October 13

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COVID-19 Anxiety: How to quickly take back control

By Zoe Clements

October 13, 2020


I must admit, even though I specialise in anxiety, mine is a little on the high side at the moment. If you are feeling this way too then let me put your mind at ease, it's totally normal to feel this way. Unfortunately coronavirus has brought more than a disease, it has spread uncertainty far and wide creating bucket loads of anxiety.

Thankfully though there are many super healthy strategies that can help us navigate our way through these coming months, so I've decided to set up a page dedicated to these on my website to help as many people as I can.

So how can you quickly help yourself in this situation?

First off let’s start off with a couple of quick wins and how you can take control today:

  1. Routine. Creating a new routine that works for you is the quickest, and easiest, way to take control and feel settled. The more knowns there are, the more settled your brain. 
  2. Feeding your brain. Being mindful of how you feed your brain can make a huge difference. If you feed your body Dominos pizza for the next 12 weeks you would become unwell very quickly. If you feed your brain news and social media constantly for the next 12 weeks your brain is going to keep pumping you full of anxiety.

How can you set up the most effective routine for you?

I know that each of us will have different challenges, maybe you have kids or 6 dogs and a budgie or maybe you have flatmates and have to work in your bedroom. Whatever your circumstances think about how you can create a routine that works for you. Here are some things to consider:

Firstly break up the day into:

  • Morning routine
  • Daytime routine 
  • Evening routine

Morning routine - What to include:

  1. Get up at the same time each day. This starts your day off on the right track and doesn’t use up your will power, so ditch the snooze button.
  2. Look after your environment. At the very least make your bed and open your curtains. This keeps your environment clean, enhances mood and provides a sense of achievement early in the day. It may seem trivial but our brain loves it when we achieve little things.
  3. Look after your body. Stretch, run, move or wash. Yep, even a good old shower is a way of looking after your body and preparing yourself for work (or home schooling) so don’t cut it out just because you are at home.
  4. Be mindful of clothes. Don’t get me wrong I love wearing a good pair of joggers on a Sunday or staying in my PJs till 11am on a Saturday, however working in these clothes makes me feel a bit slouchy and starts to affect my mood. You may not be leaving the house but put something on which positively impacts your mood.
  5. Don’t skip breakfast. Many people wake up feeling anxious because they are either dehydrated or hungry so ensure you fuel up. Also think about how much caffeine you need. Hear me out on this. I don’t want to deprive you of your morning coffee but do you really need it now you are not out and about as much? If you suffer with anxiety at the best of times then think about reducing it a bit because caffeine can mimic anxiety symptoms in the body. Plus it may also impact your sleep and sleep is one of our best friends when life gets challenging.

Morning warning - anxiety flows where focus goes

Be careful how you feed your brain in the morning. If the first thing you do is grab your phone and scroll though the news and your social media then your brain will focus on this, your anxiety will rise, your concentration levels will fall and you will go through the motions of your morning without paying attention.

Daytime routine

  1. Connection matters. The advice is clear, social distancing is a must but so is emotional connection. Us humans are social animals and we need connection. If you are working from home and connecting to others through technology please check in with each other. Now is the time to let go of the good old British polite “How are you?”, “Fine thanks” dance. Ask how people are coping with all the changes and really listen to their answer. No one is expecting you to become their counsellor or make their worries go away but a little active listening, and compassion, will go a long way especially for those souls living on their own.
  2. Movement matters. As we are now being asked to stay at home as much as possible you will inevitably be moving a lot less. If you find yourself at your office chair from 8am to 8pm or working on your bed all day you are storing up problems for further down the line and none of us need that. Our bodies are made to move and motion shifts emotion so give yourself time to move. To remind you of this set meetings to 50 mins to free up time in people’s diaries or set regular alerts in your phone. Sign up for weekly classes like online yoga or an exercise session.
  3. Buddies and boundaries. Many of us will have new work buddies or a daytime crew. In the first few days of working from home my wife interrupted me 2,364 times (tiny exaggeration). We then had the 'Buddies and Boundaries' chat! Basically we talked about our schedules, what we needed from each other and some rules around home working. With our boundaries now sorted, life may not be perfect but it's a whole lot smoother.

Daytime warning - concentration levels and productivity

Please remember you are dealing with a lot at the moment. You are naturally more anxious and you are probably out of your comfort zone learning new technologies or home schooling. You may also be juggling more, a job and kids and the budgies all whilst trying to get that illusive Sainsbury's delivery slot. So please, please, please be kind to yourselves and remember your concentration levels will have plummeted so you aren't going to be as productive as usual. The aim of the game for the next few months is to stay well and stay sane not to be a Home Schooling Champion or Productive Queen 2020.

Evening routine

  1. Create a ritual between finishing work and starting your evening. Turn off the lights in your study or put your laptop and papers away. Change clothes, pop on your favourite top or joggers. Put your phone on silent. Get the kids to pack away. This can help you emotionally and mentally transition and can help calm the mind after busy day.
  2. Enrich your evenings with these healthy activities:
  • Books. Remember all those books you promised you would read last year? Well they are still sat on your book shelf so get them down, dust them off and read a chapter a night. 
  • Podcasts. Whether you need a good belly laugh or want to learn something new the world of Podcasts is rich and readily available.
  • Exercise. Yoga, exercise classes, weight training can all be done from the luxury of your bedroom. You don’t need much space to get those arms and legs moving so no excuses.
  • Connection. Use your phone to connect. Set up a heart to heart with family and friends. Eat, drink (tea or wine) and be merry.

Evening top tip: Plan in advance

You know in normal times when you reach into the fridge at 8pm at night and have nothing to cook and you run out of will power and think 'oh sod it' and order take away? Well if you don’t plan ahead and have some activities in your schedule you will run out of will power and are more likely to fill your evening voids with news. I really get we need to feel informed at the moment but too much can lead us to feel very anxious, filling our mind, affecting our mood and ability to sleep. Planning ahead helps us keep focusing on the good stuff.

Summary

So your mission over the coming weeks is this:

  • Get yourself into a routine. Plan your morning, daytime and evening. Don't expect to nail it in week one and don't forget to fine tune it as your go
  • Be careful how you feed your brain through the day - limit news, focus on healthy activities and give your brain a rest

Next up in the series of blogs I will be covering:

  1. Unhelpful thoughts. I will introduce you to your survival brain and it's scare mongering and dodgy fortune telling ways. By learning some easy and awesome techniques I will help you develop a more rational persepective. This isn’t about pretending everything is okay. Let’s face it, it’s not. However, thinking rationally is the key to lowering our anxiety levels.
  2. Strategies for regulating anxiety. There are loads of techniques to help you reduce your anxiety. I will be sharing some simple and effective ways as well as building on the healthy strategies you already have.
  3. Understanding feelings. We are going through a massive change and this can lead us to feel overwhelmed. Being aware of the emotional stages of change can help us understand and name our feelings thus taking away some of their power. Phew.

Finally follow me on the below social media channels for more tips, techniques and guidance on beating COVID-19 anxiety.

All the best,

Zoe

Zoe Clements

About the author

Zoe Clements is an experienced BACP Accredited Counsellor and Author specialising in overthinking, anxiety, people pleasing and pesky self doubt.

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