Britain holds the seventh-highest death toll of COVID-19 in the world but has seen over two-thirds of adults receive both vaccines. Figures like these have inevitably sparked debates surrounding Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s decision to release Britain from lockdown.
But is release the wrong word? With many around the country still adjusting to the restrictions placed last year, now it’s ‘all change’ again as we adapt to not being in lockdown. Consequently, anxiety rates have skyrocketed, making it difficult for many to feel relieved.
This feeling of anxiety is completely expected. According to the NHS: ‘Anxiety is a feeling of unease, such as worry or fear, that can be mild or severe.’ Anxiety can make you imagine things are worse than they are and prevent you from carrying out everyday tasks or even leaving the house. You can also experience unhelpful thoughts that hold you back from living your life.
So how do you salvage some peace of mind in such times? I decided to map out some tips and techniques for managing this Covid anxiety.
During COVID-19, social media has been a saving grace in connecting families, friends, and businesses. Without it, we would have been lost. However, it can also exacerbate anxiety as more exposure to disaster news via social media will trigger fear and catastrophising. Often you are not being presented with a balanced picture as that doesn’t make exciting news. If you want solid facts about the pandemic, use a reliable source of information. As part of the effort to promote good information over misinformation, the World Health Organization (WHO) has created and published shareable infographics – mythbusters – that debunk specific myths about COVID-19.
Use your reticular activating system (RAS)
The RAS, a clever bit of kit in our brain, filters information to us based on what we focus on. So if we are anxious and focusing on our fears our brain will only filter in evidence to support those fears, making it seem even worse. So, to help ourselves stay more in balance, completely muting news apps on your phone and only watching the news once a day can be an effective way to reduce triggering further unnecessary anxious thoughts.
For example, it is important for us to keep our hands washed regularly and thoroughly, but obsessively doing so only informs your RAS that there is danger at every corner further increasing your anxiety – 20 seconds is long enough and no more. If you think you may have obsessive-compulsive thoughts and find yourself fixating on something, this can cause harmless physical sensations in your body, including shortness of breath, and you may worry you have coronavirus when you don’t.
Honesty is the best policy
Discussing your angst and worries with a trusted friend, neighbour or member of your family (who isn’t struggling too) can be a really effective way of stopping yourself from spiralling into further worry. When anxiety develops, talking about your fears can help you release them and put them into perspective. When we are on our own, often feelings can become magnified and overwhelming and talking with someone or taking a walk outside can really ground you and restore feelings of control.
If you live with other people, it’s a good idea to talk to them about changes to restrictions as well. Being aware of everybody’s fears and expectations can help to avoid conflict and help you communicate your boundaries and respect theirs.
I use a method with my clients where I get them to break the fear down, name it, describe what they fear happening, analyse it, reframe it, and then make sense of the root of the fear.
Patience is a virtue
It is vital to cut yourself some slack if you are feeling anxious at a time like this – don’t let others rush you or shame you for asserting your needs in this transition time. The virus has rapidly spread in such a short period of time, we have forced ourselves to adapt to a restricted, disconnected and, for many, isolated lifestyle. It is so easy to forget how much we have changed our lives to achieve lockdown – of course, it is going to be a bit nerve-wracking, we may feel uncertain, and it may be difficult to depart from it all in one go. Take the time you need to feel your way along – it’s OK to go at your own pace based on what feels comfortable for you. This strange time has left us unsure of trusting our own judgement as, time and time again, we have raised hopes of being released only to be sent back into lockdown.
During this time, we have all been experiencing low levels of anxiety and being on the alert for danger to our health. Your body may well still be on high alert even though the risks have now been reduced.
Hobbies, interests, and everything in between
Find creative ways to relax that work for you. This may be an old hobby that died out or a new skill you always wanted to take up. Investing time in relaxing activities can give you the break your brain needs from constant worry.
Here are a few things you could try:
- Art, such as drawing, painting, colouring-in, mandala templates
- Sewing, such as creating bags, bunting or clothes, crochet, rug-making
- Upcycling and DIY
- Music, such as learning piano, guitar, singing
- Meditation and breathing exercises
- Yoga or online salsa classes
- Writing and reading, such as novels, autobiographies, journaling, poetry
Even less relaxing activities, like exercise, are helpful when it comes to lifting moods. When exercising, chemicals called endorphins are released which activate positive feelings in your brain and body. Exercise also calms down your physical responses to anxiety too, helping you feel back in control and more relaxed.
Avoiding the things that make us anxious can sometimes feel like the easier option in the short term, but this can make it harder to start facing our fears in the longer term.
Instead, try to set yourself small but manageable targets – like meeting one person for a coffee, picnic or snack outside, or going to the hairdresser or barber – and gradually build up from there. Make a little list of small goals to achieve that increase in exposure and slowly tick them off as you take braver steps.
Uncertainty can be hard to manage, but making plans can help you bring structure and avoid getting stuck in a fearful paralysis. Preparing for any challenges ahead of time can help us to feel more comfortable and confident in what we’re doing. That ‘plan’ can be as simple as knowing what time an event will start and finish, and how many people are likely to be there. Before socialising with others, talk about the situation with them to make sure everybody is on the same page about what feels comfortable from the start. You’ll find reassurance when you find others are also being careful and taking it one step at a time.
Grab a helping hand if anxiety is persistent
With an anxious mind, it may not seem like it, but you are not wasting anyone’s time by simply asking for help. It is better to receive support sooner rather than later. Counselling is the most effective way to assist and guide you back to feeling calm, in control, confident, happy, and healthy. Talking to your GP about how you are feeling can also be beneficial as they may be able to help you with treatment for your sleep and anxiety levels too.
Sarah Cunliffe is the director of True Freedom, an emotional therapeutic counsellor in Harley Street, and an NLP practitioner with 10 years’ experience.