It’s perhaps unsurprising to learn that during the first lockdown, almost half (49.6 per cent) of people surveyed by the Office for National Statistics reported high levels of anxiety. But thanks to the vaccine, a better understanding of Covid-19 and the easing of lockdown restrictions, that initial fear around the pandemic has no-doubt subsided a little.
Indeed, that’s not to say that pandemic anxiety levels have lowered for everybody. The Mental Health Foundation has just reported that 25 per cent of people asked are ‘not at all anxious’ about entering the new normal world, while one third (33 per cent) say they are ‘fairly anxious’ and eight per cent are ‘very anxious’.
Regardless of where you’re at in navigating the pandemic, the current global news might very well be compounding any anxieties and adding a new layer of fear. The fatal earthquake in Haiti. The Taliban’s occupation of Afghanistan. The ongoing climate crisis catastrophes. The Plymouth shootings. It’s easy to feel helpless, scared and anxious about world crises that seem out of your individual control.
“It’s understandable that the news can make us feel anxious and helpless at times; there’s so much going on in the world and some of it is far from positive,” psychologist and CPPC London co-founder Caroline Plumer tells The Independent.
“Empathy with those who are suffering is a great quality to have, but in extreme situations such as the ongoing unrest in Afghanistan, which is very far from home, or the tragic incident in Plymouth, which may be closer to home but is still a rare event, being overly empathetic and taking on the feelings of others as our own can actually be unhelpful.
“We need to strike a balance between allowing ourselves to feel sad, not rejecting that feeling completely as some often do with negative emotions, but also not letting the feeling consume or overwhelm us. It’s also helpful to recognise that anxiety, although common and natural, is rarely useful in helping us achieve our aims.”
She adds: “Try not to catastrophise on a personal level – yes, there are catastrophic things going on in the world, but part of the reason we can feel so acutely worried about them is because we start to see them as an attack on our personal safety and circumstances.”
Plumer explains that it’s worth considering whether there are things that you’re worrying about that are within your control: “Of course you cannot assume responsibility for the entire climate crisis, but you can do your bit in terms of recycling and reducing carbon footprint. With crises like the Haiti earthquake, there are aid organisations that you can support and donate to.
“This not only helps give some back a feeling of control and empowerment, but also the sense of connectedness and belonging we get from being part of a common goal and working towards a greater good can be hugely beneficial to our mental well-being.”
Dr Becky Spelman, a psychologist from Private Therapy Clinic, adds: “It’s normal to feel an emotional reaction, but alongside that must be the recognition that most of it is out of your control. It isn’t easy and it needs practice.
“One way to do this when you’re triggered is to mentally step back and remind yourself through a simple statement to surrender to the fact that it’s not something you can personally control, with the aim of changing your emotional state.”
Offering advice on how to deal with anxiety during times of uncertainty, Brendan Street, Head of Emotional Wellbeing at Nuffield Health lists:
“We’re bombarded with bad news and this takes its toll on our mental health. While it’s important to stay updated with news that impacts us, we need to know when to take a step back. Check a trusted news site once in the morning and again in the evening to catch any important updates, but try to avoid your phone and switch off the TV for the rest of the day.
Focus on your breath
Simple breathing exercises can help us stay in control. Close your eyes and focus on your breath. Take long, slow inhalations through your nose, hold for a few seconds comfortably and then exhale out through your mouth. Not only will this take your mind off the uncomfortable feelings, but research suggests around six exhalations a minute can trigger a relaxation response, which helps alleviate symptoms of anxiety and depression.
Challenge unhelpful thinking
It’s completely normal to worry about the unknown but to cope with regular changes and uncertainties, we need to learn to take them in our stride. Try to understand your common unhelpful thought patterns. When you feel stressed or anxious, write down the trigger, associated thoughts, and the mood you experienced. Also note how the situation turned out. Often, we read back through our experiences and learn, while our thoughts may focus on the worst-case scenario, things rarely turn out like this.
While it’s definitely worth trying out these tips, if anxiety feels like a constant companion, it might be worth speaking to a professional.
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