Monday, 16 March 2020

Tips For Living WIth Anxiety During The Covid-19 Pandemic



Remember 2 and a half months ago, when we were all full of optimism at what the shiny new year might have store in for us?!

Well...

That went down the proverbial toilet pretty fast, didn't it?!

It's fair to say that times are strange for all of us right now, and it's difficult to know how to approach it all.

There are so many wildly differing opinions flying around on what is the "Best way" to handle things at the moment. Some people are firmly in the "Keep Calm & Carry On" camp, while others are panic-buying pasta and loo rolls like their lives depend on it.

It's easy to point the finger at others and judge how they're choosing to handle things and of course it's difficult not to when the behaviour of others steps into selfish "Every Man For Himself" territory - but I think it's important to take into consideration how overwhelmingly anxiety inducing things are for many of us right now.  And anxiety can make people behave in very different, and often strange, ways.

In times of crisis and uncertainty, we all find comfort in different sorts of coping mechanisms - so I think it's important to treat others with as much as kindness and gentleness as we can muster right now.

As a lifelong anxiety sufferer, I've found the last week or so tough.

Health anxiety plays a huge part in my mental health issues and I would be flat-out lying if I said I hadn't already convinced myself at least twice in recent weeks that I have Covid-19. My anxiety symptoms have always been convincingly physical, infact there have been a few occasions over the years where I've found myself in the back of an ambulance or sitting in A & E absolutely convinced I'm in the middle of having a heart attack, only to be diagnosed with an extreme panic attack.

I also struggle with OCD - not in the "obsessive cleanliness" way that people often associate with OCD, but rather in the performance of rituals and the absolute need for certainty and well thought out plans at all times.  The uncertainty surrounding the coming months is proving very difficult for me to deal with, and has already triggered a number of panic tears and lots of tears over the last week.

And I know I can't be alone in feeling this way.

There are millions of other anxiety sufferers out there who will be feeling exactly the same way. And not all of them will be in the fortunate position that I am of having a partner on hand to help calm them down, or family and friends to talk things over with.

Some will be single parents trying to put a brave face on for their children with nobody to talk to once bedtime finally comes. Some will be single people in self-isolation, with nobody to help calm them during the panic attacks that come in the middle of the night.

And this is why it's important NOT to shame people who are suffering with anxieties right now. Of course we all know the situation is serious and we all know that we're fortunate not to be amongst those who have lost loved ones - but it's so important not to shame people out of admitting to their anxious feelings, talking about them and taking action that works to calm them wherever possible. Now is the time for being sympathetic to the needs and feelings of those around us and supporting their choices where we can.

 With that in mind, I'm going to share some of the techniques I've been using to try to keep my anxiety in check and look after my mental health during these difficult times.

*Pick A Trusted News Source & Limit Daily News Checks

To begin with, I found myself consuming news reports from every possible paper and outlet - constantly refreshing and looking for more information, as though if I just looked hard enough I'd eventually find something to comfort me.

I soon realised how damaging this was. The tabloids are full of click bait and scare mongering headlines right now, and the reports are often filled with completely conflicting information. It only adds to the confusion and uncertainty we're all feeling.

I made the decision a few days ago to pick a single news source that I trust the most, and stick to reading only that. I chose The Guardian online as I have personally found their articles to be the most factual and non-sensationalist.  I limit myself to reading it only once per day, so as not to become completely consumed with it all. 

It's important to stay informed but it's also important not to allow yourself to become completely overwhelmed. Stress is bad for your immune system, after all!

*Talk About It

If you have somebody in your life that you trust with your feelings, make sure that you're venting about what's going on inside your head.

I find that half an hour spent just speaking aloud all of those worries that are whirring around in my brain can make a HUGE difference to that dreadful feeling of overwhelm.

If you don't have someone you feel that you can talk to, consider using an online counselling service or speaking to The Samaritans helpline - they are not there purely to support those who are feeling suicidal, they do also provide a free listening service for anyone who needs it.

*Take The Most Comfortable Action For Me

The way that each of us are dealing with this is a very personal thing. I have family members who seem to take comfort in going about their lives completely as normal - and until a lock down is put into place, they are free to make that choice if that is their preference (provided they don't have any symptoms that they should be self-isolating for.)

Personally, I feel better practicing social distancing and sticking with self-isolation for the majority of the time. I am immuno-suppressed and so I feel more comfortable and confident in taking this action. 

Currently, we're only going out for around half an hour per day to let the kids get some fresh air and have a run around - we're choosing empty green spaces or empty beaches so that we don't come into contact with other people, and we're not touching anything in a communal space.

I've had people scoff at my choice to do this, but it's what feels most comforting to me and so it's what I will do.

I think it's important to decide what feels most comfortable for you and, if you're able to, stick with it.


*Offer Help To Others

I find it a very positive distraction technique to busy myself with trying to be of use to other people.

Our local area has a dedicated Facebook group set up to offer help and assistance to those in the community who might need it over the coming months. I check it regularly to see if I can offer assistance such as picking up shopping or medications for people who are self-isolating, and I've also put cards with my contact details through the doors of elderly neighbours to offer practical assistance or a friendly phone call.

Doing something positive helps to lift my own spirits, and gives me some comfort too.

*Treat Myself With Kindness

I always remember the advice my therapist gave me a couple of years back for handling times of extreme anxiety....she said "Treat yourself exactly how you'd treat your child if they felt unwell. Keep yourself warm and comfortable, meet all of your most basic needs, give yourself food that both nourishes and comforts you, watch things that make you feel happy, and surround yourself with whatever feels familiar and comforting".

I find this advice very helpful right now, and every evening I'm making sure I switch off from the world a little and lose myself in a movie. Familiar, funny movies are my go-to right now...old 80s and 90s rom com favourites work a treat to lift my spirits!

*Meditate More

I'm not a natural meditator. I wish I was as I always get so much out of meditation, and I wish I could force myself to make more time for it in my day to day life but as with most self-care - it always falls down the priority list pretty fast!

But with spending so much time at home right now, I have no excuse! And so I'm trying to make myself meditate twice per day - when I first wake up and in the evenings.

I usually do self-led meditation using some calming music as that's just my preference, but you can find some great guided meditations on YouTube or using apps such as Calm.com or HeadSpace.

If meditating isn't your thing, deep breathing exercises work very well and are really beneficial for anxiety too - it's worth looking into balloon breathing and square breathing techniques.

*Look For Alternatives

One of the biggest causes of anxiety for many people right now is the stress caused by all of the panic buying going on in supermarkets.

If you are in a position to be able to avoid supermarkets at all over the coming weeks, now is the time to use alternatives - not only does this stop you feeling panicked by whats going on, but it frees up more stock and delivery slots for others too who may not be able to use alternative solutions.

 If you can afford to stretch to delivery services such as Gousto or HelloFresh, or vegetable delivery services such as Riverford Organic - then it might be a good way to reduce any food-related anxieties.

I signed up to use my local Milkmans delivery services using Milk & More as I found it comforting to know I could have milk and bread delivered to my door regularly without needing to face the chaos and potential shortages in my local stores, plus its costing me less than £5 per week and is supporting a local business too - ideal!

*Curate My Social Media Feeds & Limit Scroll Time 

This was the thing that made the most positive difference of all to me. At times like this, there is unfortunately always a HUGE spread of misinformation on social media - particularly Facebook! - and it is very easy to become overwhelmed with constant exposure to this and to the anxieties of others being constantly discussed.

I went through my timelines and muted anyone that I noticed sharing posts that triggered my own anxieties, and marked the more uplifting friends and pages that I wanted to see first in my news feed.

It's been a really big help, as has ensuring that I limit the time I spend scrolling online.




These are all things that are helping me personally. I'm not suggesting that everybody needs to do the same things that I am doing, but I do think it's important to find things that work for you and stick firmly to them.

I hope we can all look back on this time in a few months and appreciate how we all came together in a time of uncertainty, and got through it all with an outpouring of kindness and empathy for others.

Wouldn't that be a lovely story to tell our grandchildren in the future.

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