Coronavirus anxiety: How to cope with stress and worries
by Veronika | Mar 14, 2020
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 and stress this pandemic 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
- Anxiety about financial and economic pressures and losses
- Stress of dealing with self-isolation or quarantine
- Irritation about significant changes in our social life and daily routines
- Fear of 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.
Positive coping strategies
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 such as a therapist or counsellor.
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.
When you find it difficult to let go, try giving your mind some other food for thought, i.e. distract from focussing on the problem by putting your attention onto something else. For example, name the colours of what you see around yourself. It’s important you do this slowly and really let yourself see the shades of each colour. Or, you could let your hands feel the fabrics of somethings soft and comforting such as a blanket or your jumper; or of something cooling, such as glass or metal.
A mindful body scan or breathing exercises, for example 7-11 breathing or box-breathing, 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 to the gym or outdoors, there are plenty of online resources of all sorts of exercises for individual and group classes. Maybe you could 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. For example you could offer to do tasks for a friend who is a key worker, go shopping for older neighbours, regularly video call elderly or vulnerable people in isolation. You could also see if you can join the NHS call for volunteer support.
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.
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