Everyone is talking about COVID-19 right now, and with the global measures ensuring that people stay at home as much as possible, there’s very little to take our mind off it. Not all the emotions and thoughts we have are helpful though – anxiety above and beyond what we can change (e.g. washing hands, social distancing etc.) is only likely to exacerbate any issues, and cause more harm than good.
Harvard University has released a document with helpful resources designed to help people struggling with anxiety, especially health-related anxiety. They have some really useful advice on there, so please do share it (or this post) around!
Here are some of my favourite ways to cope with anxiety/stress of any variety:
Limit time on media of any form
It can be tempting to spend more time on social media and news sites when you’re stressed. Waiting for validation and dopamine hits through social media, and constantly checking up on evolving situations through news sites won’t help your brain switch off. You are allowed to take time away from the news if it is causing anxiety. I prefer to get my news from friends at times like these, because at least that way we are able to discuss in a productive way, rather than sit and dwell.
Focus on problem solving
With any issue, there will be things you can solve, and things you can’t. The feeling of helplessness is one of the worst feelings, so try to separate out concerns into ‘can fix’ and ‘can’t change’. This way you can work towards fixing what you can (washing hands, staying home, eating healthily, sleeping, social distancing/isolation) and accepting what you can’t (global spread, NHS limitations, general rules of biology).
Mental health struggles love isolation. Concerningly, people struggling from depression and anxiety can often feel like time alone is the only time they feel safe. Maintaining social connections, especially in a time when you can’t meet people face to face, is so important. FaceTime/Skype are great alternatives to face-to-face meeting – why not get in touch with people you haven’t had time to speak to in a while? Try to talk about things other than your concerns if you can.
Form a routine
When I struggled with depression, I found getting out of bed incredibly difficult, but staying in bed would give me a feeling of hopelessness, as if I couldn’t leave bed. Try framing your day around key points. Stick to regular mealtimes, wake at a reasonable hour, and try to fit in some form of movement in your day, whether inside or outside.
One of the main ways I totally changed my mindset when I was younger from ‘everyone hates me and everything is awful’ to a mindset of positivity was by keeping a gratitude journal. At first I hated it as I could barely find anything good to write in it, but slowly my mind switched from seeing the negatives in everything, to seeing the positives, if just to write it in the journal! At the end of each day, write down 5 things you are grateful for, however small.
At the beginning of the day, write a small list of things you want to achieve, and how you’ll go about achieving them. They don’t have to be complicated, but ticking off things from a to-do list can increase feelings of purpose (thought to be the most important factor in enjoyment of work). These can include doing laundry, loading/unloading the dishwasher, handing/rearranging paintings, watering plants, going for a run, applying for jobs, sending an email etc.
Do something selfless
Helping others is an intrinsically rewarding activity, promoting positive emotions in our own brains. It also can add perspective to problems. Doing good also improves optimism, confidence and gives you a feeling of purpose, without which many people struggle. Consider donating to charity, volunteering or simply helping someone out online.
Whether you are able to leave the house or not, if you are feeling up to it, get moving! Household chores are often enough to build up a sweat, but if that doesn’t do it for you, check out these Instagram and YouTube accounts that provide awesome home workouts without equipment. Even just 20 minutes a day is enough to get the endorphins going. If you can safely get outside, try going for a brisk walk at least once a day, or head out for a run. Remember, long distance running may suppress your immune system, so try intervals, or short-but-fast sessions instead.
Follow good news sites
If you can’t stop thinking about negatives, try unfollowing people who make you feel worse (this is a good thing to do anyway) and follow accounts that make you feel positive. The Happy Broadcast is posting lots about COVID 19, but they’re positive and proactive news stories. It’s one of my favourite accounts right now. The Daily Kitten and The Dodo are up there too.
All images taken by my amazing friend Tamsin Louise.