Coronavirus anxiety- 6 tips to help if you're feeling overwhelmed, anxious or depressed.
Updated: Apr 15, 2020
Over the last few weeks I, like many others, have been watching the world with horror. These are unprecedented times and it’s not surprising that people are reporting huge increases in mental health problems, not only for people who had existing conditions, but also amongst people who have never experienced anxiety or depression before.
If, like me, you are also filling parts of your day scrolling social media in an effort to distract yourself from what’s happening you’ll have seen a certain trend for people telling you how you should be spending your quarantine. “Life coaches” on instagram (with no genuine mental health or psychological qualifications) are telling people to combat depression by being more like them and posting selfies of their work outs, displaying their quarantine banana breads and telling people to spend this time learning languages and getting the abs they always wanted. However, I feel that they are slightly missing one of the major points of depression, that a lack of motivation and little pleasure in doing things can be significant symptoms, and therefore just getting out of bed and having a shower should be taken as a win.
In that spirit I have put together a small list of things that might help people, this isn’t intended as an exhaustive list but it’s just a few tips that have helped my clients so far:
1. Social media should be an escape- not a trigger.
If someone on social media is impacting your mental health in a negative way- UNFOLLOW THEM. There’s no right way to deal with this situation and anyone who is telling you otherwise, or is trying to show how much better their quarantine is than yours, is lying. If it’s a friend or someone you feel you can’t unfollow then snooze their posts (Facebook for instance has an option to snooze someones’s posts for 30 days) they’ll never know! Try instead to fill your feed with things that make you feel calmer or happier, whether that’s photos of cats or funny videos.
2. Limit your exposure to news.
This is one that I’ve seen time and time again on social media and it’s actually good solid advice. Try to only watch the news once a day. Try to resist the temptation to constantly check back on BBC News or the newspapers. If you’re feeling anxious and depressed about the current situation, constantly absorbing more news isn’t going to help, in fact it’s probably going to make it worse. Of course it’s important to keep an eye out for updates and to make sure you’re following the latest guidance but do this once a day, and try to avoid doing this at bedtime as this can make it much harder to get to sleep and will probably influence your dreams if you do manage it.
3. Working from home- maintaining balance.
If you are fortunate enough to be able to work from home then make sure you separate your working day from your free time. When working from home it’s very easy to work through your lunch break and keep checking your emails throughout the evening. However, now more than ever, you still need time for you. So switch off your emails at the time you should normally be clocking off and spend time doing something that relaxes you, whether that’s catching up on Netflix or calling your family, whatever works for you.
It’s also easy in these times when the lines between work and home are even more blurred than usual to check emails and “catch up” at the weekend. Try and take a day at the weekend where you take a day off, it’s incredibly important for your mental health to maintain a work-life balance and to take time for yourself.
4. Get outside (if you can)
If you’re lucky enough to have some outside space or are able to get out for your daily exercise safely then try and do it. It can be very hard to work up the motivation but if you can manage to drag yourself out the door then going for a walk will help and sunlight increases the production of serotonin in your brain which helps to ease the symptoms of depression and elivate your mood. You don’t need to run 10k, just a walk around the block is a start. Do what feels right for you.
5. Maintain a routine
Try and maintain a routine. Whilst it can be tempting to lay in bed in the morning because it can often feel like their isn’t much point in getting up, sticking to your usual routine of bed time and wake up time keeps your body’s usual cycadian rhythms and helps maintain your body’s balance. Sleep is one of the best ways to boost both your physical and mental health and therefore keeping a regular pattern can have a real positive impact on your feelings.
6. Use techniques to help combat anxiety
When you’re feeling overwhelmed or particularly anxious then try and return to the present. Anxiety is fuelled by focusing on the negative thoughts and the fear and whilst these are incredibly important to acknowledge try to combat these in a way that works for you.
Some of techniques I have found to be most effective with clients are:
3,4,5 breathing. Breathe in for the count of three, hold the breath for a count of four and then breathe out slowly for a count of five. Try practicing this five times in a row when feelings are overwhelming you.
As in the previous point, try and get outside. Try and do some form of exercise that works for you, whether that’s a walk round the block or some yoga on YouTube, the endorphins will help.
Try grounding. This means listing to yourself 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch, 2 things you can smell and 1 thing you can taste.
Download a meditation app such as calm or headspace. Both of these have a great deal of free content and are excellent to start a meditation practice to help ground you and bring you back to the present.
I hope that some of these tips have been useful. But the most important thing to remember is be kind to yourself. These are unprecedented times and it’s understandable to be feeling anxious or depressed. However, the important thing to remember is that it’s our of your control and blaming yourself for these feelings isn’t going to help. Practice kindness, both to yourself and to others, and it will start to become a habit.
Finally, if you are struggling then reach out to someone. Whether that’s a family member or a friend, your GP or a charity helpline (Mind has a list of resources and helplines on their website). Our physical health isn’t the only priority at the moment, it’s also important to make sure you’re getting the right support for your mental health too.