A few nights ago I started to feel unwell. I was cold and tired. I couldn’t seem to warm up and had chills throughout my body. I’d been for a bike ride earlier that day and it was a cool March morning. I’d felt like this before but this time it was different. The difference being, we’re in the midst of a pandemic.
I started analyzing how I felt. Did I have a fever, or was I just cold? Were my aching muscles from the bike ride or something else? I began retracing my steps over the past few weeks. Where did I go?
Did I have the Virus?
I was feeling anxious. Was this COVID-19? I started thinking how I’d manage if it was. Was it too late to protect the rest of my family? Would I have to stay in one room while the rest kept away from me leaving meals outside my room. I pictured us talking across a closed door and having Zoom meetings.
I also felt guilty at the thought of having the virus. Here I was working in health care and advocating for people to self-isolate and practice physical distancing, and I can’t even manage to avoid it myself. I went through the British Columbia self-assessment app for COVID-19. Twice. Just to make sure. As if I was looking for something more.
Fortunately my symptoms didn’t quite match up. My rational self tried to jump in and tell me there’s nothing to worry about. And that even if I had the virus I’d get through it. But who is really listening to their rationale self these days? If that were the case, we wouldn’t be stock piling toilet paper. I still had a nagging feeling and took acetaminophen that evening because I heard ibuprofen wasn’t recommended if you have COVID-19. But apparently ibuprofen is okay, although acetaminophen is preferred.
The next morning I woke up feeling fine and have been ever since. And my rationale self told me I told you so. I had succumbed to anxiety, and in particular health anxiety. But I’m not alone. Close to two-thirds of people have reported feeling more anxiety, stress and fear over the past couple of weeks. And this may, unfortunately, increase.
Feeling Anxious is Normal
In times of crisis, mental wellbeing can suffer. For some people, they don’t even need to be involved in the situation. It could be a hurricane a half-world away, with no actual personal connection, and yet their anxiety levels increase. This situation we’re in is different. It’s not somewhere else, it’s here and there is no country that isn’t affected.
When feeling anxious, the first thing to do is recognize it’s normal and it’s okay to be worried. This is a challenging situation and being worried is a normal response.
When faced with a stressful situation, our body turns on our fight or flight instinct pumping us full of adrenaline. But in this case there really isn’t anything to fight, and since most of us are house-bound, we can’t run anywhere. Even some of our usual ways of dealing with stress and anxiety have been taken away from us such as gyms, community centres and social gathering places.
It’s also important to recognize that some things are beyond our control. While that’s easier said than done, once we settle our mind around the notion we can’t control everything, it lifts some of the burden of the worry. At the same time, look to things you can control, from your thoughts to social distancing to connecting virtually with loved ones, and other selfcare activities.
Fifteen Ways to Help Manage Anxiety
Below is a list of ways to help manage anxiety and cope through this challenging time. These ideas come from standard recommendations from psychologists as well as suggestions from others on how they cope:
- Be physically active and exercise: This was the number one response people gave to relieve anxiety. It can also help your immune system.
- Get outside: Fresh air, being around greenspace and nature is great at reducing stress.
- Build a routine: A routine can help build focus and control to your days.
- Try something new: Pick up a musical instrument or join the groups of people doing pandemic baking.
- Listen to music: Music can truly calm the savage beast and improve your mood.
- Limit your time listening to news and social media: Be informed but not overwhelmed.
- Set aside time to worry: Each day, give yourself up to half an hour to reflect on your worries.
- Connect with family and friends: Have an online drink, game or meal together and share a smile.
- Dive into a hobby: Start a puzzle, read a book, art project, knitting or get digital photos organized.
- Help others and be thankful: There a lot of ways to help even from your home.
- Be kind to yourself: During this period, it may be hard to be as productive as you’re used to, and that’s okay.
- Start a worry journal: Writing down the things that worry you allows you to acknowledge them and put them into context.
- Talk to someone outside your household/family who you feel you can have an open discussion on how you’re feeling.
- Divide you worries into things you can do something about and things you can’t. Make a plan for those that you can influence and try to accept those that you can’t.
- Eat healthy foods: A diet high in natural foods and low in processed foods can improve mental wellbeing.
If you’re finding things aren’t getting better, you’re losing sleep, feeling a deep sense of hopelessness or constantly in a bad mood, you may benefit from seeking help. Organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association and the National Alliance on Mental Illness are great resources.
Lastly, recognize that while this is a challenging time, it will end and we will pull this.
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