As global citizens, we have all been adversely affected by the COVID-19 Pandemic. This might just be to our day-to-day socio-occupational routines and training regimes but most likely than not, it has affected our sense of security and certainty about the future to some extent. For some, it can be hard not to worry what the Pandemic and its socio-economic impacts can mean for ourselves, our families, friends and communities.
The information below explains the emotion of worry and when worry becomes a problem. It also shares some proven psychological and lifestyle strategies to manage worry and anxiety, so as to preserve our mental wellbeing during these times of unprecedented change and concern.
The following information is drawn from these sources, which offer further useful and authoritative advice on staying well:
Life in Mind’s Coronavirus (COVID-19) Mental Health Support website also contains a comprehensive collection of support information and resources.
What is worry?
Human beings have the amazing ability to think about future events. 'Thinking ahead’ means that we can anticipate obstacles or problems, and gives us the opportunity to plan solutions. When it helps us to achieve our goals, ‘thinking ahead’ can be helpful. For example, hand washing and social distancing are helpful things that we can decide to do in order to prevent the spread of the virus. However, worrying is a way of 'thinking ahead' that often leaves us feeling anxious or apprehensive. When we worry excessively, we often think about worst case scenarios and feel that we won't be able to cope.
What does worry feel like?
When we worry it can feel like a chain of thoughts and images, which can progress in increasingly catastrophic and unlikely directions. Some people experience worry as un¬controllable – it seems to take on a life of its own. It is natural that many of us may have recently noticed ourselves thinking about worst-case scenarios. The example below illustrates how worries can escalate quickly even from something relatively minor.
Worry isn’t just in our heads. When it becomes excessive we feel it as anxiety in our bodies too. Physical symptoms of worry and anxiety include:
- Muscle tension or aches and pains.
- Restlessness and an inability to relax.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Feeling easily fatigued.
When does worry become a problem?
Everyone worries to some degree, and some thinking ahead can help us to plan and cope. There is no 'right' amount of worry. We say that worry becomes a problem when it stops you from living the life you want to live, or if it leaves you feeling demoralised and exhausted.
What can I do about worry?
It is natural for you to worry at the moment, but if you feel that it's becoming excessive and taking over your life – for example if it's making you anxious, or if you're struggling to sleep – then it might be worth trying to find ways to limit the time you spend worrying, and taking steps to manage your wellbeing:
1. Be Informed
Seek information by authoritative sources, such as the Department of Health and the WHO’s websites. Once informed, don’t spend excessive time feeding the worry and anxiety – close the web browser, switch off the TV, get on with what you initially wanted to do.
2. Take reasonable precautions and follow advice on minimising mobility and maximising social distancing.
3. Keep Things in Perspective
When worried and stressed, we often think things are worse than they are. Rather than imagining the worst-case scenario and worry about it, ask yourself:
a. Am I getting ahead of myself when I really don’t know what will happen?
b. Am I catastrophising?
c. Am I underestimating my ability to cope?
4. Differentiate the Worry
Practise identifying whether your worry is ‘real problem’ worry or ‘hypothetical worry.’
- ‘Real problem’ worries are actual problems affecting you right now, eg.:
“I’m running out of food in the pantry. I need to stock up on groceries.”
“I’m earning less income now than what I usually spend. I need to budget and cut back.”
- ‘Hypothetical worries’ are problems that don’t current exist but might happen in the future, eg.:
“What if we go broke and are forced to sell the house?”
“What if I catch COVID-19 and end up in ICU?”
If you find yourself experiencing lots of hypothetical worry, it’s important to remind yourself that your mind is focusing on a problem that you cannot solve right now. How does worry and spending mental energy on THAT help your CURRENT situation? Find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
5. Maintain Good Social Connections and Communicate Openly With Family and Friends
Yes, creative strategies might be required to keep in touch these days, but you’ve now got more time to make those phone calls or Skype catch-ups.
Be kind and compassion to one another. You’ll feel better for it too.
6. Practise Self-Care and Maintain Balance:
- Set a routine
Even if you’re spending more time at home and the children aren’t at school anymore, it is beneficial to maintain a regular routine. Maintain a regular time for waking up and going to bed, eating at regular times, and getting ready and dressed each morning. You could use a timetable to give structure to your day.
Don’t forget to change out of your pyjamas each morning.
- Stay mentally and physically active. When you plan your daily timetable, have a go at including activities that keep both your mind and body active. For example, you could challenge yourself to learn a new language or cook a new dish. It’s also important to keep physically active. If your usual physical training has reduced in frequency, technology may offer answers in the forms of exercise over teleconference or yoga via an App.
- Make time for activities and hobbies you enjoy – what was it you’ve already wanted to create? Genre of music you wanted to explore? When was the last time you smelled the earth on your hands? Your garden wants you to spend time in it!
- Maintain a healthy lifestyle – it’s the collective of little things that combine to make a difference:
- Regular exercise
- Healthy diet
- Getting quality sleep
- Avoid alcohol, tobacco and other drugs to cope with stress
7. Coping with Self-Isolation
Remember: self-isolation is temporary.
Remind yourself of the benefits self-isolation has to the wider community. It helps to restore our lifestyles to how it was before.
8. Practice Mindfulness
Learning and practicing mindfulness can help us to let go of worries and bring ourselves back to the present moment. For example, focusing on the gentle movement of your breath or the sounds you hear around you, can serve as helpful 'anchors' to come back to the present moment and let go of worries.
Checkout the following websites and Apps: Smiling Mind, The Headspace App, Stop, Breath & Think
9. Practise Gratitude
At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure. At the end of each day, take time to reflect on what you are thankful for today. Try and be specific and notice new things each day, for example ‘I am grateful that it was sunny at lunchtime so I could sit in the garden’. You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar. Encourage other people in your home to get involved too.
10. Notice and Limit Worry Triggers:
As the health situation develops it can feel like we need to constantly follow the news or check social media for updates. However, you might notice this also triggers your worry and anxiety. Try to notice what triggers your worry. For example, is it watching the news for more than 30 minutes? Checking social media every hour? Try to limit the time that you are exposed to worry triggers each day. You might choose to listen to the news at a set time each day, or you could limit the amount of time you spend on social media for news checking.
Seek help and support when needed
This could be picking up the phone to have a chat to someone, to hear another human’s voice. Or touching bases with a colleague now that there’s no more gathering around the office watercooler.
If you feel the stress and anxiety you feel is persistent, getting too much and negatively affecting how you view yourself, your future and interact with those around you, be sure to check in with professionals. The sources above can be a good start. Alternatively, check in with a confidant. When was the last time you consulted your GP?
Let’s stay in good spirit and good health, together.