Anxiety is a normal reaction to uncertainty and things that may harm us. The situation with COVID-19 makes for a very uncertain future. People worry about their own health and the health of loved ones, the state of school or work, their finances, and if and when they will be able to resume their daily routines and social norms.
While anxiety is a normal and expected reaction to the pandemic, too much anxiety can be harmful. Feeling stressed and fearful every day affects your health and well-being very quickly. For some people, anxiety and fear can lead to panic while for others, it can cause denial or refusing to believe the severity of the situation.
When you feel anxious and uncertain about the future, it’s easy to feel hopeless. The COVID-19 situation may seem out of your control, but that isn’t entirely true.
Here’s what you can do:
1. Be kind to yourself and practice self-care.
Even people who don’t usually struggle with anxiety are experiencing more worry and anxiety now. Just because we’re Christians doesn’t mean we’re immune to these feelings or that we don’t struggle with them. So don’t be hard on yourself if you’re experiencing more anxiety than usual.
Build self-care into your day, even (and especially) as activities change and routines are disrupted. Eat as well as possible, exercise regularly, get enough sleep, and make time for hobbies. All the things you do to take care of yourself will help manage your stress. And by taking good care of yourself, you’ll be better prepared to take care of others. Some self-care ideas include:
- Prayer and meditation
- Play a board game
- Practice deep breathing
- Take a bath
- Read about something other than the virus
- Cuddle with your pet
- Start a digital detox (leave your phone alone for a while)
You can explore self-management strategies for anxiety from Anxiety Canada at www.anxietycanada.com.
You can also take the Bounce Back Online, a self-directed course from the Canadian Mental Health Association to help people manage low mood, stress, and anxiety. The online version is available for free. No referral needed. Visit Online.bouncebackonline.ca
2. Remember you are resilient; be careful with the “what ifs”.
- In stressful situations, people often underestimate how well they will be able to cope but people are resilient and have coping skills they use every day.
- Think of difficult or challenging situations you have encountered that you were able to manage. Even if things weren’t perfect, what did you do to cope with the situation?
- Remind yourself that you can handle stress and that if you feel you need support, you can reach out to family, friends, colleagues or professionals.
- Remember our collective resources -from excellent health care and public health response systems to strong and resilient communities. Try to replace catastrophic thoughts with something like, “This is definitely a difficult time, but we will get through it together.”
- Don’t underestimate what you are able to do when faced with challenges.
- Challenge your worries and anxious thoughts. Negative thoughts aren’t necessarily true and instead, are beliefs we’ve grown used to. Check out the following exercise to challenge your worries and anxious thoughts (CAMH Challenging worries and anxious thoughts).
3. Limit the news & unplug from social media. Make sure the news you get is factual.
Using reliable sources of information will ensure that what you do learn is fact, and not fear-based.
It’s also important to find a good balance in your use of technology. While it can be helpful, technology can have a real impact on well-being. If you do watch or read the news, try to limit how often you do:
- Commit to only checking in a couple times a day.
- Set a regular time when you check the news everyday. Standardizing the times you check will help to both think less about it and to reduce fighting with yourself to check.
- Disable news alerts on your phone so that you get updates when you want them.
For more information, visit: https://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/wellness-module/wellness-module-10-staying-mentally-healthy-with-technology (Staying Mentally Healthy with Technology by the Canadian Mental Health Association of B.C.).
4. Stop talking about the coronavirus
Some people find it helpful to talk through anxiety-provoking situations like COVID-19, but others may find that conversations make their anxiety worse. If you need to limit conversations, it’s okay to tell family, friends, and co-workers that you can’t participate. You can also change the subject or just don’t bring it up. Just make sure you don’t ignore all news and important messages -the goal is to take in information you need and cut down on the excess, not ignore the situation all together.
5. Reach out
Stay connected with family and friends. Isolating yourself from others, such as staying home from school or working from home for longer periods of time, can affect your mood. Find ways to connect with people you care about in other ways. If you can’t see someone in person, you can still reach out by phone, text, or video call. If you live alone, consider a plan to check in regularly (just not face-to-face) with a friend, family member, or neighbour.
Help others if you can. Ask friends, family members, or neighbours if they need anything, such as groceries or other household needs. Simply checking in can make a big difference.
6. Have calm conversations
Maintaining a sense of calm, especially when talking to children, will go a long way toward easing their fears and uncertainty. Provide age-appropriate, factual information and give them the opportunity to ask questions and share how they are feeling. For specific tips about how to talk to your children about COVID-19 and its impact check out the following from The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (Talking to children about COVID-19 and its impact)
7. Avoid substance use -including smoking, vaping and alcohol
Sometimes people use substances, including smoking or vaping, to cope with stress, anxiety and depression. This may appear to help reduce stress initially, but in the long run it can make things worse as the brain and body develops tolerance to the numbing effects of these substances. In those at risk, this can lead to addiction or relapse to those who are in recovery.
8. Seek help
People feel anxious about the future at the best of times. Most of us have never encountered a pandemic like this before. It’s okay if you need help. If you are having trouble managing your mental health, contact your healthcare provider and encourage those you love to do the same.
Here are some signs you or someone you know might benefit from extra help and support:
- You can’t think of anything other than COVID-19
- Your anxiety interferes in your daily life -for example, you have a hard time going to work or being in public spaces even when the risk is very low.
- You isolate yourself from others when it isn’t necessary
- You feel hopeless or angry about the situation
- You have a hard time eating or sleeping well
- You experience physical symptoms like frequent headaches or an upset stomach
Consider tele-health or e-health services, online support, and online or app-based self-management tools. You can learn more and find resources at www.heretohelp.bc.ca or Managing COVID-19 Stress, Anxiety and Depression Your doctor’s office may also offer tele-health or e-health services. If you need ore information about local services or you just need someone supportive to talk to, call the BC Mental Health Support Line at 310-6789 (no area code) at any time.
The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health also has a variety of tools to help you better understand your stress levels. The surveys below, when taken together, tell you how much stress you are experiencing, if it appears to be getting excessive, and your coping capacity. These tools are for educational purposes only and are not for diagnosing mental illness but they can be helpful in informing your discussions with your healthcare provider, counsellor, or someone you trust. For people already diagnosed with a mental illness, many of your symptoms might overlap with or be worsened by your feelings about the pandemic. If possible, reach out to your healthcare provider to make sure you are not experiencing a relapse, and adjust any treatment as required.
Sources for this blog:
COVID-19 and Anxiety (Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division)
What to do if you’re anxious or worried about coronavirus (COVID-19) (Anxiety Canada)
Managing COVID-19 Stress, Anxiety, & Depression (B.C. Government)
Mental Health and the COVID-19 Pandemic (Centre for Addiction and Mental Health)