What can we do to cope with anxiety about the Coronavirus?

Date Posted: 4th May 2020

Coping with your feelings during the COVID-19 pandemic?

The COVID-19 crisis has produced many unknowns in our lives.  Will I become sick? Will my loved ones contract the virus and end up in a hospital? Will I lose my job?  Will I need to cancel my wedding?  How am I going to cope with the lockdown?

Psychologist, Dr Leonie Jones, provides some advice; "All these what-ifs piling on top of one another are a recipe for anxiety and panic.  This is because we feel we can’t control what we don’t know. The fear of the unknown is a terrifying thought because however many ways we try to perceive an outcome, we understand that there may be so many more scenarios that we would find difficult to consider.

"The Fight-or-Flight response kicks in immediately when we start to feel fear, which is the body’s natural mechanism to protect ourselves. However, when the circumstances surrounding our fear remain unknown, we stay in a heightened state of awareness, wreaking havoc on the mind and body. This results in high levels of stress, which can lead to panic, and in turn lead to anxiety. This can also lead to other negative emotions too, such as feeling sad, low or even overwhelmed. The unknown robs us of the one thing which can give us comfort in times of fear, and that is control.  

"That sense of powerlessness can bring about a couple of different responses. The first is a ‘defeatist’ attitude, where you may think “Why should I bother?  There is nothing I can do to gain control over my life.” This type of thinking can quickly spiral down into a vicious cycle of anxiety and depression.

"The second feeling of powerlessness has the potential to kick us into gear, ‘doing something to help us to regain that sense of control.’  So, what can we do that will help us to take positive action and regain our sense of control over our own lives?

  • Keep Active - go for a walk, either inside or outside the house/garden.
  • Stay in touch with loved ones - call or video chat regularly with friends and family.
  • Try some meditation - use a meditation app, such as Calm or Headspace and do a 3 – 5 minutes meditation to help us to feel calm and in control.
  • Take some ‘me time’ - Give yourself permission to not be productive for 30 minutes and read a book, listen to a podcast, take a nap, etc.
  • Eat well – maintaining a healthy balanced diet is essential to boost our physical and mental wellbeing.
  • Declutter something – getting a cupboard or wardrobe sorted can be very cathartic, helping to make us feel more in control over something, which can help us to feel calmer.
  • Get a good night’s sleep – when we’re stressed and anxious, we don’t tend to sleep very well.  So, maintaining healthy sleeping habits will help us to maintain our mental and physical wellbeing.
  • Make a gratitude list – either of things you will be grateful for when this is over (e.g. stocked shelves in supermarkets, giving a stranger a handshake, meeting a friend for lunch) or something you are grateful for right now (e.g. food delivery service, spending more time with family, reading more, etc)
  • Slow down your thoughts by organising them - Anxiety speeds up your thoughts, and that can cause you to make rash decisions or take quick actions. Worrying is not the answer when so much is uncertain.  The key is to force your body and mind into a slowdown. First, you have to tell yourself to breathe;  take deep breaths breathing in through your nose for 4 seconds, then breathing out of your mouth for 8 seconds.  It is important to take twice as long to breathe out, as it is the slow breath out that helps us to release the anxiety and stress from our bodies. 
  • Take a break from news stories and social media – it is important to find the right balance, so you’re staying informed without becoming alarmed.
  • Ask for help – we can all feel overwhelmed, so don’t forget to ask for help or support. Talking to other people about what you’re going through can help reduce anxiety.  If you think you need professional help, don’t let the situation stop you from reaching out   Many mental health professionals have adapted to offer talking therapies online.

On-line consultations are available with Applied Health Psychologist Dr Leonie Jones during this difficult time.

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