover from COVID-19 and hearing their stories can help calm and encourage others. Share positive news when you come across them.
This article was written by Veronika Kloucek, Integrative Psychotherapist and Counsellor, www.veronikakloucek.com.