Lowering your anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic

April 28, 2020

 

Introduction

 

We are all experiencing a variety of negative emotions during the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown situation.  Some of these emotions and responses include fear, uncertainty, excessive worrying and states of depression (with symptoms such as helplessness, hopelessness, despondency, sadness and melancholy).  Many of these symptoms manifest as anxiety.  A severe degree of anxiety leads to panic attacks (acute intense moments of panic, fast heartbeat, dizziness, sweating, shortness of breath, pins and needles, nausea and muscle contractions). Anxiety can be seen as the most prevalent and debilitating emotional response during this time.  Here are some practical tips as well as psychological tips on how to bring your anxiety levels down.

 

Practical tips to lower your anxiety levels

 

You have probably already seen many sites and articles giving practical tips on how to minimise your anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic and global lockdown, in some cases these tips can be useful.  Here are some practical tips that you can follow to avoid feeling anxiety or to lower your existing anxiety levels. 

  1. Avoid media that contains inaccurate or frightening information about the disease.

  2. Stick to a routine during the lockdown.

  3. Time manage – set a specific time for specific activities – such as – a specific time to get up, shower, have breakfast, work, relax, read, cook, clean, exercise, watch movies or YouTube, be creative, contact loved ones and friends and go to sleep. Stick to these specific times for different activities. As much as you need a specific time to get up in the morning when you go to work, you also need a specific time to lie on the couch and just relax.  You need to stick to these times because relaxing while you are supposed to be working, will lead to guilt and working while you feel like you want to relax, leads to unproductivity.  Neither is done properly when it’s not done at the right time. Time management is the same as giving your brain permission to do a specific activity properly and only focus on that.

  4.  Distract yourself from dwelling on worrying thoughts by watching captivating movies or funny YouTube clips.

  5. Try not to interact too much with friends or family members who are always complaining and negative. You have the right to minimise contact with people who make you feel down. 

  6. Be charitable. Helping others can ease feelings of helplessness and hopelessness. However, we need boundaries when helping others. Charity should never cross over to your personal space, as this could wreak havoc on your emotional wellbeing and your positivity. Think of this; there is a difference between helping someone find a place to live and inviting them to move in with you.

In conclusion, set up a time management schedule which includes a time to relax, a time to be productive and a time to do whatever you enjoy.  Stick to your plan.  You might not be in the mood for exercise, but just do it when it’s the time.  Do it automatically, even if you would rather do something else.  You will feel like a winner for accomplishing this. Distract yourself and try to stay away from negative people.

 

Psychological tips to lower your anxiety levels

 

The reality is that you could do all the things mentioned above and still feel high levels of anxiety.  You might lack the motivation to pull through on any time management structure. It may be difficult to create a plan because the future is too uncertain.  It might feel like everything is confusing, upside down, scary and surreal. 

 

The reality is that following a routine and exercising etc., will not eliminate all the scary realities that you are facing. You be faced with job loss, reduced income or a loved one might be at risk of getting ill when infected with the virus. This perception is realistic, as there is a genuine possibility that self-disciplined activities such as time management will not eliminate those fears and worries.  It could assist in giving structure, but it might not change the intensity of the worry and fear.

 

It is important to understand that your worries and fears are appropriate to the context.  A pandemic is a global state which inevitably leads to context specific fear and anxiety.  Although most of us would love to be blissfully ignorant during this pandemic, the reality is that most of us have the ability to forecast and follow logical deduction which enables us to foresee possible difficult situations.  You might also have realistic fears and worries which cause you to grapple with anxiety and even panic attacks. The main question then is, “What can be done about your anxiety which is caused by appropriate and realistic fear and worry during the pandemic?”.

 

Create a worry time -As much as possible you should avoid entertaining constant fearful thoughts and worries, however you still need to allow these worries some ‘airtime’ in order to confront them head on.

 

If you don’t allocate a time to face your fears and fully concentrate on them, the thoughts will remain a whirlwind which could occupy every activity which you are trying to do, whether it is working or relaxing. By allocating a time to worry, you avoid the thoughts from becoming all consuming.  This process can be completed over a few days.

 

You should not do this exercise without the support of a loved one who could assist you, should you need assistance.  Do not do this if you are in lockdown alone.  If you are alone, rather contact a counsellor and work through the list with them.

  1. Find a quiet spot in your lockdown environment (if you can).  Sit or lie with your eyes closed and think of what you fear and/ or are worried about during this pandemic.

  2. Write them down.

  3. Now close your eyes again and think of more things to add to the list.

  4. Write them down.

  5. Think about it a third time and focus on more things that trouble you during the pandemic.

  6. If nothing new comes up, then just go through the same worries and fears again. 

  7. Repeat this until you feel that there is nothing else to be worried about or scared of.

  8. Now, allocate a number from 0 to 10 to each point on your list; 0 symbolizes a low intensity of fear and 10 a high intensity. Using this scale, rewrite your list from the most worrying to the least worrying item.

  9. Identify the ones that are scored 5 and under. Go through them one by one and ask yourself whether this is worth worrying about.

  10. You can close your eyes to think about it for a moment if you would like to.

  11. If you feel they are not worth worrying about, scratch them off your list.

  12. Now give attention to all the 6, 7 and 8s on your list and ask yourself if they are worth worrying about.  Ask yourself what is the scariest thing about them.  Think about them until you feel they are not worth worrying about and then delete them from your list.  If you cannot delete them because they are worth worrying about then keep them on the list.

  13. The 9s and 10s on your list are the real worries and fears.  They are the ones that are contributing most to your anxiety and even your panic attacks.  They might even be rooted in issues that developed earlier in your life because of certain experiences.

Here is what you need to do with the 9s and 10s and the others that were left on your list:

  1. Take one point at a time, sit with your eyes closed and think about a solution to it. The solution should either be to avoid or prevent it from happening, to deal or to cope with it while it happens, or to deal with and cope with its consequences should it have happened.

  2. If this is too overwhelming you can set it aside and continue the process in your next allocated time slot.

  3. Write your solution down with an action plan.

  4. An action plan is a step by step method to act out your solution. Try to make the steps realistic and achievable.

  5. If you cannot think of a solution or an action plan, then just write - “This is not in my control”.

  6. Remove the ones from your list which you found solutions for, because if there is a solution to fear or worry, it should not be a fear or worry.

  7. What is left on your list of fears and worries, should be the ones that say “This is not in my control”.

If the idea of not being able to control the outcome, gives you a feeling of calm acceptance, you should feel a lot less anxious after this exercise. You might feel that it won’t help to worry about the things that you cannot control and you might even choose to hand it over to a higher being.  You might choose to rely on your religion.  You might choose to believe that you cannot avoid or control this in any way but that you will have the strength to survive it and cope, should it happen.

 

If this thought, however, makes you feel more anxious, you may need a mental health professional to help you with these fears and worries.  This means that you are excessively worried about the things that you cannot control and that might not happen. This may lead to worry spirals, or feelings of helplessness. Mental health professionals have specific psychotherapy tools to address these anxieties. Some concerns we cannot deal with on our own, and that is okay to admit. By reaching out you are helping yourself feel empowered once again.

 

To contact a health professional please contact us on 081 759 4849 or info@meaningfulminds.co.za

 

 

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