In the current worldwide health situation, it makes sense that people are experiencing a lot of worries. It is an unusual situation with much uncertainty, which can naturally lead us to worry and feel anxious. Worry can be helpful or unhelpful, and psychologists often distinguish between worries concerning ‘real problems’ vs. ‘hypothetical problems’.
• Real problem worries are about actual problems that need solutions right now. For example, given the very real concern about the virus at the moment, there are helpful solutions which include regular hand washing, social distancing, and physical isolation if you have symptoms.
• Hypothetical worries about the current health crisis might include thinking about worst-case scenarios (what we might call catastrophising).
Worry isn’t just in our heads. When it becomes excessive we feel it as anxiety in our bodies too. Physical symptoms of worry and anxiety include:
• Muscle tension or aches and pains.
• Restlessness and an inability to relax.
• Difficulty concentrating.
• Difficulty sleeping.
• Feeling easily fatigued.
What can I do about worry?
It's natural for you to worry at the moment, but if you feel that it's becoming excessive and taking over your life – for example, if it's making you anxious, or if you're struggling to sleep – then it might be worth trying to find ways to limit the time you spend worrying. Try taking the following steps to more actively manage your well-being.
• Maintain balance in your life. Psychologists think that well-being comes from living a life with a balance of activities that give you feelings of pleasure, achievement, and closeness. Remember that we're social animals – we need connections to thrive and flourish. We would recommend trying to do at least some activities that are social and involve other people. In times like these, you might have to find some creative ways to do social things at a distance. For example, by keeping in touch online or by phone. Got a birthday coming up? Plan a face time group call!
• Identify your worries. Practise identifying whether your worry is 'real problem' worry, or 'hypothetical worry'. If you're experiencing lots of hypothetical worry, then it's important to remind yourself that your mind is not focusing on a problem that you can solve right now, and to find ways to let the worry go and focus on something else.
• Practise postponing your worry. Worry is insistent – it can make you feel as though you have to engage with it right now. But you can experiment with postponing hypothetical worry, and many people find that this allows them to have a different relationship with their worries. In practice, this means deliberately setting aside time each day to let yourself worry (e.g. 30 minutes at the end of each day). It can feel like an odd thing to do at first! It also means that for the other 23.5 hours in the day you try to let go of the worry until you get to your 'worry time'.
• Speak to yourself with compassion. Worry can come from a place of concern - we worry about others when we care for them. A traditional cognitive behavioural therapy technique for working with negative, anxious, or upsetting thoughts is to write them down and find a different way of responding to them. You can practise responding to your anxious or worrying thoughts with kindness and compassion.
• Practice mindfulness. Learning and practising mindfulness can help us to let go of worries and bring ourselves back to the present moment. For example, focusing on the gentle movement of your breath or the sounds you hear around you, can serve as helpful 'anchors' to come back to the present moment and let go of worries. Check out our blog on journalingand meditation.
• Set a routine. We are all spending more time at home right now, and it is important to continue with a regular routine. Maintain a regular time for waking up and going to bed, eating at regular times, and getting ready and dressed each morning. You could use a timetable to give structure to your day. Read more on how to best work from home.
• Stay mentally and physically active. When you plan your daily timetable, have a go at including activities that keep both your mind and body active. For example, you could try learning something new with an online course or challenge yourself to learn a new language. It’s also important to keep physically active. For example doing rigorous housework for 30 minutes, or an online exercise video.
• Eat healthy. This is the time to nourish your bod, simply said: good food makes you feel good. You get energised on a physical and a mental level, whereas fast food and fatty/sugary food will leave you feeling lethargic not long after you've finished it. The physical symptoms of worry and anxiety we talked about before can be minimised with proper food as well. The ingredients we use in Ārepa are known to combat stress, improve sleep, reduce fatigue and give you mental clarity.
• Practice gratitude. At times of uncertainty, developing a gratitude practice can help you to connect with moments of joy, aliveness, and pleasure. At the end of each day, take time to reflect on what you are thankful for today. Try and be specific and notice new things each day, for example ‘I am grateful that it was sunny at lunchtime so I could sit in the garden’. You could start a gratitude journal, or keep notes in a gratitude jar. Encourage other people in your home to get involved too.
• Notice and limit worry triggers. As the health situation develops it can feel like we need to constantly follow the news or check social media for updates. However, you might notice this also triggers your worry and anxiety. Try to notice what triggers your worry. For example, is it watching the news for more than 30 minutes? Checking social media every hour? Try to limit the time that you are exposed to worry triggers each day. You might choose to listen to the news at a set time each day, or you could limit the amount of time you spend on social media for news checking. It can also help to be mindful of where you are obtaining news and information. Be careful to choose reputable sources.
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