Disclaimer: I am a Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and I am writing from my own personal perspective and as someone who has supported others with anxiety for many years. I am not a medical professional, academic or a politician. If you need medical advice, please refer to https://www.nhs.uk/coronavirus , call 111 if you think you have symptoms of Coronavirus, and see https://www.gov.uk/guidance/coronavirus-covid-19-information-for-the-public and World Health Organisation for up to date information about the virus and its impact on the UK and abroad.
Coronavirus, also known as COVID-19, is a virus that appears to have started within animals and has made its jump to humans. In humans, it can cause symptoms ranging from appearing as a common cold up to presenting as a high fever and difficulties breathing. This virus appears to be very infectious and has spread very quickly from Wuhan, China to Europe and the rest of the world. Currently in the UK, 1372 people have been tested as positive for COVID-19 out of a 40,279 who have been tested (to me that says 3% of the people have contracted the virus so far out of all the people who think they have it. This does not include a huge group of people who are sitting at home coughing and thinking “ah it’s got me”). Out of that 1372 who have tested positive, 35 have passed away (2.5%), many of whom had pre-existing health conditions.
Watching the news and scrolling through social media, I can’t help but feel anxious. There is breaking news every 5 minutes, big red flashing signs, reporters talking gravely and at other times, really fast and it is hard to keep up. There is a lot of information we have access to and it is difficult to know what is factual, and what has been sensationalised. There are some things that we know, and a whole lot that we do not know. We don’t know where it started, how it started, we don’t know where it will go and the impact it will have in the short term or long term, on our health, on our social circles, our economy, our jobs. Even as I type I feel myself getting agitated, my heart rate has become that little bit swifter, I can feel my shoulders tensing up.
It is natural to feel anxious in a time of UNCERTAINTY. What we know about anxiety is that it is a survival mechanism built into animals to help them fight or flight (run away) from perceived threats. The anxiety response helps animals escape from predators (refer to any David Attenborough documentary), in the same way it helped us as humans survive being eaten by animals with lots of teeth when we lived in caves and jungles. In modern day society our threats are different. Humans are different too. We have evolved to be forward thinkers, we plan ahead, we converse with others and make decisions. We have also learned to worry about potential threats, things that may never ever occur but we plan for those potential occurrences anyway.
We look for certainty in every situation. When we leave the house, we input our destination into Google maps to check that we will arrive to our destination on time, despite knowing that we can’t do much about it as we are already on the road. We might go out of our way to find another route to shave off a few minutes off our potential ETA, all to build a sense of purpose and certainty that we will have done our best to arrive on time.
In this current pandemic situation, I see myself and literally everyone around me trying to build certainty around them. We don’t know what the future weeks have in store for us, our family and our friends. We know that there are people in our lives who are vulnerable to becoming ill and potentially not surviving, so we attempt to do our best to create certainty that this will not occur. It literally is a battle of what we know and what we don’t know in our minds, so we try to make what we don’t know feel a little more comfortable.
These may be ways you are trying to build certainty in your life:
- Seeking reassurance from external sources, wishing that someone is going to tell you that everything will be okay: the news channels, social media, family and friends. However all anyone seems to tell you is how dire the situation is and how it’s going to get worse.
- Stocking up on items in case you become ill. Bulk buying is cost effective and saves money. However when everyone bulk buys at the same time, there is limited stock to go around and some people (who may be vulnerable too) don’t have access to the items they need. So yes you may have all the resources at home, but people who don’t could become ill and pass it onto you anyway.
- Self isolating to stop the virus spreading. What we can’t be certain about is how long one would have to isolate for. The evidence shows that it will slow down the spread… but everyone has to do it at once.
What I am trying to show is that it is near impossible to create certainty. We can try and try but the cost is high anxiety and stress levels, impact on sleep, loss of appetite, depleted energy resources, fatigue, poor problem solving, all of which impact our mental wellbeing.
Maybe we should work towards building TOLERANCE of uncertainty. We could recognise that uncertainty exists. Instead of going into problem solving mode, we accept that this is a really tough situation and no one really knows what is going on, and you are not alone in this feeling. Instead of going into drive mode, we can find a way to soothe ourselves instead.
This is easier said than done. When the world around you is flashing RED RED RED how do you even try to stay calm. Below are some tips that could help in times of uncertainty:
- We must recognise that this is a temporary. No pandemic has lasted forever. There will be a peak and then it will all go away as fast as it came. Telling myself this in times of stress really alleviates the feeling of anxiety I hold in my chest and keeps me focused on hope in the future.
- When your thoughts are racing, ground yourself to the moment that you are in. In times of uncertainty, your thoughts naturally take you to potential catastrophic events. Reminding yourself of where you are right now (I am in my living room), what you can see (my laptop, my purse, my phone, my pen), what you can hear (my toddler, cars outside, the clock), what you can feel (the keyboard keys, my hoody on my skin, the ground beneath my feet), what you can smell (a candle and my dinner) and what you can taste (my saliva?). In the time it has taken me to type this out, I have had a break from my negative anxiety- inducing thoughts and I am living in the here and now. When I do this, I realise how irrational my previous thoughts were.
- Be kind to yourself. This genuinely is a difficult time for everyone. No one knows what is going on so criticising yourself for not having enough hand gel (washing your hands with soap is also adequate guys) is unhelpful. Show yourself the compassion you would show to others.
- Stick to your routine as much as you can. This may become difficult if you are now working from home or self isolating. It is important, maybe even more so than before, to eat a healthy diet, sleep on time, rest and exercise. If you are working from home, be boundaried with your time and stick to your work hours.
- If you are self isolating, think of this as the time that you always wished for off work. There has been many times in my life that I have said “I wish I could sit at home and do nothing”. This is our chance. Go back to your values (see previous posts) and think about what do you let slip when you are “too busy”. If I am off work, I will be reading, catching up with my friends on Facetime, making yummy food, and writing more blogs (lucky you guys!).
Although this definitely does not feel like it, and I feel a bit silly typing it, every cloud has a silver lining. I’m not quite sure what that is just yet, but I’m hoping that this blog may have helped you understand your anxiety a little more.
I hope you have a lovely week ahead, and keep safe and warm and away from all the nasties!