The Black Dog Institute, the only medical research organisation in Australia to investigate mental health across the lifespan, has developed a range of powerful and evidence-based resources to support people during lockdowns caused by COVID-19.
Associate Professor Jill Newby from UNSW and the Black Dog Institute offers the following tips for people struggling with anxiety during the pandemic.
Tips for managing anxiety during COVID-19
Feeling anxious in certain situations can help us avoid danger, it’s how we’ve evolved to keep ourselves safe. Even if you are not typically an anxious person, it’s common to feel some anxiety during periods of change or uncertainty.
If you’re feeling anxious or worried during this time, you’re not alone. Anxiety is normal, and in some cases it can be helpful. For example, research during past pandemics show that people who worry are more likely to do the things that help to keep the virus at bay, like frequent handwashing.
However, sometimes anxiety can be unhelpful. Here are some practical ways that you can keep feelings of anxiety at bay if you are starting to feel overwhelmed:
1. Channel your anxious energy into action: Get informed, plan, and prepare
We often feel anxious when events feel out of our control, and when we think we don’t have the capacity, skills or ability to cope. Anxiety tricks us into thinking about the worst-case scenarios in vivid and frightening detail.
Instead of worrying, try your best to focus on what’s under your control. Equip yourself with the facts about COVID-19 from trusted sources. Follow government advice and make a plan about what you and your family will do if you need to be in isolation, or quarantine.
2. Limit or avoid unhelpful media and misinformation
Being exposed to constant, alarming, anxiety-inducing stories convinces us that there is something to panic about, and further perpetuates myths, rumours, misinformation, uncertainty and anxiety. The more we read and hear about it, the more frightening it becomes, and the less chance we have to distract ourselves and do things that can take our minds off it.
Although it might be tempting to keep informed, or difficult to escape, limiting your exposure to media, news, and social media about coronavirus will help quell the panic.
3. Cut down or stop the behaviours that are fuelling your anxiety
There are certain actions, when performed frequently, that can fuel anxiety about health, and germ-phobia. Focusing too much on bodily symptoms, and relying on “Dr Google”, can consume one with anxious thoughts and panic.
Being aware of these behaviours, understanding how they’re making you feel, and replacing them with more helpful coping strategies can alleviate disproportionate feelings of anxiety.
4. Stay focused on the here and now, taking each day step by step
Try to focus on the here and now – not the past and not the future. Live in the moment and take one day at a time.
5. Be aware of negative thoughts and don’t give them too much power
Just because we’re thinking something, doesn’t always mean it’s true. When you notice yourself worrying a lot, take a step back, and try to let worries pass by without focussing on them too much.
6. Look after your body
Get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, avoid smoking, excessive alcohol and drugs. This will help protect your mental health and immune system.
7. Stay connected with others
It can make a huge difference when we share our worries with others, and connect with other people who are supportive. Try to stay connected to supportive people in your life so you feel less isolated and lonely. You might need to try new ways of connecting that you haven’t before.
8. Help other people, be kind, and compassionate
When we help other people, it can also make us feel better. We are all in this together so let’s try our best to be kind and compassionate to each other.
9. Take a breath
When you feel overwhelmed, take a few slow, deep breaths to help you calm down. If there are other things that help you relax (e.g. a walk or listening to music) you could try these too.
10. If you’re feeling like you’re not coping, get professional advice
It’s ok to ask for help. If you’re feeling overwhelmed by anxiety, seek professional support. Psychological therapies can be done online, or remotely via phone or videoconferencing, and are an excellent option if you’re in self-isolation, or worried about going to a clinic.
Importantly, be assured that for most people, the anxiety will be temporary, and will reduce over time, especially once the virus has been contained.
The importance of self-care during lockdown
According to the Black Dog Institute, self-care is often the first thing that gets sacrificed when life is stressful, and people often think that taking time for themselves seems indulgent. However, looking after your own wellbeing will help you get through challenging times, and it will also help you to better care for others.
Amidst the confusion and frustration of returning to a lockdown, plus the constant stream of COVID-19 updates, a self-care plan can help you focus, make decisions, and stay healthy.
What exactly is self-care?
Self-care refers to the activities and practices that we deliberately choose to engage in on a regular basis to maintain and enhance our health and wellbeing.
Self-care helps to prevent stress and anxiety.
By incorporating self-care activities into your regular routine, like going for a walk or socialising (virtually), you give your body and mind time to rest, reset, and rejuvenate, so you can avoid or reduce the symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Self-care makes you more effective
When you take time for yourself and give your body the food, rest, and activity it needs, you will actually have more energy to meet the demands of daily life – however unusual they might be.
Bringing more balance to your daily routine during lockdown will help you to be more productive and more resilient to stressors.
And though the phrase, “Please put on your own oxygen mask first before helping others!” is usually associated with air travel, it’s also sound advice around self-care, because if you don’t look after yourself first, you won’t be able to help yourself or others.
How to create your own self-care plan
Learn how to build your own daily self-care plan by downloading the Black Dog Institute’s template below. It will guide you through the four steps of self-care planning:
- Step 1: Evaluate your coping skills
- Step 2: Identify your daily self-care needs
- Step 3: Reflect. Examine. Replace.
- Step 4: Create your self-care plan
Reference: Please note this information was written by Associate Professor Jill Newby from UNSW and the Black Dog Institute and can be viewed here: Tips for people struggling with anxiety during the pandemic.