Ines, initially I didn’t feel too anxious about the coronavirus and the quarantine, but I’m finding that as time goes on, and with no end in sight, my anxiety level are rising. Do you have any suggestions on how to deal with the fear surrounding the current situation?
Over the last few days, as a result of the current situation regarding Covid-19, we have all been exposed to alarming information from a variety of sources. Feeling a bit afraid is, therefore, to be expected. However, we should ask ourselves: When does fear become excessive and unhelpful?
Fear and worry are natural human reactions in situations of danger or risk. They are necessary in order to successfully manage the physical and mental challenges presented by a dangerous environment. Fear allows us to better handle obstacles and problems; it prepares our bodies to deal with possible threats, and our minds to consider different future scenarios and potential solutions and strategies. From an evolutionary standpoint the role of fear is to improve our odds of survival.
However, there are instances in which fear and worry do more harm than good. In some instances these feelings can spiral out of control, and we can find ourselves in a situation where our natural reactions, meant to keep us safe, do us more harm than good. We know fear becomes unhealthy when it is no longer productive and creates excessive suffering.
In the present situation with the coronavirus, once we have taken all the necessary precautions to prevent infection, living in a constant state of anxiety has little benefit. We are dealing with an unfamiliar, but temporary, situation and the concern provoked by this uncertainty is what needs to be managed.
A continued feeling of fear and worry can have a lasting negative emotional impact. Worrying can initially provide us with a sense of control and relief, but it can have a detrimental effect in the long term. Some of the potential negative effects are: inability to stay focused, problems falling or staying asleep, muscular tension, restlessness, anxiety, irritability or fatigue.
If we are still worrying constantly about the Covid-19 despite having already taken the necessary steps and measures to deal with the situation, we should turn our attention to reducing the negative emotions we are experiencing; they are no longer of use to us.
Some strategies for reducing excessive fear and worry:
1.Avoid constant information seeking. Information helps us prepare for and navigate crisis situations. However, an excess of information can be counterproductive, as we may become overwhelmed with information which only creates anxiety. For this reason, it is important to limit the occasions in we seek out information regarding the virus to one or two times per day, rather than letting it become a constant behaviour.
2.Practice relaxation. There are a wide number of relaxation, breathing, and meditation techniques that help reduce physical, mental and emotional tension. They reduce the fight-or-flight response, create a sense of wellbeing and deactivate our constant mental loop. It is highly recommended that we practice these techniques in moments in which our anxiety levels might be higher.
3.Focusing on the present. In times of uncertainty, it is natural to worry about the different possible outcomes. When this process does not result in preventing or solving a problem, it is best to avoid letting our mind wander and contemplate the “what-ifs”. In order to do that, we can focus on the here and now. We can try, for example, to focus completely on a task or activity.
4.Remember the positive. When we are going through a difficult time and we feel vulnerable, it is important to remind ourselves of the things that are going well and that make us feel safe. In the case of the coronavirus, we must remind ourselves that this is a temporary crisis, that we are not facing it alone, but in a united and coordinated manner, using the necessary tools and procedures to combat it successfully.
5.Practice pleasurable activities. During difficult times, it becomes even more important to treat ourselves with enjoyable experiences. Everyone has a go-to treat: a nice meal, a warm bath, an episode of our favourite TV series, a call to a loved one, a nice book etc. The list is long and diverse depending on the person!
6.Good sleeping, exercising and eating habits. Having a balanced diet and sleep routine allows our body to maintain a state of stability and to be well rested mentally and physically. In addition, physical exercise releases tension and helps us focus on the present moment and our bodily sensations rather than being constantly in our heads. During the following days, we may have to avoid the gym, but we can still do simple workouts at home.
7.Maintain your usual routine. Although we might have to remain at home as much as possible in the coming days, it is important that we engage in our regular activities. Our routine is something we can control and that will help lend a sense of normality to our days.
8.Doing things we did not have time to do before. We may find ourselves with more time on our hands than usual and we can put that time to good use by reducing that long list of things we haven’t had time to do up to now (ironing, organising the closet, finally finishing that book or Netflix show etc.)
In conclusion, there are countless strategies that we can use to take the reins of our emotional state, which will positively impact how we handle the situation in the days to come!
Proofreading and editing by Gráinne Keeshan