Coronavirus Anxiety: Six ways to calm you down when you’re feeling anxious about the outbreak

Updated: Oct 27, 2020

Health worker wear pointing at a face mask

The recent lockdown in the UK has trigged a lot of difficult emotions for all of us. Anxiety is one of the most common reactions towards the virus outbreak, and our fears about the situation may feel overwhelming. Even if we are unable to leave our homes, continual social media and news coverage makes it hard to escape hearing about the pandemic. This can further magnify our fears about the risk to ourselves and our loved ones.

The UK Government has issued advice about what to do if you feel unwell or have been to any areas affected by the virus. There is also lots guidance available on how to prevent the spread of Corona. In addition to looking after our physical health, it is also important to acknowledge the impact this situation has had on our mental wellbeing. With this in mind, here are some suggestions for dealing with anxiety around the lockdown:

1. Think about your access to news coverage and social media

We live in a fast-paced world, and it is important to keep connected to ensure that we are up to date with the changing situation. However, we can still exercise control over the amount of time we spend accessing online information, particularly via social media.

If possible, we should focus on accessing updates on the outbreak through official government channels including the NHS, or through reliable news outlets such as the BBC. It can be very easy to fall down the rabbit hole of social media, and it is often difficult to know how accurate such information really is.

In addition, it may be helpful to limit the amount of time spent reading about the virus to help manage anxiety levels. For example, you could try limiting yourself to 15 minutes at a time, before having a break to focus on something else.

2. Acknowledge your anxiety but also focus on factors that you can control

It is perfectly understandable that we are all feeling some difficult emotions at the moment, and we should not be ignoring them. It can help to acknowledge our anxieties about the outbreak and to explore them, possibly with a friend or family member. Talking about our feelings can help us to rationalise them, and may prevent us from fixating on worst-case scenarios. If you prefer, you could try writing your anxieties down or journaling about your thoughts and feelings during the lockdown.

It can also be helpful to focus on the things that are within our control, and which we can all do to help to limit the outbreak. These include taking appropriate measures such as social distancing when going out, and frequent handwashing. We can also check in with friends and neighbours who may be finding it difficult to manage during self-isolation. By helping each other, we can all feel better able to cope during these difficult times.

3. Maintain balance in your life and check in with yourself

It is important to try and find a balance in our lifestyle during these unusual times. Many people are having to work from home for the first time, and may not have the ideal set up for this. In this situation, it could be helpful to keep to regular office hours so that the working day does not merge into home life; it is important to switch off from work and have time to rest and relax.

People may also find themselves stuck at home with not much to do, possibly as a result of having lost their employment. Filling previously busy days can feel like a challenge, particularly if it is not possible to go outside, and it is easy to feel low and without a sense of purpose. It may be helpful to set an agenda for each day, including chores to be done around the house and a set amount of time to devote to exercise.

This is a completely new situation for all of us, and it can be helpful to check in with ourselves each day to reflect on how we are coping. For example, by asking ourselves questions such as “what did I do today that gave me a sense of achievement?”, “what have I done that gave me pleasure?”, “is there anything that I will do differently tomorrow?”. Above all, we should remember to be kind to ourselves, we are living through unprecedented times, and we are all doing our best to make it through.

4. Try to shift your perspective

It can be difficult to shift negative thought patterns, and it may take a real effort of will to try and think more positively in such challenging times. To achieve this, it can help to focus on gratitude and all the things that we are thankful for, as well as celebrating small victories each day. For example, try asking yourself the following questions:

· What five things do I feel grateful for today?

· What five things went right for me today?

The answers to these questions can be as simple as feeling gratitude for sunny weather, or celebrating that you managed to cook dinner without burning it. The key is to practice this mind-set regularly, until it becomes second nature.

5. Allow yourself to laugh and cry

Trying to contain our emotions can leave us feeling overwhelmed and like we are drowning. By keeping our anxieties bottled up, we may reach a point where we feel we can no longer cope and are ready to burst. We may also feel too guilty to experience positive emotions during such a serious situation.

Expressing our full range of emotions can help to relieve tension, allowing us to regain control of our feelings. Depending on your mood, try watching a funny film, or listening to sad music. Give yourself permission to feel whatever it is you are feeling.

6. Try to differentiate between ‘real’ and ‘hypothetical’ worries

It can be helpful to differentiate between issues that are affecting you in the here and now, versus worries about situations that do not currently exist but which may happen in the future. Spending too much time worrying about hypothetical events can be tiring and unproductive, and can leave you with less energy to focus on the present situation. If possible, once you have identified any hypothetical problems try to let them go by changing the focus of your attention.

The Worry Decision Tree, as shown below, can be a helpful tool in making the distinction between real and hypothetical worries:

Diagram of the Worry Decision Tree

We hope that you are all keeping safe and well during this difficult time.

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