Covid-19 has triggered a huge, stressful experiment across the globe. A forced experiment where, over the past few months, people have been experiencing what it’s like to work from home whilst potentially trying to run a completely remote team and having the kids at home 24/7 too. Even worse, it looks like the working from home with a virtual team is likely to continue for much longer than when the kids go back to school.
For many, this trial run isn’t going so good and the stress and anxiety are only building as the transition to normality is looking like a long one. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with your situation and you’re worried about the impact on your career and livelihood, this article outlines how to cope with anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic.
Acceptance is the first step
You may have heard “acceptance is the first step in the road to recovery” or “acceptance is the first step towards change” and there’s a reason for that. When it comes to anxiety, you need to first accept the emotion before you can let it go. What I mean by this is that many people tend to resist anxiety or the symptoms of anxiety. They may perceive the emotion as ‘weak’ so the tendency is to deny it, but suffering is what occurs when we resist what we are actually feeling.
To help you reframe what anxiety means so that you can accept that it is a normal reaction and emotion, it may be helpful for you to know that our brains are pre-programmed for negativity bias. To put it simply, we are more sensitive to recognising negativity, to identify potential threats, to churn potentially threatening situations over in our minds so that we can learn from them and ensure our survival. It sounds a bit mad in our day and age but for our Prehistoric Ancestors, this way of thinking would have saved their lives on numerous occasions.
So what does this have to do with the question that you’re asking – how to cope with anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic? Well, if you accept that anxiety is normal, that worrying is our defence mechanism trying to protect us, you can then start to understand it, to separate the necessary worry from the overwhelming thoughts, and learn to cope with it. For example, it’s easy to become overwhelmed with all of our worries at the moment – when will this uncertainty end? Will this affect my career prospects? How long can we cope financially, particularly if the pay cut I was forced to accept becomes permanent? How long can my parents stay indoors before it takes its toll on their mental wellbeing? When will my children be able to go back to school? Will it be safe? – but all this does is negatively impact your health and every other aspect of your daily life. If you understand anxiety and accept it as a biological phenomenon, you can take a step back from the emotion and say to yourself “right, what I’m feeling is normal because it’s an incredibly stressful and uncertain time but I can’t do anything about a lot of my worries so which ones can I address and let go of?” Do you see the difference? Being able to logically approach anxiety, you can bring back a sense of control to yourself and your situation which has a massive positive impact on your wellbeing.
3 steps to overcome overwhelming anxiety due to Covid-19
Panic, too, is contagious so if you are becoming overwhelmed by the uncertainty and fear that is swirling around us 24/7, take these three steps. These are essential for how to cope with anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic, especially if you are worried about your career and livelihood.
1) Identify your anxiety triggers
To make positive changes, you first need to identify exactly what you are worrying about. Are you:
- Worrying about your career?
- Worrying about the future of your spouse or life partners’ job?
- Worrying about your household finances or that of your firm?
- Worrying about your health or your families health?
- Worrying about your children not being in school or having too much screen time or isolating themselves
- from peers and social contact?
- Trying to support loved ones who are vulnerable?
- Feeling overwhelmed by the news of the coronavirus?
- Struggling with people being negative or venting about the coronavirus?
- Not able to exercise or do activities that usually help you let go of stress?
- Struggling to adapt to the transition out of lockdown (e.g. being around people or in public spaces again)?
Often, when we are overwhelmed, it can be extremely difficult to pinpoint exactly what is making us anxious. However, if you want to be able to cope with the anxiety and panic without it consuming everything you do, then you need to be aware of your triggers and how your body reacts to them.
Start paying attention to your thoughts and your physical reactions that are caused by anxiety, and when you find yourself worrying, write them down. This could be something as simple as “when I read the news on social media, I feel really nauseous” or “when the people around me are venting or are being quite negative, I get this pain in my chest or I get heart palpitations.” Make a real effort to do this because, over time, you’ll start to see a trend and you will be able to identify your ‘anxiety triggers’ easily.
This will be difficult to do at first but it will soon become natural and once you have this information, you can make significant changes that will help ease this anxiety. When you know what your triggers are, you can:
- Avoid these triggers altogether or limit your exposure to it so that you only consume what you can handle.
- Understand yourself better and become more aware of your negative habits and thought patterns
- Recognise when you’re getting anxious so that you can make positive changes before it becomes overwhelming.
2) Categorise into practical and hypothetical worry and plan for what you can
When thinking about how to cope with anxiety during the Covid-19 pandemic, the most important anxiety trigger to address first is the ‘uncertainty.’ The “what if?” worries and uncertainty of the future is making many people feel very out of control and quite helpless at the moment, both of which are major predecessors to anxiety. So how do you do this? How do you take back control of a supposedly uncontrollable situation?
If you’ve done the first step and you’ve written down exactly what worries you have and what situations make you anxious, you can now approach your anxiety with logic. If you haven’t done the first step, then go back and do this first. It may seem insignificant but writing your worries down helps massively. Not only does it help you recognise patterns that you didn’t know before, but it also takes the emotion out of it and helps you look at how you’re feeling from a different perspective.
So, you have your worries written down. Now, take a look at them and separate the practical worries (ones that you can do something about) from the hypothetical worries (the “what ifs?” or ones that tend to focus on things that could happen). Tackle the practical ones first and make a plan of how you can address them now.
Here are a few examples below:
- Reading/hearing the news makes me anxious. Plan: only check reputable sources that show the facts (e.g. BBC news & Gov.uk) and schedule one moment in the day to just get the highlights.
- Family/friends being negative really affects me. Plan: Communicate with them that you want to support them but you find it hard to be surrounded by constant negativity. Encourage positivity/optimism and if this doesn’t work, you may have to call them less frequently.(Find out how to stay positive for others when you’re scared and worried too)
- I am worried about my career prospects. Plan: What personal skills can you develop now that will be very beneficial later? E.g. leading a virtual team. What business development activities can you focus on now so they will take up less of your time later? E.g. growing your online presence. What systems and processes can you implement now to improve workflow later? How can you make your services relevant to your target audience right now? For example, accountants could offer bookkeeping out to clients who may consider cutting their in-house bookkeeper.(Has your workload temporarily dried up? Here are 6 ways to keep usefully busy)
- I am worried about my personal and business finances. Plan: Check what support is available from the government and keep up to date with changes. Review your finances and scale back what you can. Identify exactly how long you can manage on ‘comfortable.’
As we said previously, writing down your worries takes the emotion out of it. It helps your brain switch to logical mode as you problem-solve and think of potential solutions. This switch will already start to ease any anxiety you have as you focus on the things that you can control, and when you draw up your plan of action and start to implement your changes in your daily life, you’ll soon find that you’ll start to manage your anxiety with less and less effort.
While this problem-solving approach is enough to manage those practical worries, it’s the hypothetical worries that tend to plague people; it is these worries that tend to lead to overwhelm. Unfortunately, there is no easy and magical solution to let these go, these will take a lot more time and effort to kick. The good news is, however, that if you implement some of these Cognitive Behaviour Therapy (CBT) techniques into your daily life and you do them consistently, these will help you to develop positive habits that will impact your mental wellbeing massively.
Here are a few that you can try:
- Journaling – start to write down any worries, what-ifs or thoughts as you have them. This will be your ‘worry diary.’ It’s also good practice to end each day writing down what you are grateful for.
- Schedule in ‘worry windows’ – decide on a period of time in the day where you are allowed to worry. Sounds strange, I know, but it will help to ground you in the present so that you’re not overwhelmed with your thoughts. For example, your ‘window’ could be in the evening after work and between dinner where you allow yourself to worry about all those things that you have written down that day. Sometimes, writing them down is enough to let them go or if you don’t, you’ll find that this ‘worry time’ becomes shorter and shorter over time until you don’t need to schedule it in anymore.
- Meditation/Mindfulness – try implementing 10 minutes of meditation or mindful breathing into your routine every day. Not only is this great for your focus, but it also trains you to be in the present moment rather than letting your emotions take over.
- Talk to someone – if you’re struggling to manage your anxiety yourself, seek support with your doctor. When it comes to coping with hypothetical worry, CBT can make a big difference.
3) Prioritise taking care of yourself
Self-care always seems to fall to the bottom of our lists, especially when we are feeling overwhelmed, but it really needs to be our priority. If you’re feeling overwhelmed with anxiety, ask yourself if you’re satisfying the four pillars of health:
- Are you getting enough good quality sleep consistently?
- Are you eating healthy food and drinking lots of water?
- Are you exercising regularly?
- Are you relaxing properly and switching off from work?
If you’re not sleeping well because you’re constantly worrying and you can’t switch off your mind; if you’re seeking comfort food and then skipping exercise because you feel groggy, start prioritising your self-care.
Getting into a negative spiral (which only serves to make you feel worse) is not good for you and it exacerbates these feelings of anxiety and depression, so start looking after yourself. This means:
- Getting 7-8 hours of good quality sleep consistently, preferably between the same times every night,
- Eating healthy foods that boost your immune system and make you feel good, as well as staying hydrated,
- Getting 30 minutes of exercise every day; and
- Finding moments to properly switch off and give your mind a much-needed break so that you can recharge.
You may not think that this will make a massive difference but trust us when we say that if you take care of your body, it will make it so much easier to take care of your mind. When you recharge your body with sleep and you fuel it with the right nutrients, you will make better decisions when it comes to your health and you’ll build positive habits that will get you out of that negative cycle.
Kick your anxiety to the curb
It’s really easy to get caught up in how we are feeling, especially with the panic and uncertainty that we are currently faced with, but it’s important that we don’t let it consume us. To avoid being overwhelmed by anxiety, make sure that you’re making these three steps a regular part of your daily life: identify your triggers, tackle your practical worries, and build positive habits to reduce your hypothetical worries.
If you prioritise your self-care alongside these, over time, you’ll find that you will be able to manage your anxiety without having to consciously think about it.