We are living in a frightening time. The world as we know it has changed dramatically overnight, and we don’t know how long it will be before we can resume normal life, let alone be reunited with loved ones again. People have likened the situation to wartime, but what we are dealing with now is an unseen enemy, one which has changed the way we live in just a few short weeks. We are all worried and it is a perfectly natural response. Our minds have been wired to worry since prehistoric times in order to keep us safe, but anxiety can become overwhelming and then it becomes a problem.
The trouble is, we are not very good at dealing with the unknown, and uncertainty is rife at the moment. Unfortunately we tend to equate uncertainty with the worst possible outcome and, understandably in these situations, anxiety rears its head. Even people who are usually calm and don’t generally worry about things, are currently experiencing a wide range of emotions, from vague notions of feeling uncomfortable and unsettled, to being in a state of pure terror and panic.
A lot of what we are feeling has its roots in feeling powerless. This feels extremely uncomfortable so we do what we can to try and reassert some control over our lives and alleviate our fears.
Part of our problem is the fact that many of us are now at home with a lot less to do than normal, and have a lot of time on our hands to think. Overthinking the situation can lead to a head full of panicky, overwhelming thoughts that threaten to overpower and paralyse us. If this sounds familiar, stop. Take a big deep breath (or several), and try the following pointers:
First, write down your specific fears with regard to the pandemic in two columns. The first one should be a list of fears that you can do something about, and in the second column, list those over which you have no control. It could be your financial situation, fears about being alone, job security, accessing food, or health concerns for yourself or loved ones. Putting pen to paper in this way will enable you to clarify exactly what your fears are, and therefore enable you to instigate a plan of action. Having a sense of purpose and direction will usually result in less overwhelming feelings.
Remind yourself that all feelings are not facts. Just because you’re worried about something, does not make it true. There are so many conflicting reports coming out of the media, which are then spread around the population like Chinese Whispers. Try not to listen to people who are spreading doom and gloom. Instead limit yourself to one period of news intake per day from a reliable source.
It is important to acknowledge how your fears are affecting you. It may be that you are not sleeping or not eating. Some people will have difficulty concentrating as their mind tries to process the deluge of information that is pouring out of our televisions, laptops and phones 24 hours a day. Some may be turning to alcohol or smoking in an effort to deal with the stress, whilst others have reported feeling very angry, which is common when we feel frustrated or powerless. I have also read reports of people experiencing a kind of euphoria, in that the drama of the situation may be releasing extra adrenaline and supporting a natural high.
Try and do things that make you feel as if you have some control. For example, if your worries are primarily financial, there are schemes being put in place to help people with their rent or mortgages. Make an effort to find out how to access this help. If you are a small business, get googling, and make sure you are informed about what is out there to support you. If you are worried about food shortages, you may be able to control your anxiety by planting some seeds and growing your own vegetables. If your worries are more generalised, try and do something good for an elderly member of your community. For example, leave some flowers and a pint of milk or loaf of bread on their doorstep. (Be sure to let them know it is there!) Often the smallest gestures will make someones day and you will feel fantastic as a result!
Try and stay busy if you can. There are some wonderful online “get together virtually ” efforts going on all over the world, encouraging you to get involved with dancing, keeping fit, yoga classes, book clubs or even virtual pubs! The point is, we are all in this together. You are not alone. You are part of a global community. Do what you can to reach out and be a part of it. Any activity that enables us to feel that we are uniting against a common enemy will give us a stronger sense of having some power over the situation.
Try and keep to as normal a routine as possible. Get up and go to bed at your usual time and plan and structure your day. Shower and get dressed. Do not lounge around all day in nightwear. Eat as you would at the usual times. Your mind will respond to these positive, normalising gestures and will help to give you a sense of purpose and control.
Get creative! If you have time on your hands, have a go at painting, drawing, writing or making something. It may help to express your feelings through art and give you a sense of achievement.
Try and stay grounded. Deep breathing is important to calm us when we feel overwhelmed. Close your eyes and take 10 deep breaths in and out. If you can, get outside and walk around for half an hour. If not, open a window, and take some deep calming breaths.
Try to think in terms of the next 24 hours only. There is no need to try and predict what things will be like next week or next month. Resolve to take one day at a time. Set yourself one goal per day, however small. Whether it’s a 15 min online yoga class, finishing the crossword puzzle, or trying a new recipe.
Have a look on your phone or tablet for soothing Apps like Calm, HeadSpace, or the many Mindfulness aids. There are literally hundreds of relaxation tools available, so there will be something that suits your need and they are usually free. Alternatively, listen to some podcasts.
Limit your media exposure. Turn on the news for 1 hour a day preferably at the same time. The feeling of lack of control and powerlessness is personal for all of us, but it is also a collective angst as we daily watch governments across the world who are battling on our behalf. You might also want to consider limiting your time on social media, and think about turning off breaking-news alerts on your phone. You could set yourself a specific time to read updates or limit yourself to a couple of checks a day.
Exercise as much as you can. I know I bang on about this in all my posts, but exercise genuinely will help. It will not only give you a natural high, it will help you sleep better and help you cope better with stress.
Try and re-frame the situation in your head: You are not “locked down,” you are indulging in a rare and delicious opportunity to slow down and focus on yourself, catch up with friends online and do things that you have wanted to do, but been too busy. Maybe it’s a spot of redecorating or finishing that short story you have always wanted to write. It’s the perfect ‘Me Time!’
Although the news stories are scary and we are all fixated on doom and gloom and the worst that could happen, it may be helpful to think about best-case scenario’s as well. For example, read up about climate change and the amazing affect this situation is having on the planet in terms of effectively halting global warming.
We are worrying on a global scale, so it is not surprising that we all will be affected in some way. We are also absorbing the fears of everyone around us. Try and spread positivity and hope rather than fear when you speak to friends and family, and be the person who calms a friend or partner down. Stay busy and motivated and try and keep a sense of perspective. At times like this its important to set an example and aspire to be a role model for those around us. Don’t let the fear become contagious. Friends and family are looking to you to remain positive and upbeat. It may be a dark time, but why not make it a life defining time. A time we can look back on with pride, knowing we got through it collectively with integrity, compassion and courage.