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How to Manage Stress and Anxiety During a Pandemic

Now there’s a subject I didn’t know I’d be addressing a few weeks ago! But here we are, wondering how to manage stress and anxiety during a pandemic.

Us humans are fragile things. We like stability, safety, routine, connection, and community. All these things make us feel safe in the world. Suddenly, everything’s changed, and these things have been taken away from us.

Globally, we are under threat. As well as an invisible viral enemy, we’re are also dealing with an information-pandemic. We’re being exposed to a daily stream of frightening information. We’re also coming to terms with the fact that our friends and family may become sick and we may even lose loved ones to this disease.

How Should We Be Feeling?

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, stressed, scared, terrified, anxious, uncertain, panicky, out of control, distracted, angry, irritable or depressed you’re having a completely normal response to what we’re going through. If you feel fine or a bit detached from the world, that’s normal too.

In other words, there’s no normal response to any of this. Don’t judge yourself, don’t compare yourself to others and try to be more compassionate and tolerant of other people if they’re reacting differently to you. Every response is valid. Over the coming months, we’ll probably go through many different stages and our emotions and behaviours are likely to change.

Self-Compassion is Key

When it comes to mental health, you could call me an expert. I’ve been working in this field for many years, but I’ve never been through a pandemic before. None of us have, so there’s no rule book. There’s no right way to deal with this. All we can do is our best.

Over the last few weeks, I’ve felt very overwhelmed. I’m hugely concerned for my elderly relatives and my loved ones. I’m concerned about my business and what will happen to our economy. I’m angry at the panic buying and upset people are so scared they feel compelled to stockpile in the first place. I also worry about how long it will take us to settle down after this and not be scared anytime someone comes near us.

As you can see, I’ve been experiencing a real jumble of emotions. It’s a mess, but that’s OK. Chaos has hit us and it’s like being in a sandstorm. We need to let the chaos settle around us. If we panic and flap about trying to calm the sand down it will just stir it up more. Showing yourself compassion will enable you to move towards something more helpful in time.

How to Manage Stress and Anxiety During a Pandemic

Experiencing stress and anxiety at this time is completely normal. We’re being constantly bombarded with very frightening news and it’s the first thing anyone mentions.

Check-in with yourself and how you’re feeling a little more often than usual. Check-in with others more too. Feeling heard is very important. There are no right answers and it’s impossible to reassure people, but don’t underestimate the power of allowing someone to feel heard without judgement. You don’t need to fix things, just be curious and listen.

Move your body. This releases the stress hormone cortisol and burns off excess adrenaline. Come back to your breath. Our breath is always there for us in frantic moments. Working to calm our physiology can be much more helpful than trying to think our way out of anxiety

Some of us may need to spend long periods of time isolated from others. Journaling is an effective way of processing your worries and fears. Get your pen and paper out and give it a go! There’s lots of information on my blog to help you get started.

Name your feelings to take control of them. When we name our emotional experience, we engage our prefrontal cortex and it calms us down. Getting frustrated or upset about how you feel will add another layer of stress. Try to roll with your experience or ride it like a wave. Remember, the only thing that is certain is that everything will change. We are passing through this.

Try to live in the moment more. Take each day as it comes. The news is trying to keep you engaged by triggering your threat system – there’s nothing like a ‘what’s coming next’ story to get our attention. This keeps us future focused on worries and problems we can’t resolve because they’re not happening yet and may not happen at all.

Our routines have completely changed, and they may never look the same again. Start planning your days and create a new routine. Give yourself some certainty – plan the day ahead and don’t think too far in advance.

Helping others does more for our wellbeing than just focusing on ourselves. Our community really needs us at the moment. Where I live, we’re all putting bears in our windows so families taking their daily exercise can go on a bear hunt. You could consider donating to food banks and charities, giving blood or shopping for an elderly neighbour.

It’s important to connect with others. When we feel connected, we feel safer and our wellbeing improves. Although we must remain physically distant to slow the spread of the virus, there are ways to remain socially connected. Try skyping friends, popping a note through the neighbours’ doors or creating a community WhatsApp group.

Stay Home, Protect the NHS, Save Lives

For information on how to protect yourself from the Coronavirus, you should always follow the latest official advice.

Following recent government announcements and advice from my professional body, I am no longer offering face-to-face therapy sessions for the foreseeable future. However, you can still access therapy with me online.

Please contact me in advance if you wish to arrange an online session and I’ll send you a link to access this service. I use a secure GDPR-compliant online platform called Zoom. If you’ve not used this before, I’d encourage you to watch this short video explaining how to join a meeting. I’m also happy to use Skype if you’re more familiar with this platform.

If you don’t need an appointment but would like to keep in touch, I also run a Facebook group called Ask the Therapist. This is a closed supportive group for people passionate about their mental health and psychological wellbeing. We share ideas, information and advice and you’re free to ask me anything about mental health, journaling and therapy. Alternatively, come and follow me on Instagram.

I think we have a long journey ahead of us, so do take care of each other.

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Sarah Rees

Sarah is a fully accredited Cognitive Behavioural Therapist and mental health writer delivering Modern Mental Health for you and with you in Mind. Sarah is the author of ‘The CBT Journal’ which helps you write for your wellbeing incorporating CBT techniques. For more information and to keep in touch have a look at sarahdrees.co.uk.