Tips on how to deal with Anxiety during the Lockdown
Updated: May 31, 2020
What a month April was, we are well over our first month into Lockdown and adjusting to a new normal. Each day has brought so much processing of bewildering news and surge of feelings. Are you feeling exhausted? Irritated or deflated then shifting to feeling hopeful? This constant ricocheting from feeling sad to anxious to feeling O.K.ish is normal. Never before, have we had access to so much information, sharing and reading through global turbulence. Pandemic cliches include baking banana bread, becoming a Zoomer and doing a home workout. These cliches help us to connect to each other and soothe.
For the first time, "the experts don't know", no one can predict and all we can do is sit in the unknown. All our usual escape routes such as hitting gym / work, eating in restaurants, have been taken away. Sitting in uncertainty will provoke immense anxiety as many friends and family will be facing loss of income, lack of privacy or not feeling safe as home life is difficult or experiencing the recent death of loved ones. Situation of threat results in feeling sensitive to anxiety and stress and an urgent need for connection.
We have a culture of fear around not knowing.
The trauma of the pandemic is still unfolding, in March many of us believed this was a flu that only affected elderly people. Lack of information exacerbated the sitting in denial of what was about to occur. Reflecting back to March 17th, anxiety was running high in London as many offices closed down and nationwide the fight or flight response had kicked in with news reports focusing on panic buying loo rolls or noticing the fight mode with people tearing down 5G masts - an expression of fear and anger. Distressing situations increase fear and a sense of loss. First few weeks there was an insatiable need to read the news and now in May, many of you will have deleted news apps due to the click-bait headlines. Trauma is a surreal feeling with seeing people sat in cars with masks on, empty shopping shelves and hearing hourly death toll; this will have an emotional impact. Illness, death and a fear of each other has led to a sense of foreboding.
Anxiety is like a house with a fire alarm going off except there is no fire.
In these strange times, our behaviour will change some people will become practical, others emotional. Anxiety symptoms include busy thoughts, endless to-do lists, sensations in the body such as tight chest, tingly hands and can sometimes lead to panic attacks. Simple check in - is to ask yourself now from 1-10 how are you feeling? 1 being chilled and relaxed to 10 - feeling on edge including persistent feelings of worry or dread. If you are at a 6 or above this could be helpful to recognise and name what is going on and "say i need space," or "i'm feeling low or worried." Where can you feel heard and supported? Make a list of top 3 people with whom you feel safe, connected and not judged. Remember your partner/family are not mind readers, sometimes it may help to use a shared code word that denotes a feeling or understanding that one of you needs space? A hug? Or feeling rubbish.
If you are feeling a 6 or above, start to ground yourself. Noticing how you are sat right now, does the chair feel solid? soft? How is your breathing doing? Are you doing or being? Can you feel your feet on the floor? Mindfulness has become so popular because it is a practice of moving awareness to the body and learning to observe internal self-talk such as shoulding, judging, shame or blame language. The mind- ego - left brain has endless chatter and attaches quickly to a narrative. By grounding and connecting to the body in a non-judgmental way this slows down the nervous system's - fight or flight response. We live in a culture where being busy is seen as a good thing. During the Lockdown we have more time to self reflect and this can bring up unfinished business.
Processing feelings and learning to ground are the essence of recovery.
Activities that help are: standing in the shower and feeling the water, going on a virtual art tour, choosing to opt out of Zoom calls and being boundaried about how much screen time e.g. not looking at the news before bed or first thing in the morning, thoughtfully connecting to the body such as stretching hamstrings, rotating hip joints, asking a friend to take their dog for a walk will help soothe the nervous system alarm that is constantly looking out for danger. Connect to nature - maybe you can't go outside - look at images of the ocean, curate your social media that enhance feelings of peacefulness. Can you write and date down thoughts or feelings of anxiety to notice any reoccurring themes or patterns? Ask yourself where can you get cosy. Can't sleep - listen to audiobook or guided meditation? Ensure good sleep hygiene, instill a regular routine, avoiding caffeine or noticing if you are leaning on alcohol, food, porn, gambling to relax? This is important information about pain if we are becoming dependent on something. This strange pause is bringing up the emotional baggage we unconsciously carry.
Do you feel selfish for asking for support or not wanting to burden others? This feeling of selfishness is residue of the inner critic. We all have an inner critic, some of us have many, many internal inner critics. The inner critic does not have to be a bad thing. It can be a catalyst to complete work deadlines but it is not helpful at 3am in the morning enduring harsh self talk and or investing in punishing behaviours like OCD. Anxiety and the inner critic thrive together. First thing to do is notice the inner critic, ask yourself does it remind you of anyone, be curious like a cat where has it come from, what is it's purpose? Why is it so loud or relentless? It takes time to develop a more kinder way of being. By developing a more soothing internal voice this will assist allowing you to really thrive and enjoy life. This strange pause can be a valuable opportunity to do something unique and different.
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Further reading and signposting:
Bessel Van Der Kolk (Body Keeps Score) - 5 minute video Pandemic Leaves Us Feeling Helpless :
Esther Perel (Mating in Captivity) - 4 parts series an hour long each How to adjust to your entire relational world being confined to one place. Part 1
Sue Johnson (Hold Me Tight) Couples therapist an hour long talk - Love in the time of Cornovirus
Brene Brown (Power of Vulenrability) and Dr Vivek Murthy an hour long talk exploring - Loneliness
Last soothing yoga video for Feeling Cosy with Adriene - Enjoy