7 expert-approved mental health tips to deal with coronavirus anxiety
Take a beat to take care of yourself
Pigeons living under the air conditioner, rickshaw accidents, midnight texts from your boss — the stress triggers that lurk in our consciousness are many. But the recent global health crisis has led to entire populations being gripped by coronavirus anxiety.
“Anxiety is a persistent condition, and a feeling of anticipatory worry characterised by constant apprehension, a feeling of not being in control and is largely related to the future,” explains clinical psychologist and therapist Ankita Gandhi.
The storm of uncertainty has us on edge more than usual. Coronavirus anxiety can be overwhelming and it’s easy to spiral when there’s so much out of our control.
“Anxiety is all about a lack of control over aspects of your life. Coronavirus anxiety is rooted in this disruptive environment. We’re thinking and overthinking – what will happen to me, what will happen to my friends and family, there’s nothing I can do to stop it all,” explains mental health counsellor Urvashi Bhatia.
“This distancing from society is important for containing a pandemic, but the disconnection can be detrimental for people who have poor mental health.”
Between repeatedly washing your hands, stockpiling on food items and getting flooded with information (and misinformation) on social media, it’s easy to dip into a dark mindset.
Try these expert tips and mental health tools to cope with coronavirus anxiety and keep yourself prepared to deal with what lies is ahead.
Mental health tips to cope with coronavirus anxiety
Stick to the facts
In the moments you start to panic, remind yourself of the facts.
It’s easy to get swept up, especially when different people are telling you to do different things. Buy a mask, don’t buy a mask, make your own sanitiser (don’t) or bathe yourself in alcoholic drinks.
“You can say them out loud to yourself, or write them down where you can see it,” says Bhatia.
Rationality gets muddled when we’re in stressful situations, making it a hotbed for anxiety.
“Learn about the right symptoms so you can differentiate between COVID-19 and the seasonal flu. Remind yourself that the weather is changing. When your mind jumps to 100, bring yourself back down to reality with facts.”
Pick your sources
It’s natural to want to get as much information as you can in such situations. Absorbing texts from Facebook, newspapers, Whatsapp forwards can all become too much. By now we know that the internet is rife with misinformation.
Select a few sources of information that you trust. Make sure what you’re reading is backed by experts and scientists.
If you’re going to read about the increasing death toll, also read about the people working on the vaccine and the everyday people volunteering for human testing. Try and balance the nature of what you’re ingesting.
Don’t get caught up in political banter, home remedies and especially not cow urine cures.
“Take a break from the information overload and social media when you feel like you need it. It’s good to have knowledge but constantly hearing and reading about it can be counterproductive for your mental health,” says Bhatia.
Anxiety has physical symptoms that stress out your body too. The biggest being shortness of breath. The experts suggest using deep breathing exercises to help you maintain a level of calmness.
Focusing on your breathing can be grounding in a moment when you’re overwhelmed by your surroundings and own thoughts.
Try deep breathing (abdominal or diaphragmatic breathing) — the right way to do this is to tuck your lower belly in when you inhale, hold it in for four seconds, and then gradually exhale while ensuring that your lower belly relaxes and shoulders drop.
Gandhi explains why this technique is so helpful – “When you breathe normally, you feel the action in your chest. While experiencing anxiety, you are already palpitating and there already is a lot of pressure on your chest, so adding to it aggravates the stress.”
She recommends practising deep breathing on a regular basis because “more often than not, people forget how to breathe when they are actually having an anxiety attack. So it’s better to prevent it from happening in the first place.”
Kundalini yoga teacher Arezu Kaywanfar suggests trying the 4-7-8 breathing method to help alleviate symptoms of stress and anxiety.
Stay active and maintain your routine (even while indoors)
Bhatia explains that when your brain is accustomed to a certain routine, its disruption can be a major trigger of anxiety. Whether it’s eating at a certain time or exercising and reading.
“You can tweak what you’re used to doing to suit the current situation. If you were at the gym for two hours after work, being unable to go there can trigger overthinking and cause anxiety. Try doing a workout routine at home instead, create a gym-like environment for yourself at home.”
Exercise itself can be a great stress-buster and create a rush of happy hormones that we could all use to deal with coronavirus anxiety.
While Bhatia suggests recreating your workout environment at home, you don’t need fancy equipment and doodads to get a good workout in.
Don’t have dumbbells? Fill up and use big water bottles (or your pet). It can be a 10-minute ab workout or a full-body routine, get moving and sweating.
Keep your distance but don’t isolate
Social distancing (willing and unwilling) will be the term that defines our generation. We’re getting ourselves comfortable at home under pillow forts but we can’t disconnect completely.
“Keep communicating with people in your life. Whether it’s your colleagues for work updates, your friends and family members. It’s important to maintain this connection, talk through your anxieties and be there for others as well,” says Bhatia.
Reach out to those who have a calming effect on you. Talk about nonsense, make up stories, have a virtual date with your partner if you’ve been forced into a long-distance relationship, watch a TV show together over video chat.
Maintaining lines of communication, through whatever medium you’re comfortable with isn’t just to keep you calm but also those around you who need a helping hand.
“Self-care simply means taking time out, focusing on and looking after your mental, emotional and physical health. And that’s not only when you’re ill,” says Bhatia.
We give a lot of ourselves to others, at times at our expense. If you’re looking after others and calming their coronavirus anxiety, you shouldn’t compromise on your own health and wellbeing.
Self-care doesn’t have to be an extravagant 3-hour long massage — cooking yourself a nutritious meal, getting in those 8 hours of sleep and indulging in a multi-step skincare routine could relax those frenzied nerves.
Seek professional help
Track your symptoms and keep up with healthy practices, but know when it’s time to seek professional help. It’s 2020 and therapy no longer means having to sit in a doctor’s clinic.
There are multiple avenues online with therapists offering long-distance counselling and even AI chatbots that can help you through this period.
If someone is offering you a helping hand, take it, metaphorically speaking and make the call to a professional when the time comes.