The impact of the COVID-19 virus has made almost everything about daily life uncertain. As anxiety levels spike, it’s important to learn new ways to cope.
Know that anxiety is a normal response
The first thing to know is that what you are feeling is not strange or unusual. In fact, it makes perfect sense. “It is a completely normal response to experience anxiety and stress during the lockdown,” explains Annie Byrne, a registered psychological counsellor based in Cape Town.
We now know that the first outbreak of the coronavirus in China brought with it a mental health crisis. A steep increase in depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) led to what research in the Emerging Infectious Diseases Journal called a ‘heightened public mental health crisis’.
South African authorities are currently focused on limiting the spread of the COVID-19 virus – and rightly so – but, we need to recognise that the consequences for our sense of security and wellbeing are real and widespread.
“It is important that you acknowledge how you are feeling,” says Byrne. While this won’t immunise you against anxiety, it will help you to address your symptoms and gather effective resources.
Set aside a specific time to calm your nervous system
Be deliberate and consistent about paying attention to your mental health during the lockdown. “Set time aside in your day to engage in calming activities to ease your nervous system,” advises Byrne.
“Breathing exercises, creativity, movement, journaling and meditation are some lovely tools to help you relax.” Decide which tool you’re going to try and exactly when you’re going to do it. Then stick to your plan, even – or, rather, especially– if you don’t feel like it.
Learning how to regulate your nervous system takes practice. The more you practice, the better you’ll become at quietening your mind and easing tension in your body.
Reach out regularly
“Another daily practise you shouldn’t skip? Reaching out to your support systems”, says Byrne. You won’t be able to see your usual network in person during lockdown, but you can – and should – communicate with supportive friends and family on a regular basis.
Chat on Whatsapp or schedule video calls with people you trust with your feelings. Be open about what you’re experiencing and ask others how they are coping.
But, beware of social media, which has the tendency to increase anxiety. Instead, aim for personal interaction on platforms that won’t draw you into news and comment threads.
Learn new ways to cope
Part of what makes lockdown difficult is that it rules out many of our healthy coping mechanisms. Without your usual exercise class, time in nature or a hug from your closest friend, you might feel at a loss for ways to deal with anxious or depressive thinking.
So now’s the time to explore some alternatives. Byrne suggests online workout videos, journaling, reading (but, not the news), and listening to music and podcasts. With an open mind and time on your hands, you could easily discover a highly effective new outlet for stress and uncomfortable feelings.
Get professional help
“Please don’t hesitate to reach out to mental health practitioners”, says Byrne.
“They are all still operating either online or in-person.”
- The South African Depression and Anxiety Group (SADAG)
offers a number of free resources.
- Chat online with a counsellor seven days a week from 9am – 4pm
via the Cipla Whatsapp Chat Line: 076 882 2775.
- For a suicidal emergency, contact SADAG on 0800 567 567,
or the 24-hour helpline on 0800 456 789.
- For help in the case of abuse at home, contact 0800 150 150.