Coronavirus and Coping with Anxiety

Hello, dearest readers. I’ve been at a loss to know what to say to you this week; my usual humour seems to have deserted me and I’m struggling to find the right words. I’m sure that most of you feel the same way as me – overwhelmed and displaced – and so I don’t want to add to your anxieties or write something that doesn’t do justice to the enormity of the situation.

Which is why I’ve called in the expert to say something useful rather than blather away aimlessly at you. I asked psychotherapist Marianne Johnson about how we could stay calm and less anxious in these rapidly changing times – her answer below will be a useful read for so many people. Please do share it, pass on the link, post on Facebook. I’ll be back – no doubt to blather away aimlessly at you – in the next few days.

Coronavirus and Coping with Anxiety.

We are all reeling from the coronavirus outbreak. Each day the world looks a little less recognisable and a little less safe as the numbers of people infected tick up and the isolation measures take hold. In my job as a psychotherapist I am increasingly finding that the focus of my work is now around the anxiety that clients are bringing and how that is impacting their lives.

Fear and panic can build up easily with our non-stop media consumption so it’s vital that we take some control of our own mental health and put things in place to protect and care for ourselves.

I’m finding that anxiety about coronovirus takes on different shapes for different people. Some experience profound existential fear about what might escalate globally in the long term, others are deeply concerned about how people can protect their livelihood and loved ones. And I am also hearing plenty of hope. Many people are expressing a desire for a profound shift in ideology as communities come together and the focus moves from a consumerist stance to a more nurturing one. I hear people longing for better, deeper connections to the people close to them, and also to a deeper sense of themselves.

So what practical measures can we put in place to help ourselves? Firstly, it’s helpful to acknowledge that some worry is inevitable. These are uncertain times. We have to give ourselves a chance to think feel and talk to others about our concerns.

Our brains are wired to avoid uncertainty and this is where anxiety can become problematic. If left unchecked, understandable worries and stress can become converted to overwhelming and unmanageable feeling of panic and dread. It can he helpful to imagine what is happening inside the brain to create this response.

Fear is a primitive and essential emotion. It keeps us safe from harm as we manage immediate threats and react accordingly. Our early ancestors needed this mechanism to escape the dangers in their environment. As our brains became more complex we became able to think ahead and creatively predict what might happen in the future, based on past experience.

Faced with a lack of certainty this more advanced function of our brain presents different versions of what could unfold, which we then process and rationalise. This can run into overdrive when we consume a vast range of speculation in the media. With so much opinion at our disposal we are able to stew in a pot of collective panic and then become compelled to search out more and more information pushing that button of dread.

Here are some suggestions

1) Be aware of how your thoughts are affecting how you feel. You have a choice about which thoughts to hold onto, and which to let go of. We can find ourselves unhappily attached to the negative thinking, feeling as as if the more we think, the more it will help us escape the uncertainty. Keep bringing yourself back to what we do know and try not to catastrophize and ruminate about what might happen.

2) Focus on bringing yourself back to the present, which for some might be meditation and others finding a project that they can immerse themselves in. Purpose is better than distraction. If you can find something really absorbing it will be more helpful to ground you.

2) If you are worried about how much time you are spending on news channels, choose one daily news outlet that you trust and have a dedicated slot that you use to check for updates. Some people may choose to avoid all media for a period of time.

3) Think about human contact and the different ways you can connect to others. It is going to be really important to carve out ways to get support. This might require taking a risk and saying to people ‘i’m here’ but it will be worth it. You can return the favour.

4) Practice a really simple but effective breathing exercise (they really do work). The nervous system can be calmed by just a minute of mindful breathing. I like the 4-7-8 method. You exhale through your mouth completely, then breath in quietly through your nose to a count of 4. Hold your breath for a count of seven. Exhale competes through your mouth (making a whooshing sound if you like) for a count of 8. Repeat this at least 4 times but as many as you like. This also really helps insomnia.

5) Be gentle with yourself and make time for things which soothe you. It can take a really concerted effort to do this. It’s so much easier to dive into our laptops or phones. Put on some music, watch a film, plant some seeds, bake a cake, do something creative, do whatever it is that can take you into a happier frame of mind.

Marianne Johnson AdvDip MA UKCP
Psychotherapist

www.mariannejohnson.co.uk

 

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16 Comments

  1. March 27, 2020 / 2:33 pm

    Great Advice Marianne Johnson!!

    Everybody must know about these tips to avoid unnecessary panicking. Please avoid human contact and follow social distancing, not for others but for our sake only.

    Ruth, I really appreciate your sense of responsibility towards your readers.

  2. March 25, 2020 / 2:31 pm

    Great tips! I went out for a walk this morning and it made such a difference!

  3. March 23, 2020 / 8:12 pm

    Excellent advice; I will definitely be sharing this – Thank you!

    Ruth, I’m looking forward to your usual sense of humor whenever you’re ready to share it! The everyday wonder of your children and their growth (not to mention any and all mentions of Mr. Bear) is a balm to the soul. Laughter is truly important – remember that your work is essential, too.

  4. Marie
    March 21, 2020 / 8:41 pm

    In the NHS we use a lot of humour to get through, lots of banter with our colleagues helps to reduce the stress xx some people my say it is unprofessional but I am telling you all that if we couldn’t have a laugh with one another, we would all be having nervous breakdowns

    • March 22, 2020 / 4:17 pm

      You are doing such a great job, as always. Much love to you all. x

  5. Karen
    March 20, 2020 / 9:24 pm

    This is great advice.
    I usually live in Hong Kong, so have been going through all of this in the last 2 months.
    Brought my family back to the UK to get some respite (have had no work since January), emotionally and physically, and now going through it a second time. New anxiety about whether I can get back to HK or if borders/airports will close. Also have to do a 14 day government quarantine with 3 year old twins! (We will get through it!!)
    I also feel a good tip is to look at early countries like China and Singapore to see the progress made.
    For example, Wuhan had no new cases today! Brilliant news!
    Progress will be made and we will get through this.
    Wishing everyone health and peace in the next few months xxx

    • March 20, 2020 / 9:58 pm

      Thank you Karen, v positive news indeed x

  6. Emma Lawn
    March 20, 2020 / 8:52 pm

    Thank you x

  7. Aliana
    March 20, 2020 / 8:43 pm

    That is so helpful. Thank you!

  8. Josephine Robertson
    March 20, 2020 / 6:16 pm

    Thank you Ruth, this is just the right reponse.

  9. Barbara
    March 20, 2020 / 11:22 am

    Ruth, I am in the States (Texas) and it’s surreal. To see what’s happening globally is a nightmare so your post came at the perfect time. Thank you and much love from across the pond.

  10. Christine
    March 20, 2020 / 12:26 am

    Thank you! I’m definitely sharing this. I feel like this should be a PSA.

  11. Ciara
    March 19, 2020 / 10:13 pm

    Ruth I think you are great!! Thank you

  12. Sarah
    March 19, 2020 / 7:52 pm

    We need you and your humour more than ever Ruth! I check here every day and your posts are a special treat
    Sending all our love

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