If you have experienced anxiety at any time during the current lockdown, you will be in good company. There cannot be many people who have not been anxious through the loss of earnings, business or occupation. Fear of catching COVID-19, worrying about loved ones or simply feeling isolated and being stuck at home for 24 hours per day may induce anxiety.
We are all in a very unfamiliar place. Everything seems to have stopped, and we don’t know when there will be a return to something resembling normality. We, humans, need security and safety, but with uncertainty and time on our hands and time to think, we can easily focus on what we don’t know about our futures. When this happens, we become anxious and even fearful. The good news is that anxiety doesn’t have to control your life. With a few simple steps, anxiety can be reduced or eradicated.
I am going to share with you some simple steps to help you through this period of uncertainty, but firstly, who are these bedfellows fear and anxiety?
I would describe fear as an emotion caused by something scary or painful that you know might be happening in the future. As a result, you feel scared. It is essential to understand that fear often acts as a protector as without being alerted to danger by fear, we wouldn’t avoid the danger and could come to harm. If you had no fear, you might step on to a busy road without checking for traffic, not a good idea.
The problem is our brains are wired to protect us at all times so when faced with a situation that reminds us of an earlier painful experience; the mind will interpret that old experience as being relevant in the present. A child who places a spoonful of hot food into her mouth quickly learns that food can burn if they don’t check to see if it is too hot. From then on, the child is wary of placing anything in its mouth before checking it is cool enough, a healthy and natural response. However, if a teacher or parent tells a child, they are bad at Maths., that child is likely to remember hearing those words and believe they are bad at maths. After all, adults know best, don’t they? Surprise, surprise the young person goes on to become bad at Maths.
Anxiety could be described as excitement, but with no knowledge or expectation of an outcome. When we know that something we want to happen is going to happen, we might feel a bit nervous and anxious about it. For example, if we are going to a concert or sporting event, we might get excited because we anticipate a pleasurable experience. However, anxiety may occur if we don’t know what’s around the corner and don’t know whether it will be good or bad. In short, when there is uncertainty, we may become anxious.
People who climb mountains sometimes describe a dark side to the mountain. But they go on to say it makes the climb in bright sunlight all the more pleasurable. As with the current situation, we go through times when life seems difficult and uncertain. The good news is it won’t last forever, and we can adopt practices to minimise anxiety.
Name it and share it
The first thing to do is if you’re feeling anxious, is to name it. If you can share it with someone, it becomes externalised rather than hanging on to it, which then causes it to escalate. It is helpful to acknowledge your anxiety rather than trying to deflect it.
Plan your day and schedule activities
Anxiety occurs when we feel out of control. By making a plan for the day and setting time aside for activities, even if it’s just reading time, you have a structure, and you will feel more in control.
Keep in touch with Family and Friends
If you’re feeling isolated, it is worth remembering that real isolation means being in a room on your own for 24 hours a day. If you are in that position, it is essential to try and find a way to have contact with others even if for only a few minutes a day. If you are with your family, make a point to check that you are all feeling ok. Don’t assume that a family member or friend is ok just because they haven’t said otherwise.
Take a Break from News Channels & Social Media for a part of every day
Social Media is great for keeping in touch with friends and like-minded people but speak with real friends rather than only speaking with strangers. You may be someone who likes to listen to News Broadcasts but try and limit yourself to a few minutes every day as it’s easy to be dragged down by a constant stream of negative news.
If you are stuck at home, it’s easy to ignore exercise. Although anxiety is a mental process, it does impact on the body, and equally, the body will impact on the mind and affect your mental well-being. You can take control of your mind and body and by engaging in physical activity even if just a daily brisk walk.
Eat healthy food and sleep well
It’s easy to get bored, and snack, but sugar in snacks and fizzy drinks will spike your insulin and make you feel hungrier. Plenty of water, fruit and vegetables together with exercise, will all help you sleep better. When you sleep well, everything feels easier.
Focus on the Positives
The following exercise is powerful when done as a family, but even if you live alone, focussing on the positives in your life is the biggest anxiety buster of all.
Take time in the morning and share these questions with a family member or friend or if you live alone say them to yourself.
What am I grateful for?
Who do I Love and who loves me?
What can I do today that might make someone close to me feel good?
The process may feel awkward at first, but when we only focus on what we need rather than what we have, it emphasises what we lack. When we focus on what we can do or give, it concentrates on what we have.
These are difficult times, and it is quite natural that we might feel anxious. It’s also quite normal, so you don’t need to think there’s something wrong with you. Follow these simple steps, and you’ll feel free of anxiety.
Michelle Bridgman, MSc