Understanding your anxiety and how to manage it

We are in uncharted waters – we have never experienced anything like the Coronavirus and the impact it is having globally. There are no geographical or class boundaries. This invisible virus has travelled to 199 countries since the first diagnosis on December 31st.

The virus poses an obvious, immediate threat to our physical wellbeing and has influenced our freedom of movement, socializing and ability to work. However, its emotional impact is hidden with uncertainty, insecurity, vulnerability and isolation, affecting our mental health.

Understanding our mental health is the first step in managing it. Developing a resilient and positive mindset is essential in coping with the challenges ahead. A model developed in the 1960s by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, The Change Curve, has been widely utilised as a method of helping us understand our reactions to significant change. It’s a useful model and reflects the emotions and behaviours that are being witnessed in our response to the Coronavirus.

The model outlines our emotional journey in 3 stages.

Stage 1 – Shock and Denial

Shock was the first reaction to hearing about the impact of the Coronavirus. In this phase we seek more guidance and reassurance as we process the enormity of the situation. The shock is often due to lack of information and fear of the unknown.

After the initial shock has passed, it is common for us to experience denial. At this point we tend to focus on the past. Everything was OK as it was, why does there need to be a change?  During this denial phase there is a disbelief that the virus will impact on us.  Donald Trump provided a classic example of this when he said “It will go away. Just stay calm. It will go away” yet America is about to become the new epicentre of the virus.

To overcome the denial phase communication is key to keeping us informed on the progress of the virus, how it will affect us and what measures we can take to limit the damage.

 Stage 2 –Anger and Depression

After shock and denial, anger is often the next stage. A scapegoat is commonly found, such as Donald Trump again, referring to the coronavirus as the Chinese virus and reports of the Chinese being abused on public transport.  Focusing the blame on a scapegoat allows a continuation of the denial; providing an alternate focus for the fears and anxieties the potential impact is causing.

Common feelings at this stage include suspicion, scepticism and frustration. This is reflected in societies initial reluctance to follow guidance, and the government stepping in with legislation.

The lowest point of the curve comes when the anger begins to wear off and the realisation that the change is genuine strikes home. The enormity of financial implications, change in lifestyle and impact on our health become a reality.  It is common for morale to be low and anxiety levels to peak at this point. Feelings during this stage can be hard to express, and depression is possible as the impact of what has been lost is acknowledged. This period can be compounded by social isolation as more people start to develop the symptoms of Coronavirus. The focus is on problems as people become overwhelmed by its impact and the uncertainty of the future. These reactions are a normal emotional response to the changes we’re experiencing. Understanding why you are feeling like this, helps to develop a more stable platform to move into the final stage.

 Stage 3 –Acceptance and Integration

After anger, depression and anxiety a more optimistic and enthusiastic mood begins to emerge. We start to accept that change is inevitable and begin to work with the changes rather than against them. A newfound optimism of hope and acceptance emerges, as we focus on new opportunities and relief that we’re finally coming through it. We look to the future and have a sense that real progress can now be made. By the time we reach this stage, the changed situation has firmly replaced the original and becomes the new reality. Communication remains key as regular progress reports and positive feedback help to embed the more positive mood. However, it is not uncommon for there to be a return to an earlier stage if the level of support suddenly drops.

As individuals we all react differently to change and not all of us will experience every phase. Some people may spend a lot of time in stages 1 and 2, whilst others, who are more accustomed to change, may move swiftly into stage 3. Although it is generally acknowledged that moving from stage 1 through stage 2 and finally to stage 3 is most common, there is no right or wrong sequence.

For those more prone to anxiety and depression the challenge is to make sure you don’t get stuck in either Phase 1 or Phase 2. These are the phases where you can become overwhelmed by the enormity of the events. Self-isolation exacerbates this.  An inner motivation is required to move into Phase 3, with a focus on creating a positive mindset and a strategy to take control of your life.

There are some simple steps to improve your anxiety and shift your mindset away from stress and anxiety.

Six Steps to improving your anxiety.

  1. Understand your anxiety. The symptoms of anxiety are unique to each of us and it is important to recognise yours.
    • What triggers your anxiety? Be aware of those triggers so that you can avoid them.
    • What are your symptoms of anxiety? What do you notice first? How does it develop? Be aware of those first symptoms.
    • When you feel your anxiety developing use deep breathing and relaxation to calm your mind, reassure yourself that it’s ok you’ve got this covered, you’re going to be fine and change your focus away from the trigger.
  2. Manage your negative thoughts, don’t let them dominate and overwhelm you. That inner voice can create doubt, uncertainty and increase anxiety.
    • Be calm. Whilst you can’t eliminate your inner voice you can manage it. Be objective and logical so you have a clear mind to deal with the challenges ahead.
    • Talk positively to yourself. Tell yourself you can do this, back yourself.
    • Remember not everything has been cancelled: we still have friends, family, music, laughter and hope to name a few. Enjoy and celebrate the here and now.
  3. Set Goals. Goals give you focus; they motivate and create clear direction to fulfil your aspirations. By creating goals that are truly aligned with your sense of self and purpose, skills and behaviours, you develop a positive mindset promoting an inner harmony and sense of fulfilment.
    • Own your goals, they belong to you. The goal becomes meaningless if someone else gives them to you.
    • Prioritise and write down your goals to give you clarity and commitment.
    • Make your goal really come to life. Visualize it and anchor it by immersing yourself in your feelings of success.
    • How will you know when you’ve achieved it? Put yourself in that moment and imagine how you feel.
    • Write down an action plan to achieve each goal.
    • Use props such as photos on the fridge, your laptop and phone screen saver to subliminally reinforce your goal.
    • Imagine how good you will feel when you achieve your goal that you have emotionally invested in and earmarked as important to you.
  4. Regain control. Feeling out of control enhances stress and anxiety. By taking steps to regain control, you will start to feel empowered and more positive.
    • Control those things which are within your circle of influence.
    • Prioritise what you’d like to achieve.
    • Structure each day with a sense of purpose.
    • Build in actions that deliver or contribute to your goals.
    • Reduce time spent focussing on uncertainties out of your control. Don’t let them be constantly in your thoughts.
    • Put your anxieties in a metaphorical drawer and set a limited time aside each day to consider them. Be careful to close the draw again afterwards and focus on what you have achieved and your next step forward.
    • Allocate time to helping and supporting others in your circle. This is proven to be beneficial for your mental health. It improves your mood, creates a positive focus and enhances your wellbeing.
    • Make a timetable to create daily structure, having ordered your priorities, as well as giving yourself things to look forward to.
  5. Stay connected with friends, family, colleagues and community.
    • Create a community and share experiences, show empathy, ask for advice, be a good listener.
    • Perhaps make a point of contacting someone you haven’t spoken to for 6 months or living alone to see how they are or catch up.
    • We are all in this together and shared experiences will reduce isolation and add to a collective feeling of coming out the other side.
  6. Manage your wellbeing.
    • Exercise makes us feel good. It also reduces the level of cortisol and adrenalin in our body, both of which cause stress.
    • Calm your anxious mind.  Anxiety impacts on your physiology and increases your heart rate, breathing and muscle tension, to name a few.  By focusing on techniques such as yoga, mindfulness, deep breathing and relaxation you can relax your body and reduce those stress levels.
    • Be innovative and use your community of friends/family/colleagues to create supportive environments and share experiences: you are not alone, and others will have similar feelings to you.

Coronavirus is affecting us all and our mental health is not immune.  Understanding your anxiety, how it manifests itself and what you can do to manage it, will help you regain control. Taking these positive steps will help you safeguard your mental health in these challenging times.  Now that you’re ready for 1:1 support to enable you to manage your anxiety please text or call on 07593 939367 and let’s see how we can create a more positive future.

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