Tips to help you to cope with your anxiety better
By Josua Joubert, Chief Executive Officer and Principal Officer, CompCare Wellness Medical Scheme
Are you having emotional difficulties during this challenging time? Are you finding that there are times when you find yourself completely overwhelmed by life’s demands? If so, you are not alone, many South Africans are experiencing a great deal of anxiety at this time.
Feeling anxious and worried is to be expected in a crisis such as the one we are going through. We feel anxiety about the safety of our health and that of our families and friends; the economy, our finances, and people’s jobs; anxiety over the uncertain future that lies ahead; and anxiety about being isolated from people we care about – to name just a few.
CompCare Medical Scheme understands only too well that stress and anxiety can be a drain on one’s emotional resources. This is why we provide confidential counselling service to all of our members, no matter which option they are on. Our counselling service, which is available in all of South Africa’s official languages, is there for our members when they need to talk about anything that may be causing them stress or anxiety.
Feeling in a constant state of fear and anxiety is not pleasant for anyone, so, how can we better manage these feelings so that they don’t overwhelm us?
The following are some tips that we think might help one to cope better during this time:
Know that you are not alone in feeling this way. We know from information both here and around the world that many people are feeling anxious, fearful, and even depressed regarding this COVID- 19 pandemic. This is not surprising considering the upheaval in our lives, the constant bad news in the media, the uncertainty of when it will end or even if it will end, worries about whether we will be one of few people who become seriously ill, worries about the economy and the loss of jobs, and so on. A recent poll in the US found that 60% of adults were feeling stressed and worried. So, it is completely understandable if you are feeling a lot of anxiety over this coronavirus too.
Try to limit how much time you spend watching or reading things about the coronavirus and COVID-19. The headlines are often sensational about the spread of the disease and the threat it poses. Remember, headlines sell newspapers! Unfortunately, the media tends to focus on the negative aspects of this pandemic: how quickly it is spreading, how many people have died, the lack of effective treatment, the loss of jobs, hunger, etc. However, being constantly exposed to bad news throughout your waking hours can cause you to feel anxious. But you can control this by limiting your media exposure, especially from unreliable sources. Make a pact with yourself and limit the time you spend reading or watching news about the coronavirus. It has been suggested that we only check the news (from reliable sources) once or twice a day. Time enough to keep abreast of what is happening but not to dominate your life.
Keep in contact with your friends and loved ones. Having to be kept physically apart due to the lockdown can leave us feeling lonely and socially isolated, adding to our anxiety. It helps if you can make time to contact your friends and loved ones regularly so that you keep connected. Either phone them for a chat or use digital means to connect with them – such as Skype, WhatsApp video, FaceTime, etc. This can help your state of mind and will probably help theirs too.
Have a routine in your life. This creates certainty in the current time where so much uncertainty abounds. Uncertainty often creates anxiety. Having a routine creates some structure and control in our lives, which helps to reduce the amount of uncertainty we are living with. So, set yourself either a daily or weekly routine. It does not need to be a tight schedule of what to do at exactly what time (which in itself can be stressful), but a simple routine that you can easily follow, and which suits you and the people you live with.
Make time to do things you enjoy. We need a balance in our lives and doing things we enjoy is not a luxury or a treat, but a necessity. We can brighten our day by setting aside time to do something that pleases us. As many of us are still required to stay at home during this stage of the lockdown, think about what you can do at home that you enjoy. Make sure you set aside time for this each day. If you become absorbed in your enjoyable activity (even if it is having a nap), not only will it please you but your thoughts are less likely to be focusing on the coronavirus anxieties.
Look after your health. Eat the right foods, get enough sleep, and try to exercise regularly. Regular exercise is known to be good for mental health so try and build this into your daily routine. Try and get at least 30 minutes a day of some form of physical activity or exercise.
Train your thoughts. Try to avoid focusing on the negative aspects of your life. So rather than ruminating on all the things that are worrying you and that are missing from your life right now, try and think of some of the positives about what is happening and the things you can be grateful for. Maybe you can spend more time with the children, can fix things that have long needed attention around the house, or have time to sort out all those papers that have gathered. It is a good idea to make a list each day of the things that have been positive for that day and that you are grateful for. Writing this down is said to help our frame of mind.
A simple breathing exercise can help reduce anxiety. The breathing exercise called 4-7-8 is said to help you feel calmer when you are feeling anxious. This involves breathing in for 4 seconds, holding your breath for 7 seconds, and breathing out slowly for the count of 8 seconds. Try this when you are feeling especially anxious.