Worrying about anxiety in a global pandemic

It is funny how little we are hearing about support for mental well being at this time of extreme fear and anxiety. It is as if all our efforts have been focussed on the more basic levels of Maslow’s hierarchy of needs. Now that all the panic buying of toilet paper is hopefully now over perhaps we can also now shed some light on our mental well being?

Front line workers in nursing, health and social care face working in very difficult circumstances. We can add in postal workers and shop workers too as they are classed as essential and are bearing the brunt of working in the frontline as well. The covid-19 outbreak raises all sort of concerns about our psychological well being. The corona virus is an unknown entity and there is no vaccine or cure so we should be worried. In fact a degree of worrying is good for us. It is when it gets out of control that it can become a problem.

Human beings are social animals and now we are faced with long periods isolation. It is important in this context to think about mental wellness as well as our physical health.

Many people have been volunteering to support others in their communities. As this crisis deepens we need to think about all frontline volunteers and staff and look after their well being.

This article talks about some resources to share that can help either on a personal level to build all of our resilience and also when working in teams to support each other. Understanding what makes us experience fear and anxiety can help us to face that fear and anxiety and stop it from taking over.

Psychologists have come up with a number of simple exercises to help people handle excessive worrying. This Covid-19 outbreak ticks all the boxes to trigger worry and anxiety, so it make sense that so many people are now experiencing extreme anxiety.

  • It is ambiguous – its open to interpretation
  • It is novel and new- we don’t have any experience to fall back on
  • It is unpredictable- we are unclear how things will turn out

We can do something about it however and it starts with good information from a truthful source. Anxiety UK a leading charity in this field suggests limiting the time people we spend looking at media coverage and instead recommends other activities. Credible sources of news include the World Health Organisation. Daily briefings and myth busting information about the outbreak are available here.

It is natural for you to worry at the moment, but if you feel that it’s becoming excessive and taking over your life – for example if it’s making you anxious, or if you’re struggling to sleep – then it might be worth trying to find ways to limit the time you spend worrying, and take steps to manage your well-being.These include:

  • Maintaining balance in your life- distract yourself and remain active
  • Practise identifying whether your worry is ‘real problem’ worry, or ‘hypothetical worry’- find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else if your worry is ‘hypothetical’ and you can do nothing about it
  • Practise postponing your worry- Worry is insistent – it can make you feel as though you have to engage with it right now. But you can experiment with postponing hypothetical worry, and many people find that this allows them to have a different relationship with their worries
  • Speak to yourself with compassion-you can practise responding to your anxious or worrying thoughts with kindness and compassion
  • Practice mindfulness-Learning and practicing mindfulness can help us to let go of worries and bring ourselves back to the present moment
Looking after yourself by finding balance

There is booklet called ‘A guide to living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty’ and I firmly believe it should be on the best sellers list. It is a free download however and it is available in many languages from here

It contains many simple and practical ways to deal with anxiety including the concept of ‘postponing a worry’.

1.Decide when your worry time will be, and for how long it will be for.

  • ‘Worry time’ is time you set aside every day for the specific purpose of worrying.
  • What time of day do you think you will be in the best frame of mind to attend to your worries?
  •  When are you unlikely to be disturbed?
  •  If you are unsure, 15 to 30 minutes every day at 7:00pm is often a good starting point.

2. During the day, decide whether worries that surface are ‘real problem’ worries you can act on now, or whether they are hypothetical worries that need to be postponed.

3. Postpone thinking about it until worry time.Use your dedicated worry time for worrying. Consider writing down any of the hypothetical worries that you remember having had throughout the day. How concerning are they to you now? Are any of them the kinds of worries that can lead you to take practical actions?

In short you can conquer your fears by:

Setting a routine-Maintain a regular time for waking up and going to bed, eating at regular times, and getting ready and dressed each morning.

Staying mentally and physically active-When you plan your daily timetable, have a go at including activities that keep both your mind and body active. 

Practice gratitude- At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure. 

Notice and limit worry triggers- Try to notice what triggers your worry. For example, is it watching the news for more than 30 minutes? Checking social media every hour? Try to limit the time that you are exposed to worry triggers each day.

Rely on reputable news sources- starting with the Orkney News

The compassionate mind- an interview with Prof Paul Gilbert

“I must not fear. Fear is the mind-killer. Fear is the little-death that brings total obliteration. I will face my fear. I will permit it to pass over me and through me. And when it has gone past I will turn the inner eye to see its path. Where the fear has gone there will be nothing. Only I will remain.”

Frank Herbert,Dune.

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