Anxiety; fear; COVID-19. These words have become synonymous with each other since the pandemic was announced back in March 2020. For many of us alive today, a global pandemic is unchartered territory, and with that comes uncertainty and fear of the unknown.
If you have been experiencing increased anxiety, you are certainly not alone. But what exactly is anxiety? And what can you do to alleviate it?
What is Anxiety?
Anxiety is an uncomfortable feeling of fear or impending disaster. Everyone experiences some anxiety in their life, it’s a normal response to stressful situations. But sometimes anxiety can prevent us from doing the things we want and need to do. And when anxiety becomes constant and excessive, it can become hard to cope with day-to-day life.
In most cases, symptoms of anxiety include feelings of fear or impending doom. This may be accompanied by feeling faint or dizzy, experiencing an accelerated heart rate and/or breathing, as well as sweating more than usual. Cognitive indicators may also be present, such as fatigue, restlessness, difficulty with attention/concentration and sleep disruption.
It is important to remember that there is a distinction between feelings of anxiety, and a diagnosable anxiety disorder, which shares the same symptoms, but where the risk of something happening is higher than the risk of this being chronic. If you think you, or someone you know, falls into this category, you should reach out to a health professional.
Anxiety and COVID-19
In a survey distributed during the peak of the pandemic in Australia (March to April 2020), it was found that 78% of the 5070 participants reported that their health had deteriorated since the since the beginning of the pandemic. Rates of self-reported feelings of depression were felt among 62% of people; 50% reported higher anxiety; and 64% reported elevated stress levels. What’s more, those who had a history of diagnosed mental illness, reported even greater anxiety, stress and fear, than those without a medical history.
So, what can we do to combat feelings of anxiety?
Tips for dealing with anxiety
- Set Structure & Plan Accordingly
Break down tasks into small manageable steps to help with concentration. Write To-Do lists to help you keep on track and use the early part of the day to focus on tasks that demand a high level of attention. Set up a routine. Many of our-pre-pandemic routines have dissolved, so it is important to set up new ones to follow.
- Social support
Researchers have shown that keeping a strong support network can play a large role in protecting against mental illness. Social support can help in anxiety-provoking situations and assist in developing resilience and tolerance. Technology gives us the tools to connect, even when we are stuck at home.
- Accept the anxiety
Recognising that anxiety is a normal human experience can help to relieve stress associated with experiencing anxiety symptoms. COVID-19 has brought about unprecedented stressors, so it is important to practice self-compassion, and understand that you are not alone in your experience. Be sure to continue to reframe your thoughts on risk and something bad happening.
- Learn controlled breathing
Controlled breathing techniques can assist to relieve anxiety. Many mobile phone applications have been developed that provide short meditations and breathing exercises to help develop a practice.
YourHealth app (https://yourhealthplus.com.au/)
Smiling mind (https://www.smilingmind.com.au/)
- Focus on what you CAN do…
…not what you can’t do. Focus on your strengths, adopt a growth mindset, and practice positive thinking. Positive thinking is the opposite of anxiety. If feelings of anxiety are becoming overwhelming, take whatever actions are within your control. At work, you may wish to choose jobs where:
- The tasks are self-paced;
- There are small teams;
- The communication mode is variable – i.e. computer, phone, and face to face
- There are repetitive tasks;
Once you have learned strategies to manage your anxiety, then it is likely you will be able to expand your job options.
Anxiety, and feeling anxious, is manageable and more common than you might think. If you are struggling, these 5 things might just help.
Newby, JM., O’Moore, K., Tang, S., Christensen, H., and Faasse, K. (2020). Acute mental health responses during the COVID-19 pandemic in Australia. PLOS ONE, 15(7): e0236562. https://doi.org/10.1371/