At a time when uncertainty in life is greater than we’re used to tolerating, we all feel more vulnerable. Significant changes to our daily lives and routines are very unsettling; things feel more out of our control than they usually do. Worry is everywhere, like dark clouds hanging over our heads. We can feel scared and more anxious than usual.
Anxiety is a normal day-to-day feeling, just like hunger, excitement, tiredness etc. It’s part of how we rationalise things and make decisions like whether it’s safe to cross the road or not – we don’t want to step out in front of a car! However, when we’re under increased stress, as we are now, our bodies can mis-interpret this stress as danger, triggering an overwhelming anxiety response. This is known as the fight or flight response and it provides the body with a burst of energy – adrenaline – so that it can respond to the perceived danger.
When the fight or flight response is activated, you’re likely to have lots of symptoms; some of these might include your heart pounding, feeling nauseous, butterflies in your stomach, clammy hands, tense muscles, feeling dizzy, shallow breathing, racing thoughts, feelings of overwhelm, being out of control or angry. These responses were useful when we needed to run away from a sabre-toothed tiger, but they’re less helpful when we want to get around busy supermarkets looking for toilet paper!
How to manage this
- BREATHE! This might sound too simple to be true, but by slowing our breathing down, we activate another system in our body which acts as a brake, letting our body know the ‘danger’ has passed, thereby soothing the fight or flight response. It’s worth practising deep breathing when you’re not feeling anxious, so it becomes an automatic response when you do start to feel anxious. Here’s a simple guide on how to do this: https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/stress-anxiety-depression/ways-relieve-stress/
- Pay attention to your thoughts: unhelpful thinking patterns such as catastrophising and ruminating keep us stuck in an anxious place. If you notice you’re caught up in this type of thinking, ground yourself by placing your feet firmly on the floor and really notice how that feels. Look around you and name five things you can see. The idea is to bring your attention into the present moment, rather than being lost in your thoughts.
- Basic self-care: get at least 6 hours sleep a night, eat well, don’t go overboard with alcohol. Get some exercise. If you can’t get outside, there are some on-line exercise sessions popping up on the internet. If you can get outside, do; even standing outside your front door and noticing the clouds, the breeze etc can be very soothing.
- Routine/structure: we all benefit psychologically from having some routine and structure to our days, so think about ways you can put some in place at home. Take it one day at a time and be open to changing things when you need to. Limit the amount of time you spend taking in information about COVID-19.
- Connection: we’re wired to connect with other people, so self-isolation and distancing are challenging for us. However, as well as the traditional telephone, we have many on-line platforms to enable us to connect with each other. Make it a priority to keep in touch with others, and maybe even get back in touch with people you’ve lost contact with.
- Kindness: give yourself a break and be as kind to yourself as you possibly can. Would you speak to your best friend the way you speak to yourself? Probably not! The bottom line is that we’re all mammals trying to get by in life and we all deserve to feel loved and supported.