Covid-19 Managing anxiety and stress during Pandemic

Posted: May 1, 2020
Category: Anxiety, COVID-19, Stress

Covid-19: Managing anxiety and stress during Pandemic

By Jolita Gaskin

As we are starting to count lockdown by weeks, not by days anymore, I decided to check what my friends, colleagues and clients are doing to keep their mental health going. There Is much advice online on what to do and what not to do, but I wanted to hear directly from people. What is really helping? As I was reading through WhatsApp messages and emails, I was reminded yet again – we have ALL struggled and had breakdowns, come up and fallen again. We cried and laughed, and we accepted and felt anxious again. Are you familiar with Kübler-Ross stages of grief (denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance)? I noticed that we are experiencing the loss of our usual everyday life – we grieve loss of socialising with friends, loss of our jobs, loss of holidays and many more things. Acceptance is a very desired outcome and I hope we all will reach it sooner or later.

I am sharing this list of things that helped/helps people in my environment to survive pandemics, perhaps, if you need, it could help you too. I have used my Psychology and Psychotherapy knowledge and information from trusted mental health websites to “back up” why these things are good for our mental health. List of things that helps for Covid-19: Managing anxiety and stress with:

Daily routine. Having a normal daily/weekly routine can be an anchor and can give a sense of comfort. The certainty of our routine can help us to manage the uncertainty that life can throw up. Coping with unpredictable periods of time can feel more do-able when we have a little structure in place to look to.

Nature therapy. If there is a possibility, spending time outdoors and connecting with nature is a gift. Have you heard of shinrin-yoku? Translated from Japanese it means “forest bathing” – mindfully taking in the forest through our senses. Not everyone has a possibility to leave the house – you can enjoy working in the garden or looking after house plants. This gives a sense of purpose and achievement, and makes our surroundings more beautiful!

Covid-19 Managing anxiety and stress during Pandemic

Reading. Studies show that reading fiction stories in particular is good for our mental health. Reading can increase reader empathy, social skills, and inter-personal understandings. When we read, we can deeply engage with characters and scenarios, giving us a better understanding of our shared humanity and common struggles.
Journaling. It can be a simple diary or journal where we note what happened or what we were feeling. It can be a gratitude diary, mood diary, achievements diary, anything will do. Keeping a journal helps to monitor progress. Have you noticed when you feel sad or depressed it is so easy to forget how it feels when you are well? A diary would be a reminder of those good days. Also, it would be interesting, in a few years to read back to see how we were living in quarantine.

Practicing self-care. Let’s not underestimate simple things like – sleep, exercise, nutrition and hydration. Good self-care can ensure immune system is best supported and able to fight illness. How good does it feel to take a hot bath or shower? Use your favourite shower gel, or bath bubbles, later massage your body with fragrant moisturiser. It feels good to put on fresh pyjamas and sleep in fresh sheets! Maintain a sleep schedule (especially if you have children) but allow yourself to sleep longer if you don’t need to wake up early for work. Have a nap during the day. COVID-19 brings a high degree of uncertainty, and feelings of loss control are common. Setting a self-care goal can help keep you grounded and focused on things you can control. And if that is the only thing you can do for now – that is good enough!

Practicing Self-compassion. No, it is not selfish, if you are able to be kind to yourself, you will be able to stretch it to others. Let go of that perfectionism – you do not need to be a perfect parent or worker. Give yourself permission to slow down, or do very little or nothing at all.

Acknowledging your emotions and embracing vulnerability. Anxiety, sadness, fear, anger and frustration – these can be common emotions. Acknowledge them. Often, these emotions are temporary and observing them without judgment can allow them to disappear. Crisis highlights our strengths but also our worries and anxieties. Does it look as if everyone around you is doing fine? Staying calmer and being super productive? You do not have to follow this. You can just be yourself.

Meditation and yoga. I cannot recommend enough my clients to start practising meditation or yoga, particularly when they are healing from trauma. Meditation can change your brain – it increases the amount of grey matter! Meditation is a form of mental exercise – to get the best benefits do it regularly. There are many teachers and classes, you need to find what works for you. I am a big fan of “Yoga with Adriene”. If you don’t like yoga, try guided meditation with Tara Brach. Or if you don’t want any movement involved, try downloading mindfulness apps like Calm or Headspace. My religious friends are using a prayer as a form of meditation.

Covid-19 Managing anxiety and stress during Pandemic

Connecting. Luckily, we have technology to help us to connect – text, call and video chat. Some of us have online dinners with friends, others join every Thursday a local pub online quiz, others have Friday drinks with their colleagues every week. However, it is OK to say no. Boundaries are still important even though we all are at home. I keep hearing how tiring and exhausting online meetings and chats can be! We are all different.

Volunteering, donating, thanking. Not everyone can or wants to volunteer in the local food bank during pandemic and it’s fine. Volunteering can be as simple as reaching out to vulnerable neighbours. Volunteering connects us to others, it is good for your mind and body, it brings fun and fulfilment to life. Practising gratefulness doesn’t cost anything, and it makes us feel so good! Clapping at 8pm on Thursdays or saying thank you to the delivery driver or postman makes both parties feel great.

Therapy and other help. Do you find it hard to manage your anxiety? Do you feel overwhelmed with uncomfortable feelings? Sometimes it helps to talk to a friend or call the Samaritans for non-judgmental talk. My personal therapy helped me a lot during the lockdown. It helped me to come to terms with changes and come close to acceptance. It is easier than ever to seek therapy – most therapist are working online and have more flexible appointments. Some even reduce fees, because they don’t need to pay room rental. My clients are telling me that lockdown is the perfect time to work on self-exploration and self-awareness in therapy. There are so little distractions in our lives and we are forced to face our demons. You do not need to do it alone. If you can’t afford private therapy, try contacting local charities. They may have a long wating list, but you can have reduced fees or even free therapy.

Covid-19 Managing anxiety and stress during Pandemic

Reducing news and social media time. I heard from my friends and clients how harmful it is to be constantly surrounded by newsfeeds about Covid-19. It helps to limit time for social media. If you want to keep up to date with the news – only read, listen and talk facts. What medical professionals are saying, not politicians or influencers on Facebook.

Playing is for everyone, not only for children! Some of us dusted off old board games and puzzles, started playing video games. It is the quickest way to reduce anxiety, stress, fears and a good way to practice spontaneity.

Arts and crafts. Have you noticed how busy hands keep the mind calm? Neuroscience says that repetitive movement increases certain neurochemicals in our brains. The simple fact is that if you produce something e.g. a painting or scarf, you feel a reward.

Finding personal space. It is fine to maintain boundaries even when in lockdown. Discuss your individual needs with your family for personal space. Also, if you can, separate your home and work environment. If you can’t separate physical spaces, have a little ritual before and after work – I for example, completely redecorate my working table for my working day and then put it back to normal at the end of the working day.

Using our bodies. I think we sometimes forget what a great tool our body is! It is able to give us so much pleasure – dancing, exercising, singing, being intimate, eating delicious food.

Finally, I would like to share what helped me the most. When my therapist heard me being very distressed about lockdown and changes that it brought to my life, he asked me if I had heard about Serenity prayer used in AA meetings. I hadn’t heard of it, and if you haven’t either, here it is: “God, grant me the serenity to accept the things I cannot change, the courage to change the things I can, and the wisdom to know the difference”.

Stay safe and healthy.

Jolita Gaskin, MBACP Counsellor and Psychodynamic Psychotherapist

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