Taking care of your mental health and preventing COVID-19 anxiety

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Taking care of your mental health during the COVID-19 outbreak is vital. Anxiety can be just as contagious as the virus and there is definitely a strong connection between the mind and the body – our mind is very powerful.

We know that chronic stress does compromise the immune system. When we are stressed, our body releases cortisol into the blood stream, and higher levels of cortisol, over time, lead to compromised immunity.

Therefore, the messages and thoughts we consume are just as important as “washing our hands” in helping us to fight this virus and reduce our stress levels.

With all of this in mind, we believe that taking care of our mind is just as important as washing our hands, so we have put together a list of strategies, tools, ideas and resources for managing and preventing COVID-19 anxiety.

Strategies for PREVENTING COVID-19 anxiety (early intervention):

  • Establish a daily routine or use a Goals Timetable. When everything around you is constantly changing, continuing to maintain some consistency, structure and routine in your day-to-day activities will help you with adapting to the change in a supported way. Break your day up into blocks and include a variety of different activities: organisational tasks, social, pleasurable, physical, Mindfulness.
  • Practice relaxation or meditation daily. Practicing relaxation and mindfulness will certainly help to lower your stress levels. Remember, relaxation and mindfulness exercises are not intended to treat an acute panic attack in the moment, but rather, to be practiced daily over time to reduce your overall level of stress, which in turn will result in fewer acute episodes of stress. It is recommended that you practice these exercises daily even when you are not feeling stressed. If you only practice when you are stressed or anxious, you will not get the full benefit. Find a suitable time in your day to schedule in your relaxation or mindfulness practice and commit to it as a daily part of your routine. Setting an alarm or reminder on your phone may be helpful for this. You may find it initially difficult to stick to this routine, but after a while it turns into a habit. As you start to see the benefits of your daily practice, you are likely to want to continue with this.
  • Exercise 30 mins / day. Exercise has many benefits for your overall health and mental health. Namely, it release endorphins (feel good chemicals) into the blood stream, which helps to improve your mood and reduce stress.
  • Eat a balanced, healthy diet. Ensuring you get a variety of different nutrients into your diet.
  • Get at least 8 hours of sleep. Sleep is also important both for your general and mental health.
  • Address the content of your thoughts and challenge any unrealistic or unhelpful thinking patterns. Work through some Thought Records or try Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) with your psychologist. In the meantime, perhaps you could try using the 3 C’s:

Catch the Thought (we can’t change what we don’t notice).

Check the Thought (Is this thought helpful? Is this thought realistic?).

Change/Challenge the Thought (What is a more helpful or realistic way of looking at this situation?).

  • Take a break from or set a limit on your consumption of mainstream media, news coverage of COVID-19 social media etc. To stay up to date with information, stick to trustworthy sources (i.e. messages from Government bodies/authorities).
  • Set time aside each day for gratitude journal and/or discussion of some nice things that happened in your day (Did you see someone doing something kind in the supermarket? Did you do something nice for someone else today? etc). At times like these, it can be easy to see the world through a negative lens, but remember to look for the helpers and for the people spreading kindness and generosity into our community.
  • Give yourself permission to feel your feelings. Normalise your feelings – most other human beings are feeling this way at the moment, too. It’s ok to feel whatever you feel. Honour it, express it, talk about it… but don’t let it become all-consuming.

Strategies to use when anxiety takes hold:

  • Practice a SAFE PLACE meditation. Visualise a safe place in your mind. It could be a somewhere you’ve been before or a new place that you create in your mind. Perhaps a beach, a forest, a campfire, floating on clouds, etc.
  • Practice COPE AHEAD skill. Imagine yourself coping with your most feared situation/outcome. What does that look like for you? How are you problem solving it? What are you doing? How are you doing it?
  • Practice a short Mindfulness meditation or activity (using the Calm app or perhaps try the guided relaxation exercises on our website).
  • Use the STOP practice: Stop, Think, Observe, Proceed.
  • Self-care activities i.e. yoga (Jessica Dewar Yoga is a donation-based studio and they are offering Live Streaming of all their yoga classes if you can’t attend in person!), reading (I’m currently reading Pip Lincolne‘s new book When Life Is Not Peachy), watching movies, listening to music, listening to podcasts etc.
  • Sensory diet: Ground yourself by labelling 5 things you can see, 5 things you can hear, 5 things you can feel.
  • Breathing exercises for panic or rhythmic breathing: If you are experiencing a panic attack, remember the most effective tool is to breathe in a cycle – in for 3-6 seconds, hold for 3-6 seconds, out for 4-8 seconds, until your symptoms pass.
  • Progressive muscle relaxation (listen on our SoundCloud).
  • Use distress tolerance skills (if you don’t have them, request a copy from your psychologist)

Long-term plan:

  • Work with a psychologist to understand the content, mechanisms and underlying motives for your anxiety related to COVID-19.
  • Find meaning and process your thoughts and feelings related to your COVID-19 anxiety.
  • Create a meaningful life that is tied in with your core values (social, career, family, friends, hobbies)

Your Actions:

  • Complete self-monitoring table to measure your progress over time and hold yourself accountable (ask your psychologist for a copy of this table or perhaps use the Daylio app on your phone for this).
  • Practice all the strategies listed above on a regular basis. This will help to build a sense of mastery over any emotions that come up (fear, stress, anger, etc) and allow some space between stimulus and response.
  • Reading on mindfulness, emotion regulation, distress tolerance.
  • Attend counselling sessions in person or by online therapy / Telehealth counselling.

Given everything that is going on, you may be tempted to cancel your on self-care activities (i.e. yoga, exercise, etc) or cancel any mental-health related appointments but remember that prioritising your mental health at this time is just as important as washing your hands.

Finally, remember, we can fight this together, with kindness, compassion and strength. Never give up on hope.

A Loving-Kindness Meditation:

May we be healthy.

May we be kind (to ourselves and others).

May we be strong (in body and mind).

Please also read our practice policies & procedures regarding COVID-19 and learn more about our online therapy Telehealth counselling service.