Tips to cope with COVID and anxiety
New Zealand has once again transitioned between Alert Levels. Moving between levels can have a range of effects as our environment changes. We may feel anxious as we assess how our own or others social, emotional or physical safety will be affected. Changes in our social contact, exercise, sleep, nutrition and daily routine can bring up a range of emotions – anxiety, sadness, anger, stress.
It’s okay to feel this way. These emotions are a normal, natural response to difficult or uncertain situations. Worry, for instance, can help motivate us to do constructive problem solving and plan solutions. Planning can be protective and help us. However, when we start worrying too much, especially about things outside of our control, it can start to exhaust and upset us, lower mood, or impact on our ability to function or concentrate on other things.
Worry can feel like a chain or spiral of thoughts that can be repetitive or become increasingly catastrophic. It can feel uncontrollable – we may have a hard time stopping our thoughts. Minor worries can escalate to worst-case scenarios. You may also feel worry as uncomfortable physical sensations, such as butterflies in your stomach, tension in your head or chest, restlessness or difficulty breathing.
It is important to look after your wellbeing and the wellbeing of your whānau and community as we get through this. Anxiety NZ can offer some advice to help getting through this uncertain time.
Here are our tips on coping:
Keep a routine
Where possible, stick to a normal routine. Routines are good for our mental health, they help to maintain our confidence and sense of purpose.
Try to go to sleep and wake up at the same time each day and have meals at regular times. Shower and change your clothes daily, even though it may be tempting to stay in pyjamas or wear the same clothes. Remember everyday tasks like chores.
Prioritise exercise, hydration, and healthy food.
Stay connected with friends and family, in whatever way works for you. Sharing our feelings and offering support to others builds our support, helps us to destress, and can make us feel better.
Constant exposure to negative information can be upsetting. Avoid reading social media posts on COVID-19, or getting drawn into pessimistic pandemic discussions.
Stick to reliable sources of information, such as covid19.govt.nz, so that you don’t get drawn into sensationalism in the media, which can increase worry.
Focus on the positives
If you are feeling anxious about the resurgence of the coronavirus, remember that as a society, we do have some control. Medical and scientific experts are informing New Zealand of how best to proceed as a country, and working on ways to contain the virus and treating those affected. Think about the progress we have made in flattening the curve.
New Zealand recently received our first batch of Covid-19 vaccines. Border workers are expected to start receiving vaccinations from this Saturday. The Prime Minister stated that, "We have purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free. That includes all those in New Zealand regardless of their visa status.”
You have control over your actions. You can wash your hands regularly, and follow the advice given by our government on scanning QR codes and using masks when out. Keep socially distancing and staying home if you are sick.
Give yourself a worry period
We often notice that we are worrying constantly and it’s not helping us. Worry can make you feel like you need to engage in it RIGHT NOW. Letting go of worry completely can be daunting too, but it’s important to maintain balance in your life.
Try postponing your worry. Set aside time each day, for instance 30 minutes, in which you are allowed to deliberately worry. This can make it easier to let go of worry in other moments.
In moments where you feel stressed, pause and take a moment to ground yourself. This can mean doing some deep breathing to centre yourself, or noticing your surroundings and what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel, or talking to someone.
Pause and ask yourself, are my thoughts helping me to plan, or out of my control? If your thoughts are not helping you, look at ways to respond to them with compassion. Be kind to yourself, it’s normal to feel concerned at a time like this.
Practice gratitude to lift your mood and stay positive.
Self-care and taking advantage of moments that uplift us is another way to mitigate our worry and be kind to ourselves during a difficult time. This could mean going on walks, listening to music, taking tea or coffee breaks, stretching, reading a book, journaling, doing yoga, baking, arts and crafts, taking a bath – the list goes on! You could try breathing exercises or guided meditations, there are many available online.
Take Ten Breaths. A simple exercise you can try at home when feeling anxious or stressed. This is an exercise to centre yourself and connect with your environment. You can practice it throughout the day, especially any time you find yourself getting caught up in your thoughts and feelings.
Take ten slow, deep breaths. Focus on breathing out as slowly as possible until the lungs are completely empty—and then allow them to refill by themselves.
Notice the sensations of your lungs emptying. Notice them refilling. Notice your rib cage rising and falling. Notice the gentle rise and fall of your shoulders.
See if you can let your thoughts come and go as if they’re just passing cars, driving past outside your house.
Expand your awareness: simultaneously notice your breathing and your body. Then look around the room and notice what you can see, hear, smell, touch, and feel.
Pace yourself and ask for support if you need it
If there are moments at work where you feel stressed, stop and take a moment to ground yourself. This can mean doing some deep breathing to centre yourself, or noticing your surroundings, or talking to someone.
If you are feeling overwhelmed, it’s okay to ask for support. This might mean asking people in your bubble to help out with household chores, discussing what you’re going through with your manager and how work can support you in this transition, or calling a helpline. Our free 24/7 national anxiety helpline can offer support (0800 ANXIETY; 0800 269 4389)