Covid-19 caused anger, fear and unrest for many of up, which may not have ended with life returning to ‘normal’. Here’s how to manage the anxiety.
GET BACK ON TRACK
Routines help us create an easy, calmer, and more comfortable reality. Human beings thrive on order, certainty, habits, and routines.
During the lockdown, many of us were intuitively aware of this and created a new order for our lives. And as we adapt to the ‘new normal’, we should try to keep up our new routines.
If you enjoyed cooking, meditation, or mindfulness during the lockdown, try to make time in your schedule to continue these activities. For example: take five minutes to sit in a chair and just ‘be’. Focus on your breathing, and check in on how you feel emotionally and physically.
It’s OK to feel stressed or anxious, but consider how you can positively change your mood.
Life is a marathon, but many of us live like it’s a full-time sprint, under constant stress. To deal with stress, our body pumps itself full of adrenaline, cortisol, and noradrenaline. After the pressure situation has passed, we get back into balance, but living in permanent sprint mode prevents this. We need to learn to take things easy sometimes.
The commute, for example, can be the most stressful part of anyone’s day. If you haven’t already, talk to your boss and see if you can continue to work from home, at least couple of days a week. This may help you slow down and be less stressed. You’ll be more focused and productive, and your stress levels will decrease.
Is your life back to normal? It’s more likely that the Covid-19 lockdown means you don’t know what ‘normal’ is anymore, and the transition out of social isolation may be presenting just as many mental health challenges as the restrictions – if not more.
‘This return to “normal life” is happening against a backdrop of months of isolation and social distancing, which are known to harm mental health’, says psychotherapist John-Paul Davis.
During the lockdown, most of us experienced real anxiety around how the virus might affect us physically, and around job and financial losses, and we might even have experienced the trauma of being directly affected by the illness. When we’re anxious or angry for too long, our nervous system has a tendency to switch off to cope, which can lead to depression and possibly even suicidal feelings.
‘Our toolbox for maintaining mental health has also been partly shut: physical contact became potentially dangerous, gyms and meditation groups were closed, and even socializing became a health risk’, he adds.
Many people have lost jobs, temporarily or permanently, but there is naturally an anxiety around returning to work, looking fora new job and even seeing friends and family again, particularly in confined spaces.
‘The messages to stay at home were very loud’, says Andy Lane, professor of sports psychology at the University of Wolverhampton. ‘We were fed images of people on ventilators and numbers that raised our awareness of the potential for death. This is in direct conflict with going back to work, where there is a risk. The previous risk was small but people will be nervous as long as there is a risk of catching the virus. And intense negative emotions, including anger, will arise if there’s a second wave and the death rate spirals’.
Anger is already a factor for many. ‘It’s helpful to think of anger as a secondary feeling, wading in on top of anxiety, or some sense of unfairness, so you can see why it has taken hold,’ says Davies. ‘We’ve evolved to band together in social groups and too much anger can isolate us. Anger sparks surges in cortisol and adrenaline as our body gets ready to fight, putting a strain on our heart and immune system. We’re only really meant to be angry to quickly deal with imminent threats to survival, not all those times that our imagination is triggering our emotions’.
Anxiety remains the primary concern, however. ‘Anxiety was able to change our
behavior quickly because we’re programmed to automatically believe and act on its “red flags” and alarms’, adds Davies. ‘It has access to our memory and imagination, leading to our natural tendency to catastrophic and preoccupy about worst-case scenarios’.
Coming out of lockdown means somehow managing this anxiety into the background. And anxiety can be debilitating at the best of times, let alone after a global pandemic when we’re adapting to a new way of life.
The key to returning to some form of normality is to focus on you. ‘It’s important to take personal responsibility for managing our own experience of all this’, says Davies.
We understandably look outwards to governments and “authority” for protection, but let’s think about ways we can help ourselves and each other. Rather than focusing too much on our external environment, try to keep in mind the mantra of: “I’ll control what I can and let go of what I can’t”.
AIM FOR NEW TARGETS
‘Set exercise goals that are under your control, with an outcome goal for the future — a year or so away’, he adds. ‘Then think about what steps are needed to achieve this goal’.
The choice is yours: it could mean planning for a 10K run or a marathon, a bike race, or building strength. ‘With the latter, you could do a hard session of any exercise that lasts 60-75 seconds, with 30 seconds recovery, and repeat: burpees, press-ups, squats, sprints’, Lane adds.
‘Anxiety, stress, depression, and anger all tend to disconnect us from others and it’s important to keep finding ways to connect to and feel a part of, a wider community’, says Davies. ‘We should also try to notice whether conversations with others are helping us to manage our mental health or are actually doing the opposite. Fear and anger are infectious. We can still plan things to look forward to, even with the current uncertainty’.
FACING THE TRUTH
None of these tactics are purely about shutting down or ignoring anxiety and stress, because it’s important to recognize and confront them.
‘We can manage excessive anxious, angry, and stressful thoughts by noticing them and choosing alternatives. Anxiety, in particular, will focus on conjecture such as second waves and mutating viruses. These things might happen but they might not – they’re not facts as yet. Instead of reaching forward in fear, we can try to be present in each moment as often as we can. Activities like walking in nature and daily mindfulness will help with this’.
An acronym used in mindfulness practice can help manage anger: SOBER.
Stop: what we’re doing to avoid reacting in a way that will give us a problem to fix, says Davies.
Observe: turn our attention inwards and ask ourselves why we’re angry.
Breathe: calm ourselves down.
Expand: when we’re calmer, we can see the broader picture and test whether our anger is justified or helpful.
And lastly, Respond – take action that’s going to help, not hinder.
Finally, remember to talk, to a professional if necessary. ‘Most therapists are working online at the moment and this can be just as helpful as face-to-face work’, says Davies. ‘The safe and calm space that therapy provides can help us navigate a way through these unprecedented times’.