6 Ways to Stay Calm and Manage Anxiety During the Covid-19 Emergency
The coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak that was recently declared a worldwide pandemic by the World Health Organization (WHO). Our Government under the advice of public health officials have introduced guidelines to help keep us, our families and our communities safe. Measures include the closing of all schools and universities, the closure of all non-essential businesses, the restriction of numbers in places of worship, and no unnecessary travel. We have been advised to stay at home and only leave to engage in essential work, the care for others, exercise and essential shopping.
It is understandable that anxiety levels are increasing with many thousands of people losing their jobs, others trying to work from home, families self-isolating, strained family relationships, children without play and elderly parents without visitors. Increasing, front line workers are worried about introducing the virus into their own homes. Our uncertainty and fear of the unknown is being further fuelled by many media outlets and social media platforms reporting worst case scenarios.
Anxiety is part of our bodies natural fight/flight response to a threat. Symptoms include increased heart rate, breathing becomes quicker and shallower, we can become light headed, experience rapid thoughts, dry mouth, nausea or butterflies in the stomach, sweaty palms, muscle tension and difficulty sleeping.
The good news is there are ways to stay calm and manage your anxiety through this emergency.
#1. Breath: Calm breathing is a technique that helps you slow down your breathing when feeling stressed or anxious. It will reduce your heart rate and help to switch off the body’s fight/flight response.
Sitting upright in a chair with both feet flat on the ground, place one hand on your belly and your other hand on your heart.
Take a slow breath in through the nose, breathing down into your lower belly for about 5 seconds, hold your breath for 1 or 2 seconds and exhale slowly through the mouth for about 7 seconds. Wait a few seconds before taking another breath. Repeat this cycle for 3 to 5 minutes.
#2. Take a break from the news: While it’s important to keep up with the news about the virus to learn about the latest official public health advice for you and your family, it is not advisable to stay tuned into the news every second of the day. Watch or listen to verified news sources only, once in the morning and once in the early evening for important updates public health information from official news outlets. If possible, try share the responsibility of getting news updates with a family member or housemate so it doesn’t completely fall upon you to be informed. Constantly tuning in and digesting national or international news can easily lead to overwhelm.
#3. Keep to a routine: Creating a daily schedule is extremely important to give each day purpose and meaning. Do not treat this time as holiday time. Get up at your normal working time on traditional work days and get dressed ready to face the day. Create a daily schedule for you and your family as one of the biggest drivers to anxiety is not knowing what to do next. Schedule time for homework, new projects, decorating, shopping, baking, learning a new skill, listen to your favourite music, watch a movie or nature programme on Netflix (without binging), and consider playing family board games. You might also consider ending each day by writing down 3 things for which you are grateful. And remember self-care by going to bed at your usual bedtime. Eight hours sleep is proven to enhance your immune system.
#4. Stay connected: We Irish are known for our fun and social connection. It is important that you stay connected with family and friends during this emergency. Social distancing is not social isolating and there are many ways to stay connected. Set aside a time each day to connect with family and friends by letter, phone, email, Facetime, Skype, Zoom and WhatsApp. Connecting with loved ones at this time gives us a sense of being loved and belonging.
#5. Keep active: Get a much time outdoors as you can. Walk, jog, run, cycle, or time in the garden. Play outdoor games with the children. Do not stay indoors all day especially if the sun is shining. Spend time in nature, by the beach or along a canal or river. Spend your time outside mindfully. Take notice of the flowers coming into bloom, the new growth on the trees or the sounds of the bird song or of the water flowing. Try to notice of all the different things you can see, touch, hear and smell. This will improve your mood and reduce your anxiety.
If the weather does not permit exercise outdoors, there are many YouTube instructional videos on yoga, Pilates and deep stretching exercises. Many fitness instructors are also running free daily exercise routines via their websites.
#6. Talk To A Mental Health Professional Counsellor Online: If your anxiety seems to be spiralling out of control, reach out to one of the Midlands Counselling Clinic therapists for professional online guidance and support. Our IACP accredited therapists can provide you or a loved one distance-therapy and real-time options for coping with the anxiety surrounding COVID-19.
Brian Walsh MIACP 27th March 2020