Look after your mental health in lockdown
The Coronavirus has brought a lot of change and challenges into all our lives. We’ve had to adapt to new daily and shopping routines, uncertainty about our jobs and finances, and our children’s schooling. Freedoms we took for granted have been removed and no-one seems quite sure what might happen next. The changes have been fast and often unpredictable so, apart from any fears you might be experiencing about the disease itself, these changes are an additional cause of worry and anxiety.
Why is coronavirus so worrying?
- Threat - anxiety is a coping mechanism to help us get ready to deal with threats and a reasonable amount of it can be useful. If you weren’t anxious about being mugged, for example, you might wear all your best jewels around town on a Saturday night (once the pubs re-open!). The problem with coronavirus is that we know that the effects vary from mild to very serious, and even fatal, but it’s hard to calculate the level of risk to us personally. Add to that, that we can’t see the threat coming, and we're in a situation where we don’t know what is a ‘reasonable’ amount of anxiety.
- Uncertainty - a lot of studies show that uncertainly is closely linked with anxiety and worry. Those with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, for example, have been shown to have a particularly high level of what’s called ‘Intolerance of uncertainty’, so that being able to plan ahead makes them feel less anxious. One study even showed that people prefer to definitely get an electric shock now than to perhaps get one later.  At present we have uncertainty about many elements of our lives, as well as the effects of the virus itself.
- Change - even positive changes can increase our stress levels, depending on how well we think we’ll cope with them, and many are struggling to find the positives in the current situation.
- Personal factors - some of us have more resilience to all these situations than others, and cope better generally under stress. If you tend to view the world negatively or to believe that you have little or no control over what’s going on around you, you will find it harder. If you already suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, especially if you already worry about your health, you might also find these things harder to cope with.
How to reduce coronavirus anxiety
Many of the tips on this site about managing anxiety generally on this site, and my stress blog can help. Anxiety, to some extent, is always anxiety wherever it comes from. But there are specific things you can do to help you cope with the coronavirus lockdown as well. Here are some brief tips, follow the links in them to further information.
- Spend a few minutes each day reminiscing about happy times: studies show it will improve your mood – see the study
- Another study on imagination shows that if we imagine someone else coping well in a situation, it changes how we think of what our own responses in that situation would be. So, if you know someone who copes well under pressure – or lockdown – imagine how they would cope with the situations you’re facing now. See the study
- Go out into the garden daily if you have one. Green space, however small or urban, helps you to feel more relaxed – read more
- Take your daily exercise as long as you are well enough to do so, it will improve your mood – more information.
- Maintain a routine as much as you can, even if it’s not your usual one. Try to achieve something good every day and keep yourself busy with a list of those jobs you usually don’t get around to.
- Challenge unrealistic worries, and the unhelpful ‘what if’ thoughts – how to do this.
- Change the negative descriptions you use in your head – for example, you’re not ‘stuck at home’, you are ‘safe at home’.
- Focus on what you can control – for example, following the latest advice about keeping safe, washing your hands regularly, staying at home when you can.
- Get plenty of sleep and eat the healthiest diet you can, it supports your immune system.
- Make sure you don’t spend hours on social media reading all the misinformation and scare stories. Find out what you need to know from a reliable source like the NHS and check it no more than once or twice a day.
- Talk – and think - about something other than that virus! We’re not really socially distancing, just physically distancing. Chat to friends and relatives on the phone, via Facebook or Skype; join Facebook groups that discuss things you enjoy such as your favourite books, hobbies or TV programmes; try to keep a sense of being part of a community.
- See out help from a therapist if you're really struggling. Many offer phone or online services.
Debbie Waller is a professional hypnotherapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues. She also offers EMDR which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD and publishes hypnotherapy-for-ibs.co.uk for those interested in using hypnotherapy to relieve the symptoms of irritable bowel syndrome.
Debbie owns a multi-accredited hypnotherapy school, Yorkshire Hypnotherapy Training and offers further training for qualified therapists via CPD Expert. She is the author of Their Worlds, Your Words, editor and contributor to the online magazine Hypnotherapy Training & Practitioner, and co-author of The Hypnotherapy Handbook.
For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593.
Researcher & drafter on these blogs: Rachel Waller.