As part of SANE's COVID-19 mental health series, one of our Help Centre counsellors shares their top tips for coping with anxiety.
If you’re like most people in Australia, you’ve been dealing with uncertainty and change because of COVID-19. If this has caused you anxiety, you’re not alone. It’s natural to experience challenging emotions during a pandemic. But, if you’re finding you can’t get a break from anxiety, stress and worry, it’s important you have strategies to help you get through.
1. Recognise anxiety is not good or bad
Try not to think of your anxiety as 'good' or 'bad'. Anxiety is a natural response – one way your mind and body tries to prepare you for responding to a perceived threat.
The unknown and sudden changes such as lockdowns can seem threatening. You might assume the worst when you’re unsure about the future, which will naturally feel scary. So try to respond to your anxiety without judgment and with some kindness toward yourself.
2. Name your anxious thoughts and feelings
Believe it or not, naming your anxious thoughts and feelings can lessen their intensity. Labelling a feeling helps separate you from it and reminds you it’s not a permanent state.
When you’re anxious because of COVID-19, you could in fact be feeling a range of things that then become overwhelming. Frustration, loss, disappointment or anger are a few common responses. Try naming your feelings using a list like this and see if it reduces your distress.
3. Focus on the ‘here and now’
The changing nature of responding to COVID-19 means we’re now living with high levels of uncertainty. This can feel overwhelming. Focusing on the ‘here and now’ can be a useful strategy to come back to the present.
Some ways to do this include:
- Downloading a mindfulness app like Smiling Mind or Headspace. They have a huge range of guided mindfulness activities to choose from.
- Trying to ground yourself in your senses – slowly name things you can see, hear, feel, smell or taste.
- Asking yourself, ‘what do I need right now?’ This question takes you away from the big picture and back to what you need in the moment, which could be as simple as eating, resting or talking to someone.
4. Put routines in place
COVID-19 can impact our usual routines for things like work, school, and family and social activities. However, it’s important to try to establish some sort of routine where it's possible.
Routines can give a sense of stability, even in uncertain times. Think about healthy rituals that can structure your day, like:
- walking or exercising
- eating regular meals
- having consistent times to wake up and go to bed
- planning time in your day for ‘focus’ on work or other projects, and other times for rest.
5. Plan enjoyable activities and connection
If you're in lockdown or limited in what you usually like to do, fun and connection can be difficult to come by. But enjoyment and social connection are important for reducing anxiety. Make sure you get enough of these things, even if they’re as simple as:
- watching a favourite TV show at the same time each day
- having a regular phone or video call with a friend
- making a new meal or taking a new route on your walk
- doing something kind for someone else.
6. Limit your intake of COVID-19 news and updates
If you find that reading news or updates makes you anxious, it may be helpful to limit your media intake. You can even choose to take a complete break from news updates, if they’re feeling overwhelming.
7. Trust your ability to manage tough times
Remember, you’ve been through tough times before. Take a moment to write down what got you through these times in your past. Perhaps it was the initial onset of COVID-19, or maybe it was moving house or a relationship ending. Think about your strengths and the tools you used to get through those times. Keep this list within reach for when you’re anxious.
8. Be kind to yourself
Remember that you’re doing the best that you can in challenging times. Try not to judge yourself or compare yourself to how others are coping. Take time to acknowledge what you have achieved – that may be just managing to get through each day.
And lastly, a bonus tip: If you feel overwhelmed, reach out to someone you trust or a service that can support you. SANE counselling support is open from Monday to Friday, 10am–10pm AEST/AEDT. Our team of counsellors are available by phone, web chat and email, so you can comfortably communicate in the way that feels best for you.