Life Lesson: Coping with Anxiety during the Coronavirus Pandemic
By Andy O'Shaughnessy
If you’re constantly feeling worried and anxious about the recent Coronavirus epidemic, let me first begin by assuaging your concerns and tell you you’re not alone.
Given the unexpected nature of this global epidemic, everyone will be going through some amount of uncertainty at the moment. This is problematic if it begins to constantly occupy your mind, becoming the main focus of your day.
If you’re feeling stressed and anxious, finding it difficult to sleep or increasing the amount you smoke or drink to cope, this article is for you. By the end of it, you’ll be in better stead to start taking control of your days again and you might even start learning the Ukele (read more to find out about that).
Although I am not medically trained, as someone who suffered with anxiety in the past, I feel that I am well placed to share with you some of the strategies I used to help me deal with my anxious feelings.
Change How You Interact With The World
Let me ask you a question. How are you interacting with the world right now? That sounds like an odd thing to ask because it’s likely you’re following the sound advice of the government which is to avoid contact with other people, stay inside and follow the guidelines for correct hygiene (hand-washing etc).
This question has more to do with your attention. Right now, it is centred on the things you cannot control not things you can control.
How many times did you watch the news or check your phone today? If you’re like the rest of us, you click, tap and swipe your phone 2,617 times per day.
The chances are, you’re reading news, watching videos and spending time on social media getting inundated with the latest Coronavirus updates. This is not healthy. Are you keeping score of those who have contracted the illness? Are you measuring it’s spread? Did you read the latest fake news about how garlic goes some way to protecting you?
It’s important to stay informed so it would be remiss of me to advise you against watching the news but you do not need to get hourly updates. Watch the news once a day. That’s it. It’s there to be punctually informative. It’s not there to be a constant drip-feed of anxiety serving solely to make you even more anxious.
This is arguably worse with social media. How much time are you spending on Facebook discovering the latest Coronavirus outbreak in a city near you, let alone reading the continuous updates from your friends about food shortages, job loss and quarantine?
By spending less time on social media and limiting news intake, you’ll create a much healthier environment for yourself enabling you to manage your anxiety. Instead of feeding the fire, you begin to control it. You stop letting external sources influence your thoughts as you begin to interact with the world on your own terms, choosing when you get your information.
As difficult as it might be, it is important to take each day as it comes. Focus on what you’re doing now. By thinking about the future and all the possible outcomes of this epidemic, you let your imagination run wild with a myriad of worst-case scenarios. This is not helpful and you cannot predict the future. By being more present you shift your attention to what’s happening right now.
Maintain Healthy Habits
It is important to maintain healthy habits anyway but doing so now will allay anxious feelings, reduce stress and help you relieve built-up tension.
Meditating will allow some serenity to enter into your life. Scientific studies have suggested that it may ease symptoms of anxiety and depression, and help with insomnia. It is also known to help with blood pressure and other conditions such as IBS that may flare up in times of stress.
Headspace is running a free program at the moment to help you relieve stress and help you tackle those feelings of being overwhelmed. You can also incorporate some stretches into a morning routine or during the day to alleviate tightness.
Make sure you’re eating a balanced diet. In times of uncertainty, we can often change our eating habits and the type of food we eat to cope with sudden surges in negative emotions. Eating at a regular time and keeping to a healthy diet will help maintain your immune system.
The benefits exercise has for your overall health is overwhelming but in worrying times like these, it can often be neglected. This may be made worse given the fact that you’re spending a much larger portion of your day inside than before but there are plenty of exercises you can do in the comfort of your own home.
HIIT workouts, stretching, Yoga, pilates, Tabata etc. A lot of free guided workouts are available on YouTube.
Check the recommended amount of exercise you should be doing first. You can consult this link from the CDC for more information.
If you’re able to go outside for walks/runs be sure to adhere to any advice from your countries’ government concerning the times you can go outside and any social distancing practices. Getting some daily sunshine can help boost your mood (even in the garden).
Make sure you get the prescribed 7–8 hours sleep a day. It will help keep your energy levels up, keep you rested (obviously) and enable you to think clearly.
Finally, make sure you try to stick to a daily routine. With many of us quarantined and not working, it is easy to just let life happen to us and go with the flow. Keeping some structure to your day is healthy and will mean you have less time to worry about the current situation and procrastinate. It will also be useful when you allocate some time each day to learn/improve a skill which is what we’re talking about in the next section.
Human beings are social animals. We’re not supposed to live in quarantine. This is a bit challenging at the moment but there are plenty of ways you can stay in contact with your friends and family. It is normal that you will be concerned for your loved ones so keeping in contact will help you feel less isolated and enable you to shift your attention to someone else.
Tools for staying social
Facebook Messenger (not the app Facebook app)
Take special care to choose those that you contact regularly — if they make you feel more anxious, consider communicating with them less frequently or contact others instead. It is important to remain positive when you communicate — again, do you not dwell on what you cannot control, focus on things you can be positive about.
Try to be a source of comfort for someone else. This will help you reduce anxiety and help you reframe yourself from being the person who worries to becoming someone’s rock.
Expand Your Skillset
How you perceive this epidemic influences your reaction to it. So let’s try something else. Rather than feeling like lockdown limiting you, flip it on it’s head. The coronavirus epidemic had afforded you enough free time to start and get good at a skill and all it takes is 20 hours. Don’t believe me? Watch this video.
I’m not suggested you go out and buy a Ukele but maybe you’ve got another instrument sitting around the house (I’m assuming you watched the video I shared above). The point here is to use the free time you’ve been given in a positive light.
It is important to do something active rather than just passively watch films and series on Netflix. This can be a good way to spend time but you might not feel very accomplished afterwards. There are many skills you can pick up, for example:
Learn an instrument (if you have one)
Start writing an online
Learning how to cook
Learning to code
Start reading more
There are also many paid and free courses you can take on a whole host of online learning platforms from which to learn:
Practice your chosen skill once a day and you’ll see some progress in no time.
Monitor Your Internal Monologue
It is also helpful to change the way you interact with yourself. What kind of things are you saying to yourself? Are they negative or positive? The way we talk to ourself influences the kind of day we have so be conscious of what you’re saying and try to be more encouraging and kinder to yourself. Instead of saying “I didn’t make the most my day there’s no point” say “I accomplished a few things today, I’ll try to a do a bit more tomorrow”.
If you’re feeling anxiety from external factors, you do not need to be your own worst enemy and tell yourself you’re failed today. It’s important to try to be bit kinder to yourself. In these uncertain times, everyone will be functioning a little bit sub-optimally so do your best.
These guidelines have been written to help put you back in the driving seat. Do not consider yourself as powerless. Your anxiety will feed the fire but now you have some tools to help control it.