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Strategies for Managing Anxiety during Covid-19

1. How to Manage Anxiety During Covid-19

These strategies will help you navigate life and cope with the impact of Covid-19

A/ Put Structure Into Your Day

The COVID-19 crisis has forced many Maltese to alter the structure of our days, which can cause heightened anxiety for those with and without anxiety disorders. If you have unfortunately been laid off, were unemployed prior to the onset of this crisis, or are now working from home, the structure of the work week has most likely disappeared.

For many of us, our work provides scaffolding to the week and generally organizes our day. For example, we usually have a regular schedule for what time we get up in the morning and what time we go to bed at night, and most of us have morning and evening routines that take place around our work day.

Because it can be stressful to lose the basic schedule of our day, it is a good idea to try to adhere to the same work-week structure while you are at home.

For example:

  • If you get up at 7AM during the work week, get up at 7AM under these new circumstances as well.
  • If you exercise in the morning and your gym, pool, community centre or yoga studio is now closed, get up at the same time and go for a walk or a bike ride.
  • Have a dedicated space to do your work if you are working from home, and build in breaks during the day just like you would at work (e.g., coffee break, lunch).
  • If you are working at home, dress in work clothing.
  • Go for a walk after work everyday, or engage in some exercise giving you something to look forward too

It may sound silly, but sticking to the same pre-work routine can be an important part of maintaining good mental health in these uncertain times.

B/ Don’t Shut Yourself Away

Of course, if you have been travelling, are experiencing symptoms or you have been in close contact with someone who is showing symptoms, or been diagnosed with COVID-19, you do need to completely self-isolate for 14 days. However, some people are hearing the self-isolate recommendations and taking it as permission to not leave their home under any circumstance.

For people with an anxiety disorder who have difficulty being in public, such as people with panic disorder, agoraphobia, or social anxiety, staying inside where social interaction can be avoided may feel like a holiday. Similarly, if being in public produces anxiety because of associations with past traumas, being asked to stay home may be a welcome change.

Although it might be relieving to avoid anxiety-provoking situations, it will eventually lead to more anxiety when these public health restrictions are lifted. You will be out of practice in managing your anxiety.

The best way to prevent a relapse of problematic anxiety is to continue to challenge yourself and avoid avoidance as much as you can. Given that stress has increased for everyone, it well may be that it will take less to trigger your anxiety or it may show up in a different way. If you have been practicing the skills of cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), you will hopefully be better prepared to manage this anxiety. The resources including our 5 step management anxiety plan (Link) on how to manage anxiety will also be helpful to make and enact a plan to continue challenging your anxiety during the pandemic.

C/ Find New Ways to Communicate

Most human beings need to spend time in the company of other people. Staying connected and interacting with others is therefore an important way to maintain good mental health. However, the recommendations to stay home run counter to our need to connect with one another.

Fortunately, there are lots of ways to meet that don’t involve face-to-face interaction.

  • If you have the technology on your phone (e.g., FaceTime if you have an iPhone, Skype), set a time with a friend for a coffee date.
  • Arrange a happy hour with friends, with each person providing their own snacks and drinks, and meeting virtually using one of the many available video conference platforms.
  • You can also have a ‘virtual’ dinner, watch a movie, or play a game with friends.

Gravitate toward social media channels that focus on creating a positive community by providing encouragement as well as suggestions for how to spend your time. At the same time, it is a good idea to step away and focus less on aspects of social media that propagate fear and potentially spread inaccurate information. If you think social media is having a negative impact on your mental health during COVID-19, try setting time limits on your apps or shutting off your phone at least an hour before bed.

D/ Get Active to Ease Anxiety

It is well known that exercise helps regulate mood in addition to the obvious cardiovascular benefits. As long as you are not required to self-isolate, exercising outside, if you are able, is highly recommended. Go for a run, a bike ride, a hike or a walk. If you have a dog, they will likely be appreciative of longer or more frequent outings.

There are also other ways to be active that don’t involve traditional exercise. If you have a yard or garden, consider giving it some attention. Now is a very good time to do house projects that you have procrastinated or have not been a priority. If the thought of engaging in one of these projects is overwhelming, break it into small chunks. Setting goals that are time and not task focused can also be helpful. For example, spending 30 minutes cleaning out the garage as opposed to getting the garage organized.

Staying active can give you a much needed break from your worries. It can help lower your anxiety about COVID-19, decrease your odds of getting sick, and give you a better night’s sleep.

2. Are You Appropriately or Excessively Concerned About Covid-19

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A/ OCD & Contamination Fears

COVID-19 is a serious threat and we need to be concerned and do our civic duty to prevent the spread of it. Distinguishing between appropriate concern and excessive anxiety can be tricky. Let the public health recommendations guide your behaviour.

B/ Generalised Anxiety Disorder & The Fear of Uncertainty

Right now we are living in a time of great uncertainty. We don’t know what the future holds for our health, the health of our families, or our economic well-being. The extent of this uncertainty can be very frightening and anxiety provoking, and can therefore lead to unhelpful coping behaviors.

For example, you might be looking up excessive information about COVID-19 on a daily basis. Although it is a good idea to stay informed in order to hear important updates or advisories, trying to feel more certain about the situation by watching the news all day, or looking up information online and on social media, is not helpful. No one knows yet how this current pandemic will resolve itself in our daily lives, and unfortunately you won’t obtain greater certainty by scouring the internet for more information. In fact, trying to seek out certainty in this manner will likely make you more anxious in the long-run.

As such, it is a good idea to stay informed by obtaining your news once a day, preferably at the same time of day, from a reputable news source. 

C/ Focus on What You Can Control

We are normally quite fortunate to be living in a society where we enjoy freedom of movement and have many options at hand for how to spend our time. Each day in this current crisis brings additional restrictions with multiple cancellations of cultural and sporting events, closures of stores, community centres, restaurants and playgrounds.

Although public health measures are necessary to control the spread of COVID-19, for some people it will be experienced as a frustrating loss of control. The struggle against the loss of control likely strengthens any negative feelings you have about it, thereby further increasing your frustration, anxiety, or sadness.

Rather than focusing on what cannot be controlled, try to focus on what you do have control over – your reaction to it. For example, the absence of traffic on the street can be unsettling or it can be an opportunity to revel in the peace and quiet and the ability to hear the birds sing.

 Focusing on controlling your reaction to our changing circumstances, as well as to the aspects of your life that you can actually control (such as your schedule, when and what you will eat each day, and how you will spend your time), is an important strategy for managing your mental health during COVID-19.

D/ Be Compassionate with Yourself & Others

Dealing with the current crisis and the fear of the uncertainty regarding what lies ahead is difficult. We are all in the same big lifeboat. Be compassionate with yourself as you navigate anxiety and mental health during COVID-19.

While you are showing yourself compassion for doing what you can do to cope with a difficult situation, remember that the person two meters away from you is in the same situation. Showing compassion to that individual, and accepting the kindness that other individuals show us, just might make it easier to cope.