Written by Naomi from Lifecare Counselling
Have you been worrying a lot more since the lockdown began? Is this normal?
We caught up with Naomi Marston, an experienced counsellor with her own private practice, Lifecare Counselling in Kent, who tells us the best ways to cope with anxiety in lockdown
During these unprecedented times, looking after your mental health is arguably more important now than ever before.
Anxiety in particular is common and is one aspect of mental health I have been discussing more and more frequently with my clients since the lockdown began.
So, before we learn how to cope with anxiety, we first need to establish what it is.
Anxiety is often caused when we worry about something. Worries can be helpful and unhelpful, and psychologists like to separate these worries into two different categories – real problems and hypothetical worries.
Real problems are worries that need solutions right now. It might include worrying about the COVID-19 situation and we know that there are real solutions including self-isolating, social distancing and washing our hands.
Hypothetical worries often include thinking of the worst-case scenarios (we call this catastrophising) such as imagining that you or lots of people around you will die from the virus.
People who often catastrophise may find counselling particularly helpful in learning to control or overcome this problem.
Symptoms of anxiety can include the following:
- Restlessness and an inability to relax.
- Muscle tension or aches and pains.
- Difficulty concentrating.
- Difficulty sleeping.
- Feeling tired more easily.
Our brains and bodies are connected so our brains contribute to our physical feelings and our physical health contributes to our mental health.
Therefore, it is important when learning to cope with anxiety in lockdown that we look after ourselves physically as well as mentally.
The following self-help tools can help you if you are experiencing any symptoms of anxiety…
Control What You Can
Our brains are wired to want certainty and feel happy, but life does feel a little out of control right now. So, it’s important to focus your mind and efforts on what you can control in your environment. Sometimes, the only thing you can control is you — your mind and behaviour. Just doing this can really help.
Limit Your Media
While it is good to stay informed, the non-stop news coverage and social media chatter about COVID-19 feeds anxiety as much as it informs and eases fear. Ensure the information you are reading is from a reliable source, this may mean taking a break from some news outlets and social media platforms.
Balance is key, there’s a fine line between staying informed and feeling overwhelmed by the news and conflicting information.
Have a Routine
We know how important it is to have a routine for children, but what about for parents? Establishing and following a new routine/timetable at home can be reassuring. For example, if you are working from home or home-schooling, make sure you set a daily schedule for yourself (as well as the children) that allows for meals and breaks. Go to bed and get up at the same time as you normally would. Continue to allocate your evening hours for your normal routine especially if this includes exercising, relaxing etc. This gives your brain a sense of familiarity, which it will like!
When you find your mind getting anxious about all the uncertainties, bring your attention back into the present, a practice known as mindfulness. In this moment, realise that you are alright right now. It’s your thoughts creating a sense of danger. Bringing your awareness into the here and now calms your brain and lowers your adrenaline levels. Many studies show that with repetition, practicing mindfulness or meditation can lead to a long-term, lasting reduction of anxiety, low mood and worrying. I find the mindfulness practice called ‘grounding’ helpful and easy-to-do anywhere.
Exercise is one of the best things you can do for your mental and physical health. It will decrease anxiety and stress and strengthen your immune system.
While you may want to avoid the gym or group exercise classes, for now, it’s a perfect time to go for a run, cycle or walk. Exercising outdoors and in nature like through the woods or green open spaces has been proven to help our brain realise our feel-good hormone.
Now that restrictions have been lifted regarding how long we can spend outdoors, it’s important to really take advantage of this. All my clients who see me know that I always prescribe sunshine whenever possible. The sun’s UV rays help your body make Vitamin D, which is important for your mood, bones, blood cells, and immune system and as a result boost both your mental and physical health. Natural sunlight helps your body set its circadian rhythms, which aids quality of sleep.
Sunlight boosts the production of serotonin in your brain, which influences your mood and more of it can give you more energy and help keep you calm, positive, and focused.
Reading a good book might seem like Heaven to a lot of parents right now as it is often impossible to do during the day. However, finding time to read even just a few pages every evening before bed can really stimulate your brain to improve connectivity, memory and help you sleep better. Science also shows that reading is a great stress reliever.
Meditation and mindfulness are ways of thinking and calming our brains, look at it as a relaxing massage for our brains! It does take practice to get the ‘hang of it’ but your physical, mental and emotional wellbeing will truly thank you once you have mastered the art. Meditation has proven to not only improve your mental health but also improve your immune system.
Instead of focusing only on what is wrong and scary, try and write down or tell yourself what you are grateful for at the moment. Your brain doesn’t always automatically notice it. It can focus in on the bad. The benefits of gratitude are physical and mental. It changes the neurochemicals in your brain increasing happiness while decreasing cortisol and stress.
Every single aspect of your physical and mental health is affected by sleep — for better or worse. If you don’t get enough shut eye, it can escalate anxiety and depression. Physically, research shows that people who don’t get quality sleep or enough sleep are more likely to get sick and not sleeping enough can prolong recovery too.
Finally, while this is definitely a time of stress for many, it can also be a time of pulling together and showing kindness. It is what we make of it. Remember, we are all in this together, and the pandemic affects all of us. Having said that, look out for and help your neighbours, family, friends, and co-workers as often as you can and as is safe to do so. Helping others benefits your mental wellbeing. Again, it will give your brain a sense of control and cause it to release peaceful, happy neurochemicals. In addition, checking in on loved ones to see how they’re feeling could really help their mental wellbeing too.
If you or you know someone who needs help managing anxiety, please do not struggle on alone.
I can offer a free 15 minute, no obligation telephone call to answer any questions you may have about anxiety as well as all other aspects of mental health and to see if I could help you.