When it comes to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic, many of us have been left feeling unsettled. There is what you see, what you hear and after taking it all in, how you feel. It is not unusual to feel anxious in these current circumstances that are beyond our control, and for those who already struggle with mental health difficulties, this can be a challenging time. So how do we manage these feelings of anxiety and look after our mental health? Below are some practical ways that can help keep feelings of anxiety at bay if you are starting to feel overwhelmed.
Find a routine that works
Structure is probably one of the most important things we need to maintain during the pandemic. A lack of routine can actually intensify feelings of anxiety, and for people who are sitting around with less to keep them occupied, they often find themselves overly focusing on stressful situations that can lead to additional anxiety.
Try to maintain your schedule to how it was before Covid-19, particularly if you are working from home. Ensure you have set times for starting work, meal times, and activities. Although it might not be possible to do everything you did before the pandemic, aim to keep as much of a routine as you can. The benefits of a regular routine are:
- You take better care of your health, both physically and mentally
- It instills good habits
- Lowers stress levels
- It helps you feel more focused
- It makes you more efficient
- Builds self confidence
- Promotes self-discipline
Regular exercise is proven beneficial for us, but exercising during the pandemic has become a bit complicated, especially for those who regularly attend gyms. Whilst all gyms closed during the initial lockdown, most have now been able to reopen, but with new restrictions. So whether you are able to return to a gym or not, there are plenty of ways to get creative with staying fit. Virtually any form of physical activity can act as a stress reliever, so have fun shaking up your routine. There are endless online classes available, from yoga to cardio, so find one that you enjoy and are likely to stick to. It is also worth trying to exercise outside when you can as being in nature can also help improve your mood. Benefits of regular exercise include:
- Better cardiovascular health
- It releases endorphins; the chemicals in your brain that make you feel happy and good about yourself
- It shifts your focus into a more positive mindset, reducing negative thought patterns
- Improved sleep patterns and reduced stress levels
- It can reduce your risk of diabetes, blood pressure, heart disease, stroke and cancer
- It strengthens immunity
- It boosts energy levels, concentration, focus and productivity
Eat a healthy diet
As we continue to find our way through this challenging time, particularly with spending more time at home, it can be tempting to use food as a form of comfort or distraction. Whether due to a lack of motivation, boredom, loss of appetite, loneliness or low self-esteem, food can become an emotional crutch for us. Healthy eating can include:
- Consuming a wide range of nutritious foods that are rich in vitamins and minerals
- Limiting your intake of foods that contain saturated fat and refined carbohydrates, including cakes, biscuits, processed meats, fried food and sweet and savoury snacks
- Drinking plenty of water
- Limiting your alcohol intake
- Preparing and storing food safely
Limit your social media activity
This can be difficult for some people as scrolling through social media is often seen as a way of relaxing. In reality, constant exposure to the worries of Covid-19 can be harmful, causing fear, stress and worry, leading to unhealthy eating, increased anxiety and disturbed sleeping patterns.
Try to put a limit on how long you spend on social media and how much news you will watch each day. If possible, mute articles and posts around the pandemic and stick to reputable sources of information such as the NHS website, Gov.UK and the World Health Organisation (WHO). When checking the news, try to set this to a specific time of the day so you are not constantly inundated with the same topic. This will also help in forming structure in your daily routine.
Sharing our thoughts and feelings with others can make a huge difference to our emotional wellbeing. If you live alone or are self-isolating, try to stay connected to supportive people in your life so you feel less lonely and isolated. For most, the telephone is the easiest and most accessible way to keep in contact with friends and family, but digital platforms such as WhatsApp, Messenger and video chat are also very popular.
There are also a number of online support groups who can offer expert advice. These include:
Social connections are the threads that bind our communities together. By prioritising human interaction and finding meaningful ways to connect during the pandemic, we can support each other and our own health and wellbeing.
Find time for relaxation
Finding time to relax in our daily lives can be difficult, but a number of techniques can help to relax the mind and body, which in turn can help to relieve symptoms of anxiety. The most popular forms of relaxation include:
- Guided breathing exercises
- Progressive muscle relaxation
- Gentle physical activities such as yoga and Tai Chi
Learning to relax can take a bit of practice, but the more you do, the more helpful the relaxation technique will become. Self-care gives you the chance to focus on things you can control instead of those that you cannot.
Focus on the present
You can only do your best with what you have today. With regulations frequently changing, try to keep yourself grounded in the present and appreciate good things as they happen. Anxiety is after all, based on an uncertainly and fear of the future – what might happen next.
Mindfulness can help us stay grounded in the midst of the crisis, as it allows you to witness and let thoughts and feelings come and go in their own time, without getting overwhelmed by them.
Finally it is important to remember that this period is finite, it will pass and ‘normal’ life will resume again. For most people, the anxiety will not be permanent and will reduce over time.