9th April 2020
Managing Anxiety: Facts, information and strategies By Dr Mary Boylan
The COVID 19 PANDEMIC means we are currently experiencing a once in a century event that is by its very nature anxiety provoking. We are worried about loved ones, safety, health, finances, jobs etc.
The facts of anxiety:
• Anxiety is a normal experience that we will all have, at least once, at some stage in our lives.
• Anxiety is an adaptive system in our body that helps us to deal with danger which may be real or imagined.
• Anxiety is not physically dangerous. No one dies from anxiety.
• Anxiety is temporary and does not last for ever.
• Our anxiety, while we think is evident to everyone else is usually hidden inside of us (which is why it is important to let someone know how you feel rather than presume they know already).
• Typical symptoms of anxiety vary depending on an individual and may include: rapid breathing; rapid heartbeat; pain in chest; sweating; nausea or stomach issues; feeling light headed; blurred vision; tingling sensation in extremities that is hands and feet.
It is not the events or situations that occur in our lives that cause us difficulty, but rather it is the feelings we ascribe to and/or associate with them. We have certainly learned from the corona virus that we cannot control what happens to us but we can control how we react to this event and the current unique situations/restrictions as a result. The more control we feel we have in our lives the less likely we are to experience anxiety, low mood, or feelings of not being able to cope.
Powell (2010) suggests for positive mental health we need:
1. A sense of CONTROL, DIRECTION, or PURPOSE in our lives (you can still have this at the moment even by setting one or two small goals everyday)
2. A sense of COMMITMENT to work, hobbies, social life and family (making sure all aspects of your life get the same emphasis at the moment)
3. A sense of CHALLENGE that is to see changes in life as normal and positive (make one small change in your routine every day, it does not matter how small)
We can as suggested above still have these aspects in our lives on a daily basis despite the current situation.
You can decide now during this very difficult time how you will react in ways that will make a difference to your life instead of allowing other people/situations/the media, dictate what you think/do.
George Bernard Shaw said ‘People are always blaming their circumstances for what they are; I don’t believe in circumstances. The people who get on in this world are the people who get up and look for circumstances they want and if they can’t find them, make them!’
Henry Ford said ‘If you think you can, if you think you can’t, you are usually right’. So we need to get in touch with our thoughts rather than our feelings. When we get anxious we tend to have negative automatic thoughts going around in our head.
Strategies for increasing awareness of our thinking patterns and subsequent feelings:
• Try not to allow yourself to be swept away by crowd enhancing anxiety, for example the pandemic we are currently in. We are always telling teenagers not to be sheep but we don’t apply the same principle to ourselves.
• Limit the amount of time you spend you watching the news, reading newspapers and social media. It is easy to feel overwhelmed and more anxious with a lot of numbers etc. Make sure your information is coming from reliable sources.
• Negativity is contagious; our moods match within seven minutes of meeting/listening to a negative person. The same is true for positivity!
• Spend more time with optimistic and positive people.
• Record your negative thoughts throughout a day and see where they might come from. They are only thoughts, very temporary things that pass quickly unless we pay them too much attention.
• Don’t filter out the positive. Even at the moment there are daily examples of what is good in our society and world.
• Say positive things about yourself regularly and do not put yourself down. What we say about ourselves we begin to believe.
• Find the good in events, people or things around you. Practice finding at least one GOOD thing you like about every person you meet, place you visit, situation, you find yourself in.
• List things you are thankful for on a daily basis. Research has demonstrated that a written gratitude journal kept for three weeks enhances our mood.
• Recognise challenges as opportunities rather than set backs.
• Try new things. They will distract us and hopefully give us an opportunity to see things differently.
• Read more about other people, especially people who had courage and or overcame adversity.
• Do something for someone else we get more from giving than receiving
• We are all unique do not compare to others it just makes us envious or arrogant and we are better off without either.
• Set a couple of meaningful and attainable goals daily, with each one reached, your confidence will increase. ‘The tragedy in life is not in failing to realise one’s goals but in failing to have goals to realise’ Benjamin Mays
• Mindfulness, ‘past and future thinking hinders us, so mindfulness teaches us to be right where we are, in the present. ‘ ‘The greatest wisdom is to make the enjoyment of the present the supreme object of life because that is the only reality; all else being the play of thought’ (Yalom)
There are numerous mindfulness meditation apps (Headspace, Buddiffy, CALM) and websites. Find one that works for you! But also remember mindfulness meditation is not for everyone. We can also be mindful when gardening, cooking, baking etc. It can just be about focusing on one thing at a time, for a short period of time.
• Don’t forget to have fun and laugh. Remember the old adage ‘laughter is the best medicine’.
• Stay physically fit
• Eat healthily
• Monitor alcohol intake
• Keep to a regular sleep routine
Small and Quick Worry/Stress/Anxiety Reducing Techniques:
• Breathe in for a count of 4 and then breathe out to a count of 4 ( 3 times in a row)
• Sighing –sigh deeply which will push the air out of your lungs. As you breath back in, do so slowly
• Count backwards slowly from 100 (you do not need to go to 1)
• Visualise a place that you find calming or associate with a good memory
• Think of time you were challenged before now and how you got through that time
• Corsswords, Sudoko, Wordsearches
• Take a bath
• Postpone your worry. If you have a worry during the day say to yourself, ‘I am not going to worry about now’. Have a 5 to 15 minute worry time set aside every day and just write down the worries then. This simulates a sense of control.
• Learn off a short recipe
• Positive self- talk: ‘I can do this’, ‘this will pass’
• Do something creative, take a photo, draw something etc
The Psychological Society of Ireland issued ‘Psychological Health and Well Being Tips for COVID-19’:
1. Eat and Sleep –establish and keep to a routine.
2. Listen to your body and use your breathing. A few slow deep breaths are very calming.
3. Get Active –maintain activity even if indoors.
4. Find support on line or on the telephone (references below).
5. Talk to someone you trust if you feel anxious. Thoughts are likely to get distorted in our head so if we talk them out loud we can get clarity.
Useful site, numbers, emails or APP:
The HSE website at www.hse.ie has a lot of very useful information under the COVID 19 Section titled ‘Minding your mental health during the coronavirus outbreak’. It is divided into four sections:
1. How your mental health may be affected
2. How to mind your mental health during this time
3. Online and phone supports
4. If you are using mental health services for an existing mental health condition
Alone 0818 222 024, 8 – 8 every day www.alone.ie
Seniorline 1800 804 591, 10 – 10 everyday www.thirdageireland.ie
Samaritans, Freephone 116 123 or email email@example.com
Pieta House, Freephone 1800 247 247 www.pieta.ie
AWARE 1800 804 848 email firstname.lastname@example.org
Cork County Council Covid Support 1800 805 819, email email@example.com
HSE recommended APP for anxiety, Mindshift (by Anxiety Canada)