For many people, lockdownwill put significant pressure on their mental wellbeing, resulting in feelings of worry and anxiety. This is understandable. Anxiety is a natural response to uncertainty and danger, and with so much change to our normal lives we can find we are missing out on the things that can help combat those feelings and keep us balanced.
Sometimes anxiety can cause physical symptoms like chest pains, sweating or headaches, and it can stop us sleeping or eating properly. These symptoms or behaviours can then cause us to worry further so there is a danger of become locked in a vicious cycle.
To prevent this cycle, it can help to split worry into two types: actionable and non-actionable.
A non-actionable worry is about something that you simply cannot change. Often these worries come from a wish for certainty over things we can’t control or are a product of unhelpful thinking (negative feelings you have about yourself or the world). Worrying about how long lockdown is going to last, whether you might catch the virus, or what life will look like next year are all things you cannot control.
The only thing you can do with these non-actionable worries is practice accepting them. This may be easier said than done, but it may help to remind yourself the following:
- That healthcare experts and scientists are doing everything they can day and night to find solutions and to prevent the spread. This period will not last forever. You are doing a brilliant thing by keeping yourself and your community safe.
- That social media posts are not necessarily accurate reports. We all have a friend who is very sceptical of what they read online – try to imagine yourself as this friend if you read something from an unreliable source and feel it starting to worry you.
- That the chances of becoming very seriously unwell are extremely low.
Simply reminding yourself of these facts may not be enough to stop the worries. Once they start coming they can be pretty overwhelming! Here are some other coping techniques to help:
Write them down
Writing the worries down in a list of “things to accept”. Try not to censor yourself when doing this, chuck them all down onto paper. You may like to write a little motivational mantra at the bottom of the list too: “I can accept these things!” or ask someone else to write a message to you instead “You can accept these things Jim! You got this!” It might sound cheesy for our British sensibilities, but it may make you smile and if it doesn’t help then you’ve wasted very little time giving it a go!
If you find yourself waking up in the night unable to go back to sleep, you could also try writing down all your worries so they are out of your head and onto the page. You can return to them in the morning, work out which ones you can do something about and which ones you need to accept. Leave a bit of paper & a pen by your bed when you go to sleep so you don’t have to walk around the house in the dark looking for materials. (Try not to use your phone to record them – the screen light is likely to wake you up).
Worrying is usually focused on the future (what will happen) or on the past (rehashing what happened). You can use mindfulness to practice being in the present and in accepting the uncertainty that you feel.
Stay focused on the now: how your body feels and the rhythm of your breathing. Try to let each worry go as it arrives by bringing yourself back to the present moment. For some people this is easiest if they lie down, but if staying still is hard for you, you can practice mindfulness on a walk or a run, by listening to birds from the window, by touching different textures.
There are lots of apps to help you if you’d like to start practicing mindfulness: Headspace and Calm are two that come recommended. During this time they have sections which are free.
Some worries might be “non-actionable” in the present but you can do something about them in the future. For these it can be useful to “delay” them, make a note and set a date for when you will come back to them.
Example 1: I’m worried my brother might lose his job if there is a recession and with two children they will really struggle.
This is non-actionable, we are not yet in a recession (and we don’t know there will be one) so I could consciously delay this worry. I might write it down and scribble DELAY UNTIL JAN 2021 on top of it).
You may also find it helpful to schedule ‘worry time’ for yourself, trying to restrict worrying to a particular time in the day or week. When you feel worries arriving, you push them out of your mind with the plan to address them at the designated time.
Look after yourself
Try to maintain a routine where you get enough sleep, eat well and exercise. Getting run down will mean you’re more likely to struggle with your mental health too. Washing and getting dressed can also help a great deal with your self-esteem. While it’s fun to wear pyjamas sometimes, getting dressed up for the day can give you a little boost too even if nobody sees you.
Healthy physical activities in particular are a natural antidote to worry. Exercising releases chemicals into the brain which make you feel good (endorphins) and aid relaxation. Eating healthily and limiting caffeine are also beneficial for managing worries. Again there are free apps that can get you going like Couch to 5K, or online yoga classes like Yoga with Adriene.
Many worries signal that something needs to be done. If something can be done, then these worries are “actionable”. These actionable worries can be addressed through using a range of tools, including the following:
- First describe the problem – what exactly are you worrying about? Can you break it down?
- What are my options – jot down as many problem-solving options that come to mind
- Evaluate – weigh up the risks and benefits of each solution and choose the best option
- Take action – either do something immediately or schedule a time for when you will.
Prioritise and test
If you have a number of problems, try to put them into order, then deal with them one at a time. They pose less of a threat when tackled individually. Now, ‘reality test’ your worries, asking yourself:
- What is the worst that can happen?
- How bad would it really be?
- How many times have I thought the worst before and been wrong?
- What would I say to a friend who had this worry?
It may also help to gain insight from someone impartial, getting their view to help you see exactly ‘what is what’.
Challenge your thinking
Think of reasons why the things you are worrying about might never happen and make a list of these reasons. You may find that a close friend can help you think of these reasons.
For example: if you are worrying about forgetting your hospital phone appointment, the first point on this list might be “I have written it in big on the calendar”.
Some reliable external resources:
Anxiety UK: “Health and other forms of anxiety and coronavirus”
BBC: “Coronavirus: How to manage Anxiety and OCD during the pandemic”
Beat Eating Disorders: “Eating Disorders and Coronavirus”
OCD-UK: “OCD and Coronavirus Top Tips”
Bristol Community Access Support Service put together this lush flowchart for what’s available in Bristol.