How to cope with anxiety and take care of your mental health during the coronavirus pandemic
It’s natural to be worried about our mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic, but what can we do to look after ourselves and manage our anxiety? We spoke to a doctor and an anxiety expert to get their advice
At such a stressful time, it can be easy for our anxiety to become overwhelming, particularly when we're worried about our health and those around us.
Dr Adwoa Danso, general practitioner (@theclinicidiaries), says that it's perfectly normal to be anxious about our health: "We live in a health conscious environment, there is so much information available and as a health professional we always encourage our patients to take ownership of their own health. The COV-19 situation is changing very quickly and there’s a lot of information. With that said, constant and excess worry is certainly not healthy."
Chloe Brotheridge who is an author, podcaster, hypnotherapist and anxiety expert agrees: "It's normal to feel anxious from time to time but health anxiety is where you constantly feeling anxious or worried about your health, continue to check for signs of illness and worry that your doctor or expert has missed something."
How can you distinguish between healthy concern and anxiety?
"Anxiety affects your day to day life, meaning you might find it hard to sleep, switch off, sit still - or you find yourself more irritable with others," Chloe explains.
For many people, tracking their health can become an obsession. Dr Danso warns that when health worries can take over your everyday life and you can start to feel physically unwell as a result: "Health anxiety can have some physical symptoms such as headache, sweaty hands and a racing heart. If you have any symptoms it’s important to seek medical advice as soon as you can."
What can you do if you're feeling overwhelmed?
Dr Danso recommends stepping back from social media so you don't feel overloaded with information. "Take breaks from social media and remove alerts," she says. She also advises speaking to friends and family about how you're feeling and seeking medical advice if it's getting too much. If things are getting on top of you, you might notice that your sleep patterns are disturbed and that you're having difficulty concentrating. You should also avoid overindulging in alcohol and reduce your tobacco consumption.
"The situation is changing day by day. Focus on the here and now – which is where mindfulness comes in. It is important to focus on things you can control. Follow medical advice and seek clarification from your GP or NHS 111," she adds.
If you're taking antidepressants or anxiety medication, she recommends that you continue to take them.
"Google is not your friend, try to avoid googling symptoms. Distract yourself by calling a friend or having a walk, practise noticing all the ways your body is healthy," says Chloe.
How can we stop the news from affecting our mental health while keeping up-to-date with the latest advice?
"Limit your news consumption to once or twice a day for a few minutes. If you have an iPhone use the 'screen time' function to limit the news or social media. If you're really struggling it's ok to take a break from it – someone will always tell you if there's something you really need to know," Chloe says. "Work on calming your nervous system with deep breathing and meditation. Stay present and recognise that right now, you are safe and well."
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Dr Danso agrees that you should limit how often you check the news and that choosing the right source is important: "Use reputable sources for info such as the World Health Organisation and Public Health England."
How can you look after your mental health while in self-isolation, quarantine or working from home?
"Get dressed and out of pyjamas," says Dr Danso. "Work at designated area of your home, preferably not in bed and take breaks regularly. If you feel cooped up and have free time, focus on hobbies you can do more of: cooking, reading, yoga!"
Chloe recommends sticking to your normal routine: "Keep to a good routine, get up at the same time each day, have some kind of exercise and call a friend to stay connected. Find a positive word for self-isolation - like 'cosy time' or going on 'retreat!'."
What can you do if we're worried about the mental health of those in your circle during the Covid-19 outbreak?
Keeping in contact at the moment is very important, according to Dr Danso: "Remain in contact and have a plan of communication, FaceTime and Skype. Encourage them to stick to a schedule, use alarms to maintain routine and seek help from a medical professional."
"Check on people and find ways to connect on FaceTime or over the phone. I've been having chats with friends on Zoom to keep connected and talking about things!" Chloe adds.
What can we do to manage our anxiety when we don't have access to our normal support networks?
"Apps can be amazing resources – I recently launched the Calmer You app which has loads of tools and meditations to help with anxiety. You could look at online Face book groups, live yoga classes and workshops to connect with new people and feel a sense of community, even if you're on your own physically," says Chloe.
"Technology is so useful, there are live streamed fitness classes and even church services. There are also great apps such as Calm and Headspace which can be helpful," Dr Danso says. "There are also local community Whatsapp and Facebook groups you can join, check out #viralkindness!"
Is a lack of routine likely to affect our mental health?
"Yes it can, which is why even if you’re self-isolating you must try and structure your days with tasks," says Dr Danso.
Chloe advises writing down a plan for each day and making sure that you stick to it.
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