Goodness me! The internet is suddenly awash with experts on anxiety. Having trawled through some of their offerings, a lot of the advice out there is pretty obvious to me. But then I am, and have been for many years, busy helping people manage their anxiety.
Can we first get some perspective here? Anxiety is a normal human response to a perceived threat. Without it we’d all be running around infecting each other with COVID-19 and doing other stupid, reckless and dangerous things. It’s a warning system that keeps us safe.
During a global pandemic, we all have good reason to worry. People we love might die, for starters. And when the routine of daily life is interrupted and our freedom of movement is restricted, it’s stressful. If we can’t earn a living, what happens when the money runs out? That said, we could do without creating a panic pandemic.
All our fears boil down to a handful of things: death and dying, illness and pain, poverty, loneliness, hunger and social isolation. And there’s nothing like a coronavirus to bring all those things into the forefront of our minds. Our exposure to them, even when threatened by a virus which doesn’t discriminate, will depend on where we live and whether our health service and politicians are up to the extreme demands being placed upon them.
Just a few weeks ago, our much-loved NHS was underfunded and trust in our national leaders was at an all-time low. And now we are depending on them to take heroic measures to save lives and ensure life as we know it goes on after COVID-19 has done its worst.
At time of writing, many people under lockdown will find themselves in a safe little bubble, personally unaffected by the catastrophic health consequences observed through the media elsewhere in the world.
Over a hundred years ago when the Spanish Flu ripped through a world scarred by the Great War, it would have taken a long time for the news that 12 million people lost their lives to filter through. Now we’re getting hourly bulletins and see traumatic events as they happen around the globe from the comfort of our armchairs. So, anxiety is continuously stoked without any direct experience of the drama happening elsewhere.
And yet, I’m observing many anxiety sufferers experiencing some relief from their symptoms. Without exposure to workplace stress and social anxiety, they’re happy as Larry tucked up at home and they no longer feel alone with their fears because everyone is scared.
For them, and all of you out there, here’s my ten pennorth of advice to help manage anxiety:
- Move around more. Dance like no-one is looking (nobody is). Make the stairs your gymnasium or worship at the daily altar of health guru Joe Wicks.
- Get busy. If you hate DIY or gardening, get over it.
- Indulge in as many PDAs (Private Displays of Affection) with those you live with as you can, not forgetting the teenagers and pets of the house.
- Have more sex (if you’re on your own, improvise).
- Relax all screen time rules. Netflix, Xbox and social media are now officially therapy
- Eat the food you’ve hoarded. Don’t buy it if you’re going to throw it away and don’t stockpile in case of a national emergency. This is a national emergency so eat it what you have when you need to.
- If you’re one of the booze locusts stripping alcohol from supermarket shelves, step away from the wine box and refrain from drinking tanker loads of gin. They will not make COVID-19 go away.
- Don’t buy Pringles, Doritos or any fast food and stop snacking. Right now. Or, if Coronavirus doesn’t get you, obesity will.
- When home schooling, remind yourself that this is precious time with the young ones. Make it as fun as you can and don’t get sucked into the competitive parenting/teacher of the year contests currently running on social media.
- If there’s conflict at home, sort it out. DO. NOT. SHOUT. Or let it fester. There is time to talk and an opportunity to put things right. Being too busy is no longer an excuse.
- Technophobes have no place in lockdown. If you can’t use Skype, Facetime or WhatsApp, now’s the time to learn. Start with YouTube tutorials and get on with it. Sign up for social media and join local groups and networks for company, advice, entertainment and support.
- This is a good time to think about solutions for any problems you may have in life. Never in our lifetimes has normality been interrupted so radically. It’s an opportunity to decide how to make normal life better when the treadmill starts moving again.
- Count your blessings. An attitude of gratitude is an antidote to anxious overthinking
- Make plans and schedule your day. Structure, order and routine help an anxious mind feel safer and more secure.
Finally, it’s important to do as you’re told. The lockdown advice we’re being given is aimed at saving lives. Whether we agree with it or not, the decisions being made on our behalf are not taken lightly. Focus on looking after yourself, those you love and the community around you. Only good can come of that.