Tips on living a healthy and full life

COVID-19 and anxiety: knowing when to reach out

How is your anxiety? Is it higher or lower or the same compared to March? Even as provinces ease restrictions, and we increase our ‘social bubbles’, some degree of anxiety is to be expected. It is a normal reaction to uncertainty and to things that can be harmful to us. In the context of this pandemic, how can you tell if your anxiety is more than can be expected? How do you know if you could benefit from some more support and help?

One of the few ‘normal’ things right now is anxiety

The experts reassure us that fear, worry and anxiety are normal, expected reactions to the COVID-19 pandemic. Even people who don’t usually struggle with anxiety are experiencing more worry and anxiety now. Lots of people have talked to me about a surge in their anxiety as things open up. They are wondering, for example, whether they should wear a mask.  Is it safe to return to work? And many are feeling both excited and nervous about getting a haircut, going to stores and to outdoor patios, etc. These are perfectly normal reactions given that COVID-19 is still here, and we are still in a pandemic.

Canadians’ reports of anxiety

  • Reports of very good or excellent mental health: 22% in March and 18 % in May
  • Poor or fair mental health reports: 18% in March and 22 % in May

The realistic fears serve a purpose as they propel us to take actions to protect ourselves and others.  You know the routine – physical distancing, hand hygiene, staying home when you feel sick, and generally observing public health guidelines.

When is it too much anxiety?

While anxiety is a normal and expected reaction to the pandemic, too much anxiety can take a toll on our health and well-being. The question is: how do we know if our anxiety is ‘over the top’ and we could use some help?

The Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division offers some signs that it may be time to seek extra help and support:

  • You can’t think about anything other than coronavirus or the COVID-19 illness
  • Your anxiety interferes in your daily life—for example, you have a hard time going to work or being in public spaces even when the risk is very low
  • You isolate yourself from others when it isn’t necessary
  • You feel hopeless or angry about the situation
  • You have a hard time eating or sleeping well
  • You experience physical symptoms like frequent headaches or an upset stomach

How to manage anxiety?

If you feel like you could use some more help with your anxiety, there are a number of options, from reaching out for professional help to actions you can take yourself to manage your anxiety:

  • Download MindShift app to learn how to relax and manage anxious thoughts.  If you would prefer to attend a group, there is a cognitive therapy based group treatment program called MindShift CBT Groups.
  • Take the free online version of Bounce Back, which is a self-directed course developed by the Canadian Mental Health Association.
  • Consult the federal government’s Wellness Together Canada portal. Have your mental health assessed and get resources, including free counselling, for mental wellness and substance use issues.
  • Use a self-help workbook on worry and anxiety. Here are a couple recommended by mental health professionals:

Antony, M.M., and Norton, P.J., The Anti-Anxiety Workbook: Proven Strategies to Overcome Worry, Phobias, and Obsessions, 2009.

Forsyth, J.P., and Eifert, G.H., The Mindfulness and Acceptance Workbook for Anxiety:  A Guide to Breaking Free from Anxiety, Phobias, and Worry Using Acceptance and Commitment Therapy (2nd edition), 2016

  • Calm your mind and body. Worry and anxiety ignites our nervous system.  Choose a practice which is a good fit for you such as: guided meditationonline yogadeep breathing exercisesbody scansguided imagery or guided relaxation exercises to relieve anxiety. There are also the basics of eating well, getting enough sleep and physical exercise.
  • Practice mindfulness.Worrying is, by definition, about the future. One of the most helpful ways to learn to live in the present is to practice mindfulness. Learn to notice your worry thoughts and not engage them. There is an excellent and free 8-week online mindfulness-based stress reduction course with a certified MBSR instructor available: https://palousemindfulness.com/. 
  • Keep your virtual connections going. In fact, connect with your mom and/or dad, friends and other family members more than you usually would. Call, text, email, Skype, Facetime, or connect on Facebook.

This is an important time to treat yourself and others with kindness and compassion. Kindness and compassion are contagions-ones we can embrace-and are also good antidotes to anxiety.

Let us know what has helped you manage your anxiety during these times.

 

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