Anxiety and coronavirus: how to cope

Are you struggling with anxiety in response to the coronavirus at the moment? It’s completely natural to feel this way – with so much negative news, in can be difficult to think about anything else.

Live updates from websites, 24-hour streaming from news channels, endless posts on social media, along with empty shelves and panicked loved ones, as well as financial fears for those who are unable to work at the moment, can really take their toll.

Research has revealed that long-term stress can impact our immune system so it’s clear that keeping calm is key to keeping well. With this in mind, we’ve teamed up with Mike Ward, a psychotherapist and senior consultant at the London Anxiety Clinic, to explain the simple strategies you can employ to soothe anxiety surrounding coronavirus during this time.

It’s okay to feel anxious

When you’re feeling anxious, it’s often unhelpful to hear someone telling you to calm down. But, as Mike explains, it’s important to know that the way you’re feeling is completely natural.

“Most anxiety comes from having a strong element of uncertainty,” he explains. “Once you have a level of uncertainty, you can feel a lack of control. This makes us anxious.

“We’re creatures of habit. At the moment nearly every fabric of our society is being challenged – from our health and work to family, socialising and availability of food. Our habits are being changed overnight and it takes time to adjust to that.”

Thankfully, there are plenty of strategies that we can employ to bring back a level of control into our lives. The first thing to think about is your level of media consumption. The reporting of coronavirus is on a scale that we’ve never seen before and the constant minute-by-minute updates from news organisations can make us very anxious.

“Limit your exposure to these websites – perhaps to just once a day,” suggests Mike. “Go to the government website to ensure you’re armed with the facts and limit it to that. It’s very easy to get caught up in the endless TV and conversation on social media, but this can make us very anxious.”

You’re not alone

With an increasing shift to working from home and self-isolation, it’s very easy to feel lonely and isolated at the moment. Thankfully, we have the technology to help us through.

“While we are physically isolated, we’re actually very much all in this together,” says Mike. “Social contact is important, even though it’s not face to face. Talking over the phone, Facetiming and Skype are really good ways to stay in touch with your friends and family.”

Enjoying a coffee at home while Skyping a friend can be one way to negotiate absent coffee mornings, while discussing a film with a glass of wine over Facetime can be a good replacement for a girls’ night in. The key is to stay in touch.

“When you are chatting, make sure you talk about day-to-day normal things,” says Mike. “Make an effort to engage with this. Whether it’s what you had for dinner, or a TV programme you’ve seen, it’s important to think about things other than the news.”

Focus on what you can do

Along with staying in touch with friends, it’s important to think about what you can do more widely in your community. As Mike explains, a sense of community can really help to ease feelings of anxiety.

“A sense of camaraderie and community spirit is really important,” he says. “Whether it’s helping a neighbour or a parent get their shopping, or supporting a local business. Look at what can be done to help.”

An increasing number of community-support groups are being set up in light of the coronavirus. These efforts can help support elderly and vulnerable people in your community through a weekly shop or collecting prescriptions. Covid-19 Mutual Aid UK is leading the movement and its website can help you to find local projects in your area.

It’s not just about the daily essentials either. Many hobbies will now be put on hold, which can have negative impacts on our social and mental health.

“Many people are finding that they can no longer go to the gym, or their yoga class or singing group,” says Mike. “Think about if there’s a way you can all still get together online. It’ll really help you to feel good and keep you in touch with others.”

Look after yourself

It’s very important we look after ourselves when we’re feeling anxious. It’s easy to skip meals or comfort eat, but keeping a good daily routine will give us back a sense of control and do wonders for our health.

Enjoy regular exercise and make sure you’re getting good nutrition,” says Mike. “It’ll help you to stay well and bolster your immune system.”

Good gut health and its beneficial bacteria are increasingly being linked to our mental health. With this in mind, enjoying a well-balanced diet that includes pre- and probiotics (like kefir, kimchi and sourdough) can help to boost our gut health. We have a number of resources online, while Liz’s Good Gut Guide is packed with gut-friendly recipes and inspiration to boost your health.

“Don’t forget to look after your nervous system either,” says Mike. “When we’re anxious, our nervous system is on high alert and can be detrimental to our immune system. Read books, watch films – just do anything that can help you to relax.”

Keep active with Stronger, Slimmer You

Liz has plenty of easy exercise and wellbeing ideas in her e-book, A Stronger, Slimmer You. Download your copy today for your complete guide to exercising and eating your way to good wellbeing.

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