Lockdown anxiety: 7 ways to keep it in check
Lockdown is back and with it, hours and hours to listen to the rising panic in our heads. Don’t fancy that much? Nor us, so read on for seven ways to tackle the tension.
What are the chances that lockdown will truly end on the 2 December? How long will it go on for if not? What’s going to happen to Christmas? When is the vaccine coming? Who will get it? And what if it doesn’t work? WHAT WILL HAPPEN THEN?
If the above sounds like the inside of your mind, then rest assured, you are not alone. Pandemic anxiety is a thing and while we’re still mired in the thick of Covid-gate, it’s unlikely we’ll know the true extent of how it’s impacted the nation’s mental health for some time. But, while we’re collectively looking down the barrel of a bleak November gun, the good news is we can take little steps everyday to ease the burden on our minds and bodies. Enter Clinical Psychologist and Senior Lecturer at Royal Holloway University, Dr Jessica Kingston, who is dedicated to helping people deal with this kind of thing. Here are her handy seven steps to staying sane through Lockdown 2.0…
Step 1: Give yourself a break
It’s really understandable to feel worried at the moment. In these sorts of situations – one that none of us could anticipate or could have planned for – worry is normal and nothing to feel alarmed by. I think that sometimes people put high expectations on themselves to cope, but the uncertainty is hard to deal with and acknowledging that is really important. Recognise how you’re feeling, validate that feeling, try to put it into context and most importantly be kind to yourself: you’re anxious because you’re in a global pandemic. That’s entirely understandable.
Step 2: Pay attention to what your mind is doing
When we’re worried, we tend to look to the future in a catastrophic way. Your mind will naturally run to all sorts of subsequent worries but, actually, we can’t predict the future and we don’t know how things will pan out. It can really help to notice and acknowledge that this is what your mind is doing. Why? Because the way you think about problems is very much influenced by how you feel and vice versa. If you’re thinking in balanced or even positive ways, you’re more likely to feel calm and able to cope with life’s challenges. If you’re feeling low, problems can easily seem overwhelming.
Step 3: Use your energy wisely
So often we put a lot of effort into trying to influence things that are out of our control and that’s hard going. Instead, we need to think, ‘What is my zone of influence?’ In Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), we use a worry tree. When our minds get really busy with worry, it’s a structured way of thinking: what am I worrying about? Is it something I can do anything about? If so, what can I do? When can I do it? What are the pros and cons? And then having an action plan around it. I also cannot recommend enough thinking about your day-to-day activities; try to keep healthy, try to have some exercise, and try to keep up some familiar and predictable routines – so while everything else may feel chaotic, your mind will flourish the best it can.
Step 4: A thought is just a thought
It can be really helpful to develop skills in noticing your worrying thoughts and letting them pass – just like you let thoughts about what you might have for dinner pass. Through evolution, we’ve developed this mind that takes anxieties really seriously, because threat-based thoughts 100,000 years ago – ‘There’s a lion, it might eat me’ – were vital for survival. But in the current day, the worried mind creates lots of thoughts and preoccupations, yet there is no lion. Of course, Covid is a serious threat but if you’re following the guidelines and being sensible, you can almost say back to your mind, in a really kind way, ‘I know that you’re trying to look after me. I know you’re doing your best and you want me to stay safe. But I am being sensible, so trust me.’ Your mind wants to protect you but if we get too caught up with it, it’s counterproductive, we become stressed and it’s hard to function.
Step 5: Remember to reach out
Part of our daily routine, whether we notice it or not, is connecting with other people. During a lockdown, this can slip. People don’t talk to those they’re close with or certainly they don’t talk too much about feeling worried. The problem is, if we’re on our own with our worries, they tend to escalate. It can be really helpful to normalise the way you feel by checking in with others, talk about how you’re feeling and listen to their experiences. Often this helps us realise we aren’t alone. You may come away thinking, ‘Oh, you’re worried about that too, and you tried this and it really helped.’ And you also need to have normal, everyday conversations too because having distractions from worry is vital. You need to build in time where you just catch up with people, talk about fun things and have a laugh.
Step 6: Build your day with purpose
I recommend creating some boundaries around your worries. For example, you could select a period of time, maybe 10 minutes after breakfast, where you allow yourself to have ‘worry time’ to think about your concerns but in a structured way; be specific about your anxieties and take practical steps to approach the things that are concerning you. After that, attend to something else. It gives you and your body a chance to relax and can give a different perspective too – standing back from worries can often help you feel differently about them. Everyday, you have to build in things that are just for pleasure. It gives you balance and helps offset low mood. When you’re feeling low, you’re less likely to do things you enjoy and more likely to ruminate. But if you stay active and connect with people, it interrupts ruminative thought processes and gives you good, healthy, positive feelings that can help you reappraise and stay on track.
Step 7: Be mindful even if it’s just for seconds
Most of us have 100 things we should be doing, often concurrently, and we do a lot of them on autopilot, which contributes to stress. But if we can bring some awareness to our actions, bring attention to the present moment, often the way we experience life can shift a bit – it can be less immersive. So if you’re doing the washing up, and you’re going through your to-do list, and a small child is tugging on your leg, and you’re yelling, ‘Oh my goodness, go away!’ and everything feels overwhelming, try to bring in some non-judgemental awareness of the experience – the sensation of water on your hands, the warmth, the bubbles. The point here is that there are different ways of having experiences; one when you’re caught up in your head with worry and stress, and the other where you are still aware of worries but you’re bringing your attention to the here and now and letting those thoughts pass. Even if it’s just for snippets of the day, you’ll often find the latter experience is calmer. It’s a much healthier place to be.