Coronavirus: dealing with anxiety

Photo by Alexandre Chambon on Unsplash

The world has become a strange and unsettling place. A global pandemic has changed how all of us live and work, in the space of only a few weeks – in some cases days.

Facing something that feels bigger than you are can be overwhelming. It is worth remembering that the only part we can deal with is the part we are in.

You may be feeling many things at this time, including shakiness, worrying thoughts, heart palpitations, shortness of breath. You may be worried for yourself, or for others. Everyone is experiencing fear, anxiety, and worry at the moment, me included. These feelings are to be expected: they are a normal reaction to big changes that are happening fast, a scary new illness, and uncertainty for what the future will bring.

Anxiety is a natural response to any perceived threat to your health and safety. The body responds on an instinctive level: fight, flight, or freeze. Feelings of shakiness, breathlessness, a fast-beating heart may all be part of this. You may find you are reacting in a way you have done with a past trauma, for example by withdrawing from others around you.

You can manage anxiety in a number of ways. Acknowledge it, but also acknowledge that it is only one part of you. It exists to try to keep you safe, although it does so by making us feel unsafe. Finding ways to bring your body to a calmer response mode can help. A good strategy is to practise deep breathing – this can calm your body, switching it out of the fight/flight/freeze response. There are ideas for grounding, breathing, and calming exercises at the end of this post.

Facing something that feels bigger than you are can be overwhelming. It is worth remembering that the only part we can deal with is the part we are in.

In a time of uncertainty, it can be easy to fall into a spiral of ‘what ifs’. The more we do this though, the greater our anxiety will be. See if you can find a way to pause, let go of the ‘what ifs’, and focus on what you can deal with now. This may be practical steps, helping others, simply having a shower and getting dressed each day. Find small tasks that are in your control, rather than focus on the areas where you do not have control.

It is also OK to take a step back from social media and news feeds, or speculative conversations that you find stressful. Focusing on practical steps and consideration for others can feel more in your control.

You are still going to worry, and feel scared and anxious. But maybe you can find a window each day for it – a time to check on the news (from reliable sources), or acknowledge how you are you feeling.

Distraction, too, can give you a welcome break from the stresses of what is happening around us. TV shows, films (comedies are good), computer games, reading, knitting… there are many ways to give yourself some space to simply be without the constant press of thoughts and worries.

A final word: resilience. Somehow, you will find a way through this, and discover the wealth of inner resilience you already possess. Keep safe, help others if you can (staying at home counts!), eat well, move your body from time to time, and try to keep regular sleep hours. Nurture the parts of you that you can, while the rest of you adjusts.

Useful resources

These are links to external websites with additional resources that you may find helpful. Although I have made every effort to ensure that these links are relevant and up-to-date, I cannot be responsible for their content.

Coronavirus and anxiety

Breathing and grounding exercises to help with anxiety

If you need to speak to someone

  • Anxiety UK helpline, evenings until 10pm (weekdays), 10am-8pm (weekends): 03444 775774
  • The Samaritans: 116 123
  • And don’t forget friends and family! It is good to connect, and being open about how you are feeling may make things easier for you.