- Anxiety is on the rise during the coronavirus pandemic: The UK’s Office for National Statistics said in July that more than two-thirds of UK adults have felt continuing anxiety because of coronavirus.
- The lifting of lockdown gives us back ownership of our decisions and more power over our days — for some people, that adds even more stress and mental health turmoil.
- Elinor James, a junior psychiatrist based in the UK, has been working with long-term mental health service users throughout the coronavirus pandemic. She shares seven strategies for supporting your mental health during COVID-19.
- Visit Business Insider’s homepage for more stories.
Anxiety is what we feel when our body’s primal fight or flight response is triggered. The result is distress and unhappiness — familiar to lots of us during lockdown. The UK’s Office for National Statistics said in July that more than two-thirds of UK adults have felt continuing anxiety because of coronavirus.
Mentally, lockdown was hard, but practically, day-to-day, it was repetitively simple. The responsibility for leading our lives was taken away from us by government restrictions — the easing of restrictions gives us back ownership of our decisions. We’re four months out of practice: For some, it’s overwhelming and paralyzing, and is likely piling on even more worry.
I’m a mental-health practitioner who’s been working with long-term mental health service users throughout the pandemic. Read on for seven strategies, backed by both my own experience and academic literature, to reduce anxiety and this feeling of paralysis.
Take stock and celebrate
We’re reeling from the effects of a global emergency. Our lives have changed without our agreement. It’s been shocking and all-consuming. Four months in, we need to look back and congratulate ourselves for getting through.
Talk about it and celebrate with your close friends and family so you can appreciate just how hard this has been. The service users I work with have weekly meetings to do just this. This will help you understand why you’re anxious, making the feeling more acceptable to you: key to boosting happiness. Also, celebrating is fun!
How to watch out for mental health decline
Mental health crises start slowly and build. You might notice you have more bad days than good, feel extremes of emotion, feeling suicidal, struggle to sleep, or encounter relationship troubles. Seek professional advice from a doctor or therapist if you’re not coping.
Be especially vigilant if you’re in a high-risk group. Evidence suggests both younger people and women are more vulnerable to anxiety from coronavirus. Those who had mental health struggles before the pandemic are also at increased risk. The elderly, those with long-term health conditions, and those from Black and minority ethnic communities aredisproportionately harmed by the virus — research from the Centre for Mental Health suggests they are therefore at higher mental risk, too.
Return to normality gently
Overwhelmed at going back into society? Remember that although the world is opening up, you’re in complete control of how you act within it. Pace yourself. Think about who you want to see the most. See these people first. Think about what you’ve missed the most, and do these things first. Give yourself plenty of free days, evenings, and nights. Do more next week, next month, or never, if you want.
Use simple tools throughout your day to reduce anxiety
Maintain your wellbeing with daily, anxiety-quashing “micropractices” — quick, simple tools you can use to bring down anxiety throughout your day. Schedule them in your calendar with a quiet notification. The following are examples of what have helped me and some of the service users I work with the most:
- Mindfulness: Use Youtube for free, guided sessions.
- Diaphragmatic breathing: Try to control the direction of expansion of your lungs. Instead of allowing the top of your chest to expand when breathing in, try to keep this area still, and push down towards and expand your belly. Concentrate on deep, slow breathing.
- Self check-in: Name your feelings. Use an “emotion wheel” to help you name them (find many on Google). Naming feelings can reduce their intensity.
Target your underlying worries
Consider the things that underpin specific worries. Work on these to ease your overall anxiety.
For example, are you becoming anxious because you worry about catching coronavirus? Follow social distancing guidance, wear a mask, and wash your hands often so you know you’re doing your best to minimize risk.
Whenever you speak to your doctor, prepare a list of all your worries — the service users I work with frequently bring a list to weekly meetings.
Challenge negative thoughts
The way we respond to our own thoughts becomes more negative the more anxious we are — much like how other people may respond with anger to us if they’re angry about something else.
Are you constantly feeling like you’re not achieving what you should, or like you’ve let yourself and others down? If yes, write down three things you feel you didn’t do well enough this week. Then, challenge your own words, and try to give yourself a break.
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For example: “I wasn’t efficient enough with my work yesterday.”
Challenge: “Actually, we’re in the middle of an anxiety-inducing global emergency and I’ve been through four months of it. We’re all less efficient. I shouldn’t feel bad about this.”
Carry on doing what you know and love
One of the best things we can do is stick to what we already know and love. Figure out which parts of your lockdown routine you love the most, and don’t stop them just because restrictions are lifting.
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