My first experiences with anxiety began as a teenager when I began to place pressure on myself, compare myself to others unnecessarily and consider my future. With my hormones and body changing, I was unsure who I really was, eager to be liked and please others. When anxiety found itself creeping up on me I was becoming more independent and felt as if I didn’t have much control, experiencing change and unknown. Since conversation around mental health and discussing how we feel has increased, I now accept the fact that I can experience anxiety. A heightened sensitivity I like to call it. Which isn’t always a bad thing, experiencing the more uncomfortable emotions so greatly also means I get to experience the joyful emotions just as intensely.
It was the unknown that initiated the symptoms the most, leading to overthinking and assuming the worst. I’m often faced with sudden inversion as if all sound and external happenings become too overwhelming with my mind and thoughts raising in volume. I start to lose sensation in my hands, usually a tingling and a tightness in my chest as my heart rate quickens. The first time was the scariest because I didn’t know what was happening. A sudden surge. I thought it was never going to end and tried to push it away rather than let it in and soften as a result. But by acknowledging the feeling it eventually calmed as every feeling does, even if it did take me a while to accept and come to terms with it. I return to reality and bring calm to my body and mind by bringing my attention to my breath.
After accepting my feelings, it’s helpful to consider my individual triggers. What set off this sensation for me? Usually begins with a thought and then the feeling emerges as a response. It helps to remind myself that my thoughts do not control me, I am in control of them. Anxiety is just an emotional response for survival. My mind trying to protect me from potential threats, but sometimes the mind considers something to be a threat unnecessarily, the response is out of balance with the original trigger. It often takes confronting feared situations for my anxiety to rise before calming, I’ve now developed coping strategies and a belief that I am in control of my own responses. By accepting and acknowledging it, I could build my own personal tool kit that includes what helps and triggers me for when it comes along.
With uncertainty and change being huge instigators for my anxiety, when Coronavirus emerged, those uncomfortable feelings suddenly rose. A big change of routine, and fear of ‘what if’, worried about myself and my family contracting the virus, fearful of lockdown and being left with my own thoughts and overthinking. Not wanting to go out, pressure of having to be constantly productive, in fear about the future.
For me, it’s been helpful to accept the feeling when it rises rather than pretend it’s not there. Although it’s unpleasant, it’s about managing it rather than getting rid of it completely, riding the wave until it ceases. Accepting and awareness in order for feelings to shift. Reminding myself that everyone is in this storm together, despite being in different boats, I am not alone. Of course, uncertainty and change are going to be present throughout my life and often they’re what makes life so exciting. A change of perspective. Sometimes change is unavoidable, we cannot plan for everything and at times this takes techniques to manage when it comes along.
Tips and Tricks I Find Help Me to Manage Anxiety Around Coronavirus
BREATH AND THE PRESENT.
My anxiety now comes and goes. Just like a headache may flare up with lack of sleep, or pulling a muscle if I push my body too far, my anxiety can rise in the same way. Though it can suddenly appear out of nowhere, it’s more likely to rise if I ignore my body and what it needs in terms of rest and care. Or it’s often a sign for me that something needs to change, whether it be my thoughts or my behaviour, something is overwhelming me and my system. It often takes stepping back as an observer of my own life to identify if I’m demanding or expecting too much, or if I’m letting my thoughts dictate reality. When it comes along I find it helpful to close my eyes initially and focus on my breath to bring my mind back to the present and reality. I then tune into my senses, they are always in the present. What I can see, hear, taste, touch and smell. I say them out loud. Calm acknowledgment of what’s here rather than my thoughts. I like to use a little phrase that grounds me and I can come back to. ‘This too shall pass’ helps me, it reminds me that I can never be stuck in any situation and like feelings, moments and time, the anxiety will pass eventually. I often cool myself in getting some fresh air or a cold flannel, when bringing the heat out of my body I can help to bring to the heat out of my mind.
Continuing to talk about how I feel helps me to not become too isolated or trapped in my head with negative feelings and worry. Whether that be a family member, a friend, a professional, Samaritan helpline ‘116 123’, or someone who supports me in my life. Talking helps me release thoughts that can become tangled in the mind. It’s also a useful to remind myself I’m not alone and many of the feelings I feel I’m experiencing alone, are shared. It’s reassuring and comforting to hear others when I’m unable to see them at the moment, keeping in communication in ways that I can has been helpful for my mental clarity and sanity during this time.
There is a lot of misinformation circulating as anxiety rises and news spreads. I find it useful to keep up to date with what’s going on of course, but to also ensure I have time away, else I can easily become overwhelmed with conflicting information or let anxiety take the lead. I limit how much I use my time for the news, particularly when it’s out of my control. Following the guidelines with awareness rather than obsession. I keep an eye on the reliable sources, the government and NHS Website are two useful examples, and then step away. These links are: https://www.gov.uk/coronavirus and https://www.nhs.uk/conditions/coronavirus-covid-19/
REMOVING PRESSURE AND GUILT.
When trapped with my own thoughts, I often turn to what others were doing or social media, and fall into the trap of comparison. ‘I should do that because they’re doing that’, when the truth is, we are all different. It’s been helpful to consider what makes me feel good, what’s helpful and what’s hindering. There is enough pressure surrounding us with a global pandemic, so allowing myself to take the pressure off and simply go day by day has been relieving. At the moment getting up, showering and taking on the day is enough to be proud of. In some respect, I believe it’s useful to stay active to keep my mind from falling into a downward spiral of overthinking or feeling down, but being ‘productive’ is more than getting things done all the time, it’s actually more doing what is useful. Bringing my attention to the present and really questioning what helps calm me, whether that’s working, walking, reading, exercising, bathing, listening to music, cooking, sleeping or simply resting.
I CANNOT CONTROL EVERYTHING.
As powerful as we are as humans, unfortunately we are not superhuman. This means although I am in control of my own thoughts, behaviours and actions, I am not always in control of external sources. One of those being Coronavirus. It’s reassuring to remind myself that unfortunately we are here, but it’s not my fault. It is okay to feel a crazy whirlwind of emotions as it is inevitable, but it’s wasted energy beating myself up about it when I alone are not the cause of this pandemic. Although daunting, unknown is also what makes life exciting, I can’t plan for everything or predict the future and that can take the pressure off for me so I can let go and focus on the present.
BUILDING A ROUTINE.
Whether we’re working from home or out of work, continuing to keep some form of routine has been really helpful in maintaining a personal structure amongst the unstructured and unknown that comes with the situation. Amongst uncertainty, my own routine is something I can be certain of and stay in control. Setting an alarm, selecting daily tasks, keeping a journal have all been helpful in trying to maintain a ‘norm’. If you are lucky enough to be working, when coping in lockdown I can actually go the other way. Rather than feeling we have ‘nothing to do’, I overdo it and continue to work from early till late. It’s useful to remind myself to make sure I’m also giving myself a break. It’s beneficial to continue to get dressed, come out of my pyjamas and get ready, have a separate working space to my bedroom, so my mind has clarity when being able to switch off and come away from working.
Writing down or thinking of daily things that I’m grateful for is a helpful way to stay grounded in the present and not become wrapped up in fear of the future. They’re not extravagant, it could simply be that I have a bed to sleep in, the sun is shining or something that made me smile today. It’s these little things that keep me moving and continuing to see the light in what can often cloud me with darkness.
MOVING MY BODY AND REST.
Both of these are just as vital as the other. Moving can enhance my mood, or help shift anxiety and raise endorphins. When I move it’s not always an intense HIIT workout or a huge run, it can simply be dancing around to some music, a walk or a stretch. Whatever my body feels like it needs and most importantly, what I enjoy, and that changes every day. Rest is also important to ensure my body doesn’t burn out and I explore other coping mechanisms. Getting outside has been useful to, in shifting environment, perspective and not feeling trapped. Getting out into space, nature and light has helped with my breath and calming.
I hold onto the fact that I always have my breath to focus on or return to if things become too overwhelming or anxiety creeps in. Letting it slow, bringing my attention to what’s here right now so I can take control back from a racing mind. One of the lessons this time has taught me is to get to know myself. Take the time to consider what makes me feel good, calm and present. Life is too short to not step away from things that aren’t making me happy. I always hold onto the fact that once I was through the first experience of anxiety or panic attack, though it doesn’t make any future times easier, it did teach me that it will pass eventually. I survived it then, so nothing is to stop you surviving another if it comes again.
Image credit: KLEITON Santos
Danielle Saunders is a twenty two year old actor and aspiring journalist. She is passionate about sharing stories, removing the stigma around mental health, and an advocate for voicing and sharing mental battles to help others. In sharing her personal hurdles, she hopes to provide support. Danielle’s blog is based on mental health and living happily in a world of chaos: https://danielleswonderfulittleworld.blogspot.com/
Here is another MHT post by Danielle: Anorexia is about more than food and image.