The Coronavirus lockdown has brought a lot of change and challenges into all our lives. We’ve had to adapt to new daily and shopping routines, uncertainty about our jobs and finances, and our children’s schooling. Freedoms we took for granted have been removed and no one seems quite sure what might happen next. The changes have been fast and often unpredictable. So, apart from any fears you might be experiencing about the disease itself, these changes are an additional cause of worry and anxiety.

Why is coronavirus so worrying?

  • Threat – anxiety is a coping mechanism to help us get ready to deal with threats. A reasonable amount of it can be useful. Anxiety about being mugged stops you from wearing your best jewels around town on a Saturday night. (Once the pubs re-open!). The problem with coronavirus is that we know that the effects vary from mild to very serious, and even fatal. But it’s hard to calculate the level of risk to us personally. Add to that, that we can’t see the threat coming. We’re in a situation where we don’t know what a ‘reasonable’ amount of anxiety is.
  • Uncertainty – studies show that uncertainty is closely linked with anxiety and worry. Those with Generalised Anxiety Disorder, for example, have a particularly high level of what’s called ‘Intolerance of uncertainty’,. Being able to plan ahead makes them feel less anxious. One study even showed that people prefer to definitely get an electric shock now than to perhaps get one later. [1] At present we have uncertainty about many elements of our lives, as well as the effects of the virus itself.
  • Change – even positive changes can increase our stress levels, depending on how well we think we’ll cope with them. Many are struggling to find the positives in the current situation.
  • Personal factors – some of us have more resilience to all these situations than others and cope better generally under stress. If you tend to believe that you have little or no control over what’s going on around you, you will find things harder. If you already suffer from an anxiety disorder or depression, especially if you already worry about your health, you might also find these things harder to cope with.

How to reduce lockdown anxiety

Many of the tips on this site about managing anxiety generally on this site can help during lockdown. Anxiety, to some extent, is always anxiety wherever it comes from. But there are specific things you can do to help you cope with the coronavirus lockdown as well. Here are some brief tips, follow the links in them to further information.

  • Spend a few minutes each day reminiscing about happy times: studies show it will improve your mood – see the study.
  • Another study on imagination shows that if we imagine someone else coping well in a situation, it changes how we think of what our own responses in that situation would be. So, if you know someone who copes well under pressure – or lockdown – imagine how they would cope with the situations you’re facing now. See the study.
  • Go out into the garden daily if you have one. Green space, however small or urban, helps you to feel more relaxed – read more.
  • Take your daily exercise as long as you are well enough to do so, it will improve your mood – more information.
  • Maintain a routine as much as you can, even if it’s not your usual one. Try to achieve something good every day and keep yourself busy with a list of those jobs you usually don’t get around to.
  • Challenge unrealistic worries, and the unhelpful ‘what if’ thoughts – read how to do this.
  • Change the negative descriptions you use in your head. For example, you’re not ‘stuck at home’, you are ‘safe at home’.
  • Focus on what you can control – for example, following the latest advice about keeping safe, washing your hands regularly, and staying at home when you can.
  • Get plenty of sleep and eat the healthiest diet you can, it supports your immune system.
  • Make sure you don’t spend hours on social media reading all the misinformation and scare stories. Find out what you need to know from a reliable source like the NHS and check it no more than once or twice a day.
  • Talk – and think – about something other than that virus! Think of lockdown not as socially distancing, but as physically distancing. Chat with friends and relatives on the phone, via Facebook or Skype; join Facebook groups that discuss things you enjoy such as your favourite books, hobbies or TV programmes; try to keep a sense of being part of a community.
  • Seek help from a therapist if you’re really struggling. Many, including myself, offer online options.

Reference: [1] https://www.theatlantic.com/health/archive/2015/03/how-uncertainty-fuels-anxiety/388066/

Author: Debbie Waller is a professional therapist, specialising in stress, anxiety and related issues, including gut-directed hypnotherapy to help with the symptoms of IBS. She also offers EMDR/Blast which is used for trauma, PTSD, phobias and OCD. For more information on any of these services, phone 01977 678593. 

Researcher: Rae Waller is an experienced researcher and writer with a special interest in mental health issues. Rae offers drafting, fact-checking, proofreading, and editing for anything from a leaflet to a website, a blog or a book, and can also provide diversity reading, especially for LGBTQ+ and autism-related issues. Please contact rae@debbiewaller.com for further information.