COVID-19 has left a devastating effect on all our lives, some more than others. As a result, we are experiencing unemployment, financial strain, isolation, and loneliness, thus escalating anxiety and depression for some people, and leaving destructive consequences on mental health collectively.
It is understandable that during these times many people will be experiencing some form of fear, worry, anxiety and depression and of course, feeling overwhelmed with all the changes and restrictions that are now in place. Living with these new restrictions can be quite challenging for a lot of people. While steps are being taken to mitigate the spread of COVID-19, the effects of the disease are having a devastating and long-lasting effect on the mental health and well-being of many people.
Mental health issues can intensify when we are confronted with something as significant as COVID-19, it is a global pandemic impacting our lives, our families and our thoughts and feelings. Life can be difficult enough for those who live with anxiety and depression on a daily basis, but with COVID-19 at the forefront, it appears that there is already a substantial increase in not only anxiety and depression, but substance use, domestic violence, child abuse and loneliness, especially among the sick, the elderly, and the unemployed.
People who live with anxiety need to feel in control of their lives, otherwise they feel overwhelming levels of fear and stress, so living through this pandemic is becoming extremely challenging for them. As a professional counsellor, I am currently spending much of my time working with clients who are struggling with the fear and anxiety connected to this crisis. When discussing ways to manage the anxiety through this pandemic, I encourage my clients to take the focus off what has been taken away from them and focus on new ways to gain back self-control. This can be done by setting up new, manageable routines that will give the individual back a sense of control over what they can and cannot do.
We all know that we must follow the guidelines of:
- Washing hands thoroughly with warm soapy water
- Using sanitizer regularly
- Only leaving the home for essential purposes
- Keep a safe 1.5 metres distance from people around you
Accepting that things will be different for a while may create a series of emotions in some people including anger, confusion, fear, and sadness.
Rather than focusing on these negative emotions here are some practical ways that you can keep feelings of worry and anxiety within your control:
- Stay focused on the here and now, one step at a time, one day at a time and remember that this will not go on forever.
- Develop and implement new routines, this will re-instate some of the control that you have lost and will help to decrease the fear and anxiety.
- Set some new goals from home and try to work through them, this will give you a sense of achievement, power, and purpose.
- Talk about your worries and concerns, do not keep things to yourself. Times are difficult for everyone and sharing how you are feeling can sometimes lighten the load.
- Try to keep COVID-19 media to a limit, and update from reliable sources. Twenty-four-hour news updates can increase worry, fear, and anxiety. It is not necessary to be watching or listening to the media all day every day, this just exacerbates anxiety around the pandemic.
- Stay connected with family, friends, and work colleagues if you are working from home, either via phone calls, video calls, virtual social events, or community Facebook. These suggestions are important for our self-care and wellbeing and gives us the opportunity to share our thoughts and feelings with others as well as reduce the isolation and loneliness that a lot of us would be feeling. Social distancing does not mean social disconnection.
- Keep an eye on your neighbours, especially the elderly and the sick, they too could be feeling frightened and anxious, isolated, and lonely and may need a hand with something. Generosity, compassion, and kindness go a long way.
- Take care of yourself physically and mentally by exercising or staying active, we can all still go for a walk or ride a bike if we practice the safe distancing rules.
- This is a time that our pets are enjoying having us around, so take time out and play with them, hug them, and walk them if you can. Not only will this make them happy, but hopefully you too.
- Try to eat healthy, well-balanced meals that give you plenty of energy and assist in keeping you well. Use this time to make healthy meals at home, there are so many of us that have turned our hand to cooking low budget meals these days.
- Try to get good quality sleep by keeping your routine as normal as possible, getting up and going to bed around the same time each day and avoid screens before bed, instead create a restful environment that may include some mindfulness, easy reading or relaxation music.
- Take time out for yourself, listen to music or watch a funny movie, there are also free apps that you can download that offer relaxation, mindfulness meditation and calming music, to help you to deal with feelings of anxiety.
- Avoid unhelpful stimulants to relieve stress, depression, and anxiety, such as alcohol and drugs. These are unhelpful ways of coping and make anxiety and depression worse.