How to cope with enhanced anxiety during Covid-19
Keeping stress at bay and looking after our mental health key in these trying times
Bronagh Loughlin, a student in Griffith College, Dublin. “We have lost our routines and for myself and my anxiety, I know a routine is very important.” Photograph: Dara Mac Dónaill
When the coronavirus first arrived on our television screens, radios and newspapers, I remember feeling enhanced anxiety. I remember talking to other people about the virus. Responses were often “don’t worry about it, it won’t happen to us”.
But, it did.
We are living in scary times. There is so much uncertainty and anxiety in the air. Each day, the numbers are rising and it is easy to panic.
Covid-19 ha s affected my life as it has affected many others. I have gone from being anxious about the pandemic itself to being anxious about the state of my life during it and what happens once we get out the other side.
My final year of college has become an online classroom in my bedroom, and I rarely leave my home. Although that may not seem too bad to fellow introverts or homebodies, coronavirus has also affected other parts of my life.
For example, job opportunities when I finish college, the experience of my final year of college and much more. My exams are going ahead online and that gives me overwhelming anxiety. I am always anxious about exams, but a new experience has also been added.
In addition, I was up for a new job when I finish college, but recruitment has been halted because of the virus. I was planning to learn how to drive, that has also come to a pause.
However, there are people worse off than me. Some are losing their jobs or do not have a home to self-isolate in.
Many with anxiety disorders will be experiencing lots of panic around what is going on and what Covid-19 means for the future.
However, we must not panic because there are lots of things we can do to make life feel a little more normal.
For anyone with anxiety, life is like a never-ending rollercoaster. The anxiety constantly goes up and down, the high points being extreme and the low points being close to relaxed, although never quite to the point of full relaxation.
However, what is going on in the world right now has me at my highest peaks. The main difficulty for me is the loss of a routine. My routine structures my day and it also challenges my anxiety. A routine makes me feel purposeful.
If I do not have a routine, I feel unproductive, I experience depressive moods and I feel generally I lack accomplishments.
My anxiety will be up the rails from feeling like I have not made the most of the day.
During this time, it is important to treat it as any other day; you should write lists each evening of what you want to accomplish the next day.
I have been doing exactly that and it has helped me to transform my anxiety and uncertainty into feeling happiness from accomplishing things on my list.
Iit structures your day and gives you that routine that has gone missing. You do not have to write a massive list. Be realistic and jot down the basic things you want to accomplish.
For example, one of mine would be getting out of bed and getting ready for the day. Although this is simple and many would not think it is not necessary to put this on a list, if you do, you will have such a satisfaction when you cross it off . This way your day begins with satisfaction.
Other examples could be continuing on a work project or adding a couple of new paragraphs to a college assignment. Activities that are not work- or college-oriented could include keeping a journal, colouring, writing or reading. These are all amazing activities for people with anxiety because you will be able to escape what is going on by carrying out mindful exercises.
Another thing you could do is some cleaning or decluttering. Decluttering is a great activity for an anxious mind as it provides the same satisfaction as talking to someone, and taking some weight off. Also, you can donate whatever is good to use to a charity shop and feel good about yourself for doing a good deed.
Setting an alarm is also important to structuring your day; just because Covid-19 has hit the country, does not mean you should have a sleep in each day. Sleeping in may feel amazing at the time, however, it is not very good for your overall health and if you wake up late you will not feel like tackling that list. You will be overtired.
This is especially not good if you have anxiety. If I oversleep I will have a mental row with myself in the morning and feel nothing but bad moods for the day. When you have bad moods, you will probably be less productive or motivated.
Also, getting dressed each day instead of just sitting in your pyjamas can make you feel productive. You do not have to dress up. If you just put on comfortable clothes such as tracksuit bottoms or leggings, you will still feel a bit more motivated.
During this scary time, you also need to remember self-care. It may sound silly to some people, but it is a great way to relieve your anxieties, relax and show yourself a bit of love. A great way to do this would be to apply treatments such as face masks or hair masks.
Remember to give yourself time and not be all work-oriented; allow yourself to watch some movies.
My self-care time has been spent watching Louis Theroux documentaries or films. It is great because his documentaries are also quite educational. Documentaries and films in general are another great form of escapism because you are focusing on what is happening on screen as opposed to in your own life.
Social media has been full of memes about how happy and confused pets are that their owners are home all day. A great way to escape your anxiety about what is going on with the world is spending time with them.
I know we are encouraged not to go outdoors, but you can still sit out your back or front garden or even go for a short walk.
The weather has been amazing lately. You need your vitamin D as well and since Ireland is rarely sunny, take the opportunity. You could take up one of the activities I previously mentioned outside such as reading a book, watching a documentary, journaling or colouring.
Another activity that is perfect for the outdoors that will greatly help is doing home workouts. There are many online. Working out is very beneficial for people with anxiety as exercise releases your endorphins.
Trust me, we need ’em right now.
Another thing that goes along with an alarm in the morning is going to bed at a reasonable time. I know it may be hard to do this, but try.
As someone with anxiety, one of my biggest problems is sleep. It is not that I do not sleep, but I find it difficult to fall asleep. This is because I do all my thinking when my head hits the pillow. I find it really good to go at a reasonable time. That way, if I am not falling asleep because my mind is racing, I am still getting enough sleep by the time I shut off. I basically allow for extra time.
Your mental health matters and your feelings about what is going on are important.
However, do not let it consume you. Instead of letting the anxious voice in your head win, take up some of the advice I mentioned to clear your head, escape for a while and remain feeling productive, fulfilled and happy.