During this challenging time, faced by the threat of an attack of the COVID-19 virus, many people will be experiencing heightened levels of anxiety for a variety of reasons. And for many, this anxiety could be causing more pain and distress than the actual virus itself.
Individual circumstances vary and therefore, each individual’s perspective and response to the situation will also vary. It is important to acknowledge this, let go of any judgement and empathise with each other – no response is right, each response is appropriate for each individual based on their circumstances, their perception and their learned behaviour patterns.
The World Health Organisation and local governments are continually updating guidelines on how to keep well and how to minimise the impact of this disease on our global community. For most the impact will be minimal, but as this is a new disease that has significant implications for certain ‘at risk’ people, if too many ‘at risk’ individuals contract the virus at the same time, this will put a strain on medical resources.
In time, the virus is unlikely to pose a significant threat to us as we will build our immunity to this disease (including developing a vaccine) and the numbers contracting the disease at any one time will be lower enabling everyone to get the medical attention they require. It is the short term impact that is informing the current strategy.
At this point our best defence to the disease is our own IMMUNITY, and it is well known that stress and anxiety impairs our immunity.
So how can we ensure we focus our energy on our immunity rather than allowing it to be diverted ‘unnecessarily’?
The short answer to that question is focus on what is REAL, and what you can do something about, and LET GO of false or inflated perceptions, and what you cannot change or control. Work on maintaining a POSITIVE MINDSET, take SELF-RESPONSIBILITY and BE PROACTIVE.
Here are some ideas:
1 Acknowledge your emotions
Your emotions are REAL – they are telling you that you need to pay attention. All emotions have a purpose – they provide information about how you are perceiving what’s going on, they give you energy to deal with it and they often trigger an automatic response (largely based on learned behaviour patterns and often not the most effective for the current situation).
Common triggers of anxiety include:
· Actual threats (the virus is a genuine threat)
· Uncertainty (this situation is unprecedented – no one knows exactly what will happen)
· Change (everyone is being challenged to change their usual routines and practises)
· Loss of security (for many not being able go to work, pay bills etc)
· Exclusion (being isolated will feel like this)
And many more; it is therefore completely understandable that high levels of anxiety are being experienced at the moment as there are so many triggers that could be at play. So be kind to yourself – what you are feeling is valid.
2 Accept your emotion
Your emotion is your guide – allow it to settle and then consider how you can best respond to what it is telling you. Some useful techniques for calming anxiety include:
· Regular breathing – breathe in for 4 counts and breathe out for 4 counts until you start to feel calmer. An irregular heart rate is your body’s signal to your brain that you are anxious. Use your body to give your brain a different message by regulating your breathing pattern.
· Visualisation – bring to mind a moment when you felt calm and bring that visualisation to life using all of your senses – who was there, what did you see, hear, smell, taste, touch etc This will help to create a feeling of calm in the present moment
· Social contact – whilst physical contact may be limited due to isolation there are many means of talking and connecting. We are social beings and thrive on social interaction
3 Challenge your thinking
Our emotions are linked to our thoughts and vice versa so changing how you think about something can alter how you feel. For example, if you have been invited to a party where you don’t know anyone you could think of it as an opportunity to meet new friends or you could think of it as a chore or difficult experience. Seeing it as an opportunity would provide excitement, seeing it as a chore might lead to anger or resentment and seeing it as difficult could result in panic or anxiety.
Here are a few techniques to temper negative thinking:
· Consider your usual thinking patterns – do you tend to overthink or catastrophise situations? Is this a useful pattern? If not, being aware that it is a pattern is the first step to changing it
· Establish the evidence that is fuelling your thinking – what are the facts and what is fiction? Let go of the fiction
· Believe in yourself – think about challenges you have faced in the past that are no longer having an impact on you. This situation will pass too. Whatever scenarios arise you will respond to them when they arise. By all means prepare, and note that worrying about them will not improve the outcome
· Share how you are feeling – other people will have a different perspective – use their perspective to help you reframe how you are looking at the situation
4 Focus on what is in your control
Circumstances are dictating much of what we must not do such as go to work, have social contact, travel etc and being told what you can’t do often triggers resistance – you want what you can’t have! This is a waste of energy. Accept the things you cannot change and have no control over. Focus your attention on what you can do such as the following:
· Make a plan – When we are feeling overwhelmed, braindumping everything that is fuelling that feeling and creating a plan can be extremely helpful. What do you want to achieve in the next 3 months? What challenges are you facing personally that will have an impact on you? What are your options? Who could help? What specific actions can you take and when?
· Do the basics well – our minds and bodies perform better when they are well rested, fed, watered and exercised
· Be kind to others – this has many benefits – being kind to others is good for them and you as it releases oxytocin in both of you. Oxytocin is an antidote to cortisol the neurochemical linked to anxiety. Also, focussing on others takes you out of thinking about yourself which will lessen any anxiety linked to your own survival
· Stay informed – keep up to date with the latest official guidance but be mindful of how much time you allow yourself to watch the news as too much negative information can have an impact on your mood
· Offer to help – are there any skills you can offer to help others. Work with others to pool your skills and manage your isolation circumstances that benefit everyone. For example, if you enjoy cooking but you are isolated you could cook and others (who are not isolated) can shop and distribute the food
· Be proactive – consider how you could use this time of self-isolation usefully so that when usual business resumes you are recharged and ready to go. What could you do now that you never have time for normally, for example, clearing out, re-decorating, developing strategies and plans etc
· Develop skills – what skills could you learn or develop? Doing something that you enjoy or are curious about generates positive emotions that improves your mindset and engages your thinking so you are less able to focus on the negative thoughts that trigger anxiety
· Stay connected – social contact is a fundamental part of being human and whilst isolation can provide many challenges there are many ways to remain in touch:
- Use technology – Facetime, Skype, social media etc
- Pick up the phone – hearing someone’s voice can be a real comfort
- Write a letter or card – receiving a personal note from someone is so powerful and it can be re-read whenever you need a boost or reminder that people care
· Use positive language – our brains do not process negative commands. Tell someone not to think about a pink elephant and guess what they will thinking about?! Be clear about what you want, for example, I want to be calm rather than I don’t want to worry
· Moderate your language – language is extremely emotive and can elicit unintended responses. For example, the media has talked about this being a ’health war’ – the word ‘war’ could trigger all sorts of scenarios in our minds. Temper your language especially when you are with people who feel vulnerable
5 Look for the silver lining
As the saying goes every cloud has a silver lining. This doesn’t diminish the pain and challenges that many will experience, but recognises that from every challenge there is an opportunity for growth. Crises often provide the energetic shift we need to do things differently and step outside of our comfort zone.
How can you use this challenge as a force for good or an opportunity for growth? For example, this could enable you to:
- Re-connect with important people in your life
- Get to know new people in your community
- Spend more time with your kids at home
- Stop doing activities that are no longer important
- Set up the online part of your business and so on…
So if you want to optimise your health and manage your anxiety when experiencing challenges be proactive and face them head on by taking positive action. Stay well, be wise and be calm.