A subject that was taboo until recently, anxiety is now in the limelight. Sarah Cunliffe, an online therapeutic counsellor, recognised by Harley Street, details what anxiety is doing to us and how to regain control over this destructive emotion.
"Life is precious and short, and I want you to know how to find a way through"
At the time of writing, Britain holds the seventh-highest death toll of COVID 19 globally 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.
As a result, anxiety rates have skyrocketed, creating difficulty for many people to feel a sense of relief.
Anxiety is to be Expected
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 somewhat salvage peace of mind in such times? I decided to map out some tips and techniques for managing this COVID anxiety.
The Fun and Fears of Social Media
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. For more information, click here.
Use Your Reticular Activating System (RAS)
The RAS, a clever bit of kit in our brain, filters information based on where we place our focus. So if we are anxious and focusing on our fears, our brain will only filter in evidence to support those fears, making it 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 avoid triggering further unnecessary anxious thoughts.
For example, we need to keep our hands washed regularly and thoroughly but obsessively doing so only informs your RAS that there is danger at every corner. The result is your anxiety is increased further; therefore, washing your hands for twenty seconds is, in my opinion, long enough.
If you think you may have obsessive-compulsive thoughts and find yourself fixating on an obsession. 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) can be an 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 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 avoid conflict and help you communicate your boundaries and respect theirs. I use a tool 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's ok to go at your own pace based on what feels comfortable for you."
It is vital to cut yourself some slack if you feel 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 isolated lifestyle.
It is so easy to forget how much we have changed our lives to achieve lockdown. Of course, it will be a bit nerve-wracking, uncertain, and it may be difficult to depart from it all in one go. Your brain needs time for you to feel your way along, and 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 judgement as time and time again, we have raised hopes of being released only to be sent back into lockdown. Asa result, 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 constantly desired to pick up. Investing time in relaxing activities can give you the break your brain needs from constant worry.
Here are a couple of skills you could trial:
● Art, e.g. drawing, painting, colouring-in Mandala templates
● Sewing, e.g. creating bags, bunting or clothes, croche, rug making
● Upcycling and DIY
● Music, e.g. learning piano, guitar, singing
● Meditation & breathing exercises
● Yoga/Online Salsa classes
● Writing and reading, e.g. novels, autobiographies, journalling, 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 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, a picnic or snack outside, or going to the hairdresser/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 bigger and braver steps than before.
Uncertainty can be hard to manage, but making plans can help you bring structure and avoid getting 'stuck' in fearful paralysis. Preparing for any challenges ahead of time can help us 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.
Grabbing a Helping Hand if Anxiety is persistent
It may not seem like it with an anxious mind, 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 help you with treatment for your sleep and anxiety levels.
So there you have it, some tricks and techniques in coping with the pandemic's end.
About The Author
If you are suffering from anxiety and want to feel calm and back in control, Sarah recommends booking to see a quality professional counsellor who can go into greater depth and help you fully recover. As an affordable self help alternative, why not try downloading her Self Help Ebook Escape Anxiety and Find True Freedom (£49) on the True Freedom website, which is packed full of tools and techniques to get you back in the driving seat.