These are scary times. In just a few weeks, the COVID-19 outbreak has managed to turn our work and social lives upside down. This unprecedented situation is also having an impact on many people’s mental health.
According to a national poll released by the American Psychiatric Association at the end of March, 48% of Americans are anxious about the possibility of getting coronavirus and 62% are anxious about loved ones getting infected. A similar survey in the United Kingdom found out that 46.9% of the adults have high levels of anxiety connected to the coronavirus.
Many people find it hard to concentrate on anything during these troubling times. It’s hard to deal with such levels of uncertainty and you become overwhelmed and end up checking the news ever few minutes and worrying about the future.
We've put together the best tips for coping with anxiety given by organizations such as the World Health Organization, the NHS, the CDC, HelpGuide, AnxietyUK and the Mental Health Foundation and we hope they’ll be of help to you and enable you to stay on the ball.
Accept your feelings
The situation we're in at the moment might make you feel anxious, stressed, worried, sad, lonely, angry or frustrated. All these feelings are normal and you're not the only one feeling this way. Acknowledge these feelings and be kind to yourself. It is OK to feel vulnerable and overwhelmed and you shouldn't be ashamed of it.
Talk to somebody about how you feel
It helps if you talk about your fears or frustration with a friend or family member who is sympathetic and understands you. Be careful though not to choose a pessimistic or negativistic person to confide to, who might make you feel even more anxious afterwards. There are also helplines where you can call and talk about your coronavirus-related anxiety.
Don't allow the news to overwhelm you
It's important to stay informed, but that doesn't mean you should check the news obsessively. If you see that news about the pandemic is causing you stress, you should limit your exposure to it. Try to read the news only twice a day, once in the morning before starting to work and once in the late afternoon (not right before going to bed!) and set a time limit too, for example 30 minutes. You can do the same with social media, if necessary.
Choose only trustworthy sources of news, like the WHO, respectable newspapers and TV channels. If you still feel distressed when watching or reading the news even after lowering your exposure to it, ask a friend or family member you trust to make a daily news summary for you, suggests HelpGuide.
Don't burn yourself out
Some people might use work to escape from the world outside, with all its worries, but this can be a trap, because ignored feelings don't just disappear and doing a lot of overtime and working without taking breaks can lead to burnout. Make sure you take breaks from work and have enough downtown in the evenings, when you can read a relaxing book or pursue your hobbies. Maybe you can even take advantage of working from home and go for a walk in the sun during lunch break, it will do you good and increase your productivity.
You can find more tips on working from home efficiently in our article from last week.
Take care of your body
In such trying times, it's easy to forget to take care of yourself. However, this is one of the things which you still have control over and taking care of your body and mind will make you more resilient.
To stay healthy, you should exercise daily and go out during daylight. You can go jogging, cycling or, if that's not your thing and you need some inspiration, there are lots of websites with pilates and yoga videos as well as many other types of sports.
Having a healthy and balanced diet also helps and there is no shortage of healthy recipes online, if you need a nudge. Try to limit alcohol and cigarette consume, as well as binge eating caused by frustration. Ask yourself before eating if you are really hungry or you're just eating because you're stressed or bored. If the latter is the case, reach for an apple instead or go for a short walk to take your mind off food.
Take care of your mind
The World Health Organization's advice on how to protect your mental health is to pay attention to your needs and feelings and engage in healthy activities that you enjoy and find relaxing.
Make time for yourself and do things you like, such as reading a good book, taking a long bath, watching a relaxing film or baking a cake. If you have the possibility, get out in nature.
Try to have a routine and keep busy, it won't give you enough time to worry.
Anxiety UK recommends using relaxation techniques such as breathing exercises, meditation and focusing on the present. For two easy relaxation techniques, scroll to the end of this article.
Meditation is quite efficient in decreasing anxiety. There are many meditation apps out there, just look around and choose one that resonates with you. For example, one popular meditation app, Headspace, is offering their "Weathering the storm" collection of guided meditation, sleep and movement exercises, designed especially for this crisis, for free.
Stay in touch with your loved ones
Even if we can't visit our families and friends, we can still stay connected through audio and video calls, social media and e-mail. Being able to see your loved ones or talk to them will make you feel less lonely and isolated.
Get enough sleep
Both NHS and CDC recommend making sure you get enough sleep, because good-quality sleep makes a big difference to how you feel mentally and physically. If you have problems falling asleep, try cutting back on caffeine, avoiding distressing news before going to bed and creating a relaxing environment in your bedroom. It's also important that you don't work from bed.
Focus on the present
In order to cope with the lack of control over the situation and with the high level of uncertainty, NHS recommends to take each day at a time and focus on the present, instead of worrying about the future. Also, try to stay in the moment whatever you do, whether you are watering the plants, writing a work email or hanging the laundry to dry. Concentrate on the task at hand and you will have less room for anxiety.
Pick one thing
If your head is so full, that you simply can't concentrate at work, just pick one single task and focus only on finish that one. After you're done, use the momentum you've just gained and pick the next one.
At the beginning of the work day, try to identify the most important things you need to do on that day and write them down - it will give you perspective.
Stay connected with your work colleagues
Keep the team spirit alive by staying in touch with your colleagues. You can do this by setting up casual video calls, where you don't only talk about work, but also leave room for water cooler conversations. The Mental Health Foundation stresses the importance of video calls as opposed to audio ones, because being able to see people's faces enables you to feel more connected.
An additional way to stay in touch in an informal way is to have a casual "water cooler" channel in your work messenger app, where you can share more personal stuff, funny memes or uplifting posts.
The 54321 relaxation technique
If you catch yourself worrying incessantly or starting to panic, it will help if you ground yourself in the present moment with the help of a simple grounding exercise. Below, we're presenting two well-known such techniques.
The popular 54321 grounding technique helps to bring you back into the present if you feel overwhelmed, anxious, or disconnected from your environment. It is a sensory awareness exercise designed to relax you.
What you need to do:
- Acknowledge 5 things you see right now
- Acknowledge 4 things you can feel (for example your feet on the floor, a pillow)
- Acknowledge 3 things you hear right now (internal sounds like your breathing count too)
- Acknowledge 2 things you can smell right now (a bar of soap, a metal or wooden item)
- Acknowledge 1 thing you can taste (what does your mouth taste of?)
You should feel calmer by the end of the exercise. You can repeat it if necessary.
The APPLE relaxation technique
AnxietyUK recommends the "APPLE" technique against anxiety:
Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
Pause: Don't react as you usually do. Don't react at all, just pause and breathe.
Pull back: Tell yourself this is just your worry talking, and this need for certainty is not helpful and unnecessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. You don't have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble.
Explore: Explore the present moment, where all is well. Notice your breathing and how it feels in your body. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you can see, hear, touch and smell right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else - on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you started worrying, or start another activity and give it your full attention.
Last, but not least: remember, this situation is temporary.
We at invoicely hope that these tips we gathered from reliable official sources will help you during the hard times we are going through. Stay safe and see you on the other side!