Managing Stress & Anxiety
Coping with Stress during the COVID-19 Pandemic
When we are under stress, our bodies respond exactly as they have done since Stone Age times when faced with danger in the shape of a wild animal. Our inbuilt fight/flight/freeze mechanism is there to keep us safe and gives us energy to deal with the situation. When the danger has passed, our body relaxes and returns to normal. The Coronavirus is like a hidden enemy over which we have little control with possibly serious consequences. Constant worries about danger to our safety and health and that of our family and friends, threat of redundancy, underlying health conditions, bereavement, restrictions on our movements and contact with people, postponement of our hopes and dreams, have the same effect of stressing us at all levels (physical, mental, emotional).
Lake Coleridge, New Zealand
When confronted with a new situation, our brains usually begin by searching in our memory banks for similar problems in order to know what to do. Because this Crisis is 'unprecedended', there are few memories or procedures in place for us to call on. In fact, we may find that we are re-experiencing times in our past when we felt anxious, at a loss and afraid.
Added to this, the necessary restrictions have deprived us of potentially supportive relationships and activities.
When disasters like earthquakes, conflicts or fires happen, the Emergency Services and support staff use a procedure called " Psychological First Aid" (PFA) (WHO publication) They find that people who have been exposed to serious stressors do better when they:
- Feel safe, connected to others, calm & hopeful
- Have access to social, physical & emotional support
- Regain a sense of control by being able to help themselves
Many of us relied on information about the pandemic by reading newspapers, watching the news and daily briefings by the government and scientists. Accurate information and instructions help us to feel safer, but too much 'doomsurfing' erodes our mental health. The freedoms and way of life we used to take for granted were suspended during lockdown. Some positives have emerged for instance a coming together in the community to help one another and, for some, more time with their loved ones. There have been casualties too including higher levels of domestic violence and child abuse and delayed treatments and deaths because of restricted services. We are grateful to everyone who keep us informed, safe and well.
People find ways to cope with anxiety:
- Healthy living (work/life balance, eating wholesome meals, and getting enough rest)
- Gentle exercise (walking, stretching, yoga, dancing)
- Spending time with pets
- Distraction (games, TV, reading)
- Managing their anxiety by using Breathing and Relaxation Exercises
- Doing activities that make them happy
- Being creative
- Being outside in Nature
- Being able to talk about how they are feeling
- Creating some sort of routine to give their day structure
As restrictions are beginning to lift, we are all faced with having to make our own decisions e.g. sending children back to school, childcare, how to operate at work, how to manage socialising, whether it is safe to travel, etc as well as mourning our losses and finding hope.
WHAT CAN WE DO TO HELP OURSELVES BE MORE RELAXED AND LIVE IN THE HERE AND NOW?
- Manage your anxiety. Remind yourself that it is normal to feel anxious when faced with adversity and the unknown. Tell yourself "This Too Will Pass".
- Relate safely and compassionately with each other. This requires courage and wisdom.
- Plan for the future. Take this opportunity to create a better world for everyone.
Try this Simple Breathing Exercise for Calm:
Breathe IN slowly allowing the lower part of your abdomen to expand outwards like a balloon – IN for a count of 3.
Breathe OUT slowly allowing the lower part of your abdomen to contract inwards – OUT for a count of 4.
Do this three times or until you feel calmer. Do not hold your breath.
You can also adapt this exercise while walking counting (to yourself) and breathing in time with your steps. (Some people find that they need to stop and return to the exercise later if they are feeling too anxious.)
Please contact me if I can help. I wish you well.