A Practical Guide for Dealing With Anxiety During This COVID-19 Crisis
I am writing this article during a strange and challenging time across the world. The current Covid-19 crisis has created palpable anxiety among the majority of people.
Different Myers-Briggs types may be reacting and responding in diverse ways during this time. Maybe some are feeling the grip of their inferior function during this stressful time.
It is time for the world to come together and share the gifts and abilities that we have.
As an ENFJ, I wanted to reach out and offer something to individuals and the collective. To provide some data and some practical tips to care for body and soul. It is but a small offering but I offer it to you with my love and support at this difficult time.
I use an Integrative/Pluralistic modality in my work as a Counselor, Psychotherapist, and life coach. I am the resident psychotherapist for SEED Eating Disorders Services in the UK, and I run a private practice.
These past weeks of the COVID-19 crisis, I have had many people come to SEED in panic. I have also seen people relapse in their eating disorders due to the anxiety while others try to hold tight to every ounce of recovery that they have so far.
The UK has been told this week by our Prime Minister, Boris Johnson, that we are mandated to stay at home. We are only allowed out for essentials like food, and we are permitted one form of exercise a day – like a walk outdoors – but we are to remain 6 feet away from any other human beings. We are not permitted to visit friends and family. People are allowed to go to ‘necessary’ work only, like crucial workers in the NHS (National Health Service in the UK), fire service, police, and retail workers in certain shops that sell essentials.
WHAT PEOPLE ARE FEELING RIGHT NOW
The sense of isolation in the home is bringing severe anxiety for some people… and yet to go out is anxiety-provoking, too.
So, first, let’s take a brief look at anxiety. Anxiety is a natural response to a threat. Feeling anxiety does not mean there is something ‘wrong’ with you. We all have a place in our brain called the amygdala, which initiates the brain process that causes the experience of fear and anxiety. The amygdala is part of the limbic system in the brain, which helps with memory, emotions, and survival reactions. If you purposefully touched a stinging nettle and it hurt you, this system will help you to know not to pick a stinging nettle again. This system helps in threats both large and small. The amygdala helps you to feel fear. If we felt no fear at all, we could get into some very dangerous situations. It also helps to alert your nervous system to danger. So, as you can see, this can be very helpful! Where we fall into trouble is when anxiety gets out of control and we feel unable to regulate it when it needs regulating.
In this article, you will learn some basic ways to help you regulate and deal with your anxiety when you feel out of control. See which suggestions work best for you and start practicing them regularly until they become a part of your natural way of being. If you find yourself stuck, and these techniques do not help you at all, then you may need to seek out a therapist or coach, or if you already have one, take the ‘stuckness’ to them in your sessions. The techniques are only techniques, and while they may help, there may be more profound, underlying issues and fears that you may need help with.
FIVE MINUTE TECHNIQUES:
A simple and effective breathing technique is breathing in for four counts and out for six. Do this three times. See if you feel more grounded and a little calmer. Repeat if necessary. The more extended breath out helps to soothe the nervous system. If you find yourself short of breath or breathing rapidly with increased heart rate when feeling anxious, stop, and practice the above technique. It can be an excellent daily practice even if you are not feeling anxious. Start the day on some deep breaths – it will help you ground yourself and deal with the day ahead. End the day with this practice to settle yourself before going to sleep.
Teas to help with anxiety
Put the kettle on, and instead of having coffee, you might want to try something different that may help with your anxiety. Certain nutrients and teas have been found to help with anxiety. Maybe you can add one or more of these teas to your regular routine. Let’s just stay with three teas for now, which are more commonly known to help anxiety:
Green tea/Matcha tea (this also has many other health benefits)
Valerian Root tea
15 MINUTE TECHNIQUES:
If you are physically able, get into your body and do a mini yoga session, or take a brief walk, or put on some music you love and dance. If you have disabilities and find movement difficult, you could put on some music and move your arms. Moving your body can help to ground you, which will reduce the anxious feelings and thoughts.
Write down your anxious thoughts
You may be struggling with anxious thoughts and worries. Write them down on paper, or type them into your phone or another device. This can help to reduce repetitive negative thoughts. You can then decide what action you may need to take for each thought or worry. You may be able to change some things. Other things you may not be able to change. Learn the difference between the two. If you would like to take this technique a step further, there is a brilliant resource from Betsy Garmon, who is a certified profiler, life coach, and journaling expert. She has what she calls a prompt for putting worries on paper, and making a list of manageable tasks to ease worry and anxiety. You can get this prompt and others via the following link and subscribing to her list if you want to take this practice a step further:
It can be helpful to learn to identify any specific triggers you may have to your anxiety. Try and notice what was happening immediately before you started to get anxious. Write this down if it will help you remember. Sometimes a trigger can be something as simple as having had extra caffeine, as caffeine is a stimulant and can trigger an anxiety response in some people with sensitive nervous systems. Or it may be an emotional trigger or something like a deadline looming. See if you can discover what makes you the most anxious. Knowledge is power. When you can identify your triggers, you can take measures to limit your exposure to them if possible (such things as work deadlines may not be avoidable). Or, once you have started to recognize your anxiety triggers, you may find it helpful to put certain practices into place (like the above techniques) to manage them before they take over. Sometimes just knowing the triggers can help you feel empowered and more in control.
If you have a therapist, coach, or other support, you could discuss your triggers with them, and they will be able to help you with this.
And finally, one way to help anxiety is with good nutrition. We feel more anxious when our brains are starved of healthy nutrients or loaded up on too much sugar, for example. Here are some very basic nutritional guidelines. If you struggle with an eating disorder or disordered eating, you may need extra support from a mental health professional or medical professional to help you with getting adequate nutrition. If you have an eating disorder, you can help yourself a little by doing your very best to get some of the healthy foods in a way that feels manageable to you. It may help to think of healthy nutrition as medicine to help with anxiety and to strengthen immunity. Perhaps taking a multivitamin would be a helpful addition, too.
Instead of overthinking about foods being ‘good’ or ‘bad,’ let’s think more about a balance of needed nutrients, about getting the healthier nutrients the body needs, and the other things to have in moderation. Of course, some foods are not so good for us, like refined sugars and saturated fats. This does not mean you cannot indulge in a pastry now and then or some sweets, but balance and moderation are essential. You can also live healthily without these foods. The choice is yours on that one.
Think of food as a type of maintenance and strengthening medicine. Getting the right nutrients gives you the energy and health to accomplish what you need. Nutritional deficiency can affect mood and brain function, which can make you tired and lose focus.
Here are the six main groups of nutrients, of which we need all six to be healthy:
Sometimes in literature, we see a seventh added – fiber. Getting enough fruit and vegetables and complex carbohydrates should meet fiber requirements.
Here is a succinct write-up of foods in the six main groups, how much we need, and why we need them.
Using this information and these guidelines, you should be able to create balanced meals.
Managing anxiety may be a lifelong practice. It may take time to integrate breathing, proper nutrition, learning triggers to your anxiety, etc. Practicing some or all of these tips can help you manage your anxiety. Some of them may work better for you than others. Experiment and see which suits you. If you need professional help for anxiety that is overwhelming or results in panic attacks, please see a registered professional for further support.