Try not to focus on what you have lost... but what you are grateful for

Cork-based Clinical Psychologist PAULA HURLEY shares some good advice on how to deal with any anxiety or worry people may have during the current COVID-19 crisis
Try not to focus on what you have lost... but what you are grateful for

KEEP A JOURNAL: Write down it in every day three things you are grateful for.

WORDS like ‘unprecedented’, ‘pandemic’, and ‘lockdown’ are fast becoming the norm in our daily conversations.

It is promoting a sense of uncertainty about our lives, jobs and the world around us. This uncertainty and unpredictability can trigger worry and anxiety within even the most stoic.

Worry and anxiety has an important role to play in our lives as it allows us to think ahead, anticipate problems and prepare for action. However, when we become overly focused on re-living or pre-living our lives it can cause us increased feelings of fear, worry and anxiety.

What happens to us during times of worry and anxiety?

You could think of it as a domino effect, where anxiety affects our thoughts (overthinking), behaviours (compulsively checking news, social media), feelings (fear, uncertainty, anger) and physical sensations. Some people experience worry as uncontrollable- where a negative thought begets another and these thoughts come automatically without effort or desire.

For example: “I have a cough” and “what if I have Covid-19?” and “What if I passed it onto my family?” and “What if they get it?” and “What if they die?” and “I won’t cope with that”.

The physical sensations of worry and anxiety are felt as restlessness, tension in the body, difficulty concentrating and sleeping, etc.

The feelings of fear, worry and anxiety instead of motivating people to seek support can cause isolation.

This emotional isolation may be compounded by the physical isolation of social distancing.

So, what can we do about these distressing thoughts and feelings?

In any situation, we can’t control the situation but we can control our response to it. Perhaps it’s time to take compassionate action and find ways of taking a break from worry and lowering anxiety.

Keep a balance and get the basics right

Taking care of the basics such as establishing/maintaining a routine at home, sleep, diet, exercise, relaxation with apps such as Calm, Smiling minds, Buddhity, Mindful Gnats, Headspace.

Activities that bring you a sense of pleasure, accomplishment and a sense of connectedness promote a sense of well-being.

With the current social distancing measures, you may need to be more creative in how you connect with your family and friends, i.e. using teleconferencing on a Saturday night with friends (Zoom has a basic package for free), Facetime, whats app.

Check your behaviours and control what you can

Set reasonable limits of news. watching and social media. Notice how it makes you feel. Find your own balance, perhaps check the news once or twice a day. Follow governmental guidelines; wash hands, cough etiquette, social distancing, etc.

Engage in the here and now

Take it one day at a time. Try not to focus on what you have lost but perhaps what you are grateful for. Completing a gratitude journal where you identify three things you are grateful for. It is hard to feel anxiety when you are focusing on what you have in your life.

Don’t try to suppress or avoid your worrying thoughts

While doing this may feel like it helps, in fact it compounds fear. You cannot suppress the worrying thoughts but you don’t have to follow the thoughts to their catastrophic conclusion.

Strategies that help are to ‘name it and tame it’ (Dr Dan Siegel). For example “There is that worry thought again. I am not going to follow that thought to the doomsday end”.

You can then use ‘worry time’ and distraction i.e. exercise, doing something creative, connecting with others, doing a puzzle, or self-care.

Talk to people about your worries. This will help to normalise your experience and keep perspective. You can form a support network with those around you.

‘Worry time’:

This is a way of coping with excessive intrusive worry thoughts. This involves postponing worry until a designated time in the day e.g. 30 minutes after dinner. As worry thoughts pop into your head during the day tell yourself “It’s OK to have this worry, but I’m going to put off thinking about it until my ‘worry time’”.

Perhaps you can write the worry in a notebook. You might notice a pattern or recurring worry thoughts. During ‘worry time’ reflect on the worry — how concerned are you about them now? Is there anything I can do to help the situation? After the 30 minutes, move onto another activity that takes your mind away from the worry.

The main thing is YOU ARE NOT ALONE in how you are feeling and reacting in this new world order. And you can do something to ease these distressing feelings. None of us have experienced this in our lifetime and so we are all trying to figure it out together. The little things we do in life are still the important things we do in life.

If you are experiencing symptoms of anxiety and worry that are impacting on your ability to cope with day to day tasks, or have an existing mental health problem that is being exacerbated, contact your GP or your mental health team via phone for support.

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Dr Paula Hurley has worked in the area of psychology for the past 12 years in different capacities with Rehab Group, HSE, National Suicide Research Foundation, the Irish Prison Service (2019) and now a Disability Service (2020) in West Cork. She qualified as a Doctor of Clinical Psychology with the University of Limerick in 2019 and I is a registered member of the PSI.

SOURCES:

1) Pearl: COVID-19: An emotional and psychological survival guide by Dr Caroline Walker (Psychiatrist) and Rachel Morris, Red Whale- Lifelong Learning for Primary Care

2) How to work with anxiety during COVID-19 Pandemic (NICABM), Christine Padesky, PhD and Ron Siegel, PsyD.

3) Living with worry and anxiety amidst global uncertainty by Dr Matthew Whalley and Dr Hardeep Kaur, Psychology Tools

In any situation we can’t control the situation, but we can control our response to it. Perhaps it’s time to take compassionate action and find ways of taking a break from worry.

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