How to manage your anxiety with the coronavirus – COVID-19 situationMarch 20, 2020
All week in therapy sessions, I have witnessed stress, fear and anxiety brought on by the COVID-19 pandemic. Many of my clients have begun their session with, “I’m not doing very well”.
At this time it is normal to feel anxious and worried. But there is a difference between levels of anxiety. There is anxiety that’s an understandable and appropriate reaction to the COVID-19 situation, and anxiety that’s so bad it stops someone getting through their day.
Anxiety is our brain’s response to a critical situation telling us to take action – Right now, we do need to be preparing, taking action and taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously. However, anxiety can quickly get out of control; it can take you past the point of a reasonable response and into a place that’s unhealthy.
If you are not sleeping, experiencing panic attacks, feeling depressed or completely immobilized right now, you are not going to last the distance without some health impacts which have nothing to do with COVID-19 .
Here are some things you can do to help your anxiety while you take healthy, reasonable steps to manage the stresses COVID-19 is placing on you:
- Minimise the amount of social media and news you are consuming. You do need to keep informed but you don’t need to be informed all day long. Just watch the news once a day. If you are really not coping, don’t watch it at all and ask a family member or friend to keep you updated on any changes you need to know about.
- Don’t watch or read coronavirus/COVID-19 content at bedtime. Read a book, or watch something entertaining instead.
- Make sure you read and watch things that are light-hearted in nature. If you are feeling anxious or depressed, it’s not a good time for true crime, horror or grim reality.
- Limit alcohol. Many people reach for alcohol when they are feeling anxious. However, alcohol has a rebound affect which can actually cause more anxiety the next day. Alcohol also causes stress on relationships and many relationships will be under stress right now anyway.
- Coronavirus is making a lot of us feel like we have no control. Lack of control, or even perceived lack of control, is a classic fueller of anxiety. So look for things you can control in your life. For example, you can make choices about how you will socially distance from people and you can make choices about how to keep yourself safe. You can also make choices to change your living environment. You can choose to eat as healthily as possible. You can plan games and activities or even future holidays and social events. Doing this can help distract you and also increase your feelings of control.
- Watch negative and unhelpful self talk like “I could die”, or “this is never going to get better”. Remind yourself that the vast majority of people with COVID-19 do not die. One day, COVID-19 will end or at least be manageable with vaccines and perhaps other measures.
- Talk to friends and family about things that are not coronavirus-related. Distraction is excellent at a time like this when everyone feels scared. If you have a friend or family member who will not stop talking about COVID-19, then maybe socially distance from them a lot more. Seek people who are also somewhat positive and engaged in life.
- Same with friends or family members who are sending you articles or text messages with fearful messages in them. This fuels people’s anxiety. Consider asking the person to stop doing it or blocking the person for a while.
- Meditation or spending some time in a peaceful garden can really help soothe the limbic system and calm anxiety. There is no reason why you cannot go for a bush walk or a walk in the park at the moment – again this is something that will give you a sense of control.
- Keep to your usual routine as much as possible. Even if you are in isolation or working from home. Have a shower, get dressed, put on make-up etc. All of these routines reassure us that the world is still turning and we are still okay. Don’t allow yourself to “take to your bed” otherwise you are fuelling your anxiety with negative messages.
- If you feel yourself heading towards a panic attack or you are feeling nauseous from worry – take some time out and slow your breathing right down. (Breathe in for three seconds, out for three seconds – Repeat).
- Talk about how you feel with a person who can help you with some strategies. Typically, a Counsellor or Therapist would be good for this. There are a lot of Therapists who will be doing online counselling right now so this is still a good time to access professional help.
- If you are on medication for anxiety and you are doing all of the above and still feel very unwell – book an appointment with your treating doctor to see if there is anything they can suggest on the medication front to support you through this time.
Remember everyone deals with crises in different ways so think before you talk to a friend or family member as you may be fuelling their anxiety. We all need to be informed and make the right decisions to keep ourselves safe at this time. But we also need to be mentally well in the long term so we are ready to get back to full health and activity after this rotten virus has been dealt with.
Jacqueline has been in private practice for more than two decades, helping individuals, couples and families. She has extensive experience in couple and family therapy and is considered a specialist in these areas. In her clinical practice, she has helped people deal with complex trauma, affairs, complex mental health issues, eating disorders, adolescent behavioural problems (including self-harm and suicidal ideation), behavioural issues in young children which are impacting parents and families, relationship issues and post-separation work.
Jacqueline works with many different dynamics: couples, parents, families with young children, same-sex couples, foster/adopted families, families with teenagers and also adult families. She is particularly interested in helping parents of children with behavioural issues, or with diagnosed conditions such as anxiety, ADHD, ASD and so on.
Although Jacqueline’s work is supportive and friendly, she will challenge her couples and families to make the necessary behavioural changes, to repair relationships and to move towards healthier communication styles in the future.
Jacqueline’s style is direct and fast paced and she is known for quickly getting to the heart of the matter. Clients report that they feel safe and understood with Jacqueline.
Qualifications and Professional Membership
Jacqueline has a Masters in Couple and Family Therapy (UNSW). She has a Bachelor degree in Counselling and Human Change, and a Diploma in Psychotherapy and Counselling.
Jacqueline is a Clinical Supervisor for Counsellors and Therapists. She lectures in couple and family therapy at Masters and Post Graduate level, and is currently Head Lecturer for the Couple and Family Therapy course (Masters) at the Jansen Newman Institute. She has been a Lecturer at the University of Western Sydney and Sydney University, and continues to guest lecture at other tertiary institutions.
Jacqueline is also the Director of the Couple and Family Training Centre where she runs regular professional development workshops and seminars for Therapists, Counsellors, Psychologists, Social Workers and Health Industry Workers who are looking to gain skills in this specialist area.
“Thank you for seeing me today. Your help with all our family issues and all your advice has been invaluable.
I don’t know how other families do it, without a Jacqueline in their lives.” – Anna (43) step-mum and mum to four children.