How to deal with anxiety in lockdown
Away from friends and family, unable to travel, fear of job loss, a lack of tangible human connection — it’s no surprise that life in lockdown has seen anxiety double. What’s more, after a year of uncertainty, mental health experts warn many people’s anxieties will not dissipate once lockdown ends. Feeling anxious is a natural human response, and in the middle of a pandemic, it is expected.
Broadly speaking, anxiety involves fearing some aspect of the future. It manifests itself as a feeling of unease that can be mild or severe. As alluded to, it’s normal for everyone to feel anxiety at some point in their life considering it’s a necessary trait that evolved with us in order to keep us alive. If you didn’t feel anxious while walking on the edge of a cliff or in a cage with a tiger, for example, then that wouldn’t only be strange, but could pose real danger. However, when this feeling starts to occur unnecessarily, it becomes a problem.
Some people find it hard to control their worries, with anxious feelings affecting their daily lives. It is unhelpful to us to be anxious when it’s not in our best interest. Covid has evoked worries in what used to be everyday tasks, such as going to the shop or travelling to work on public transport. This extra strain may stick with us even when it’s no longer necessary. As a result, we need to be prepared to counteract these feelings, ensuring they don’t affect our long-term mental health.
So, let’s get into some proven strategies that will help you deal better with anxiety post-lockdown, starting with a method that refers directly to a problem caused by the virus.
Be self-aware when re-entering society
One direct consequence of Covid that may cause some people anxiety is returning to a fast-paced life. Some will find re-entering crowded places like pubs, shops and public transport overstimulating and anxiety-inducing, particularly those with introverted personalities. This could leave them feeling burnt out, exhausted and stressed while doing things they used to be comfortable with. ‘Re-entry anxiety’ is a term used to describe the stress of adapting to previous routines, which may also include going back to a work setting, such as an office. In short, people are out of practice in situations of mass social interaction.
So be self-aware, and understand your personality. Are you extroverted, dying to get back to meeting people and being surrounded by people, or are you more introverted, prone to overstimulation in such environments? If you are the latter, counteract this by easing yourself back into your old routine, exposing yourself in controlled, limited ways and building up at your own pace. For example, rather than feeling you must rush back to the office full-time, see whether it’s possible to go back once or twice a week, at least at first.
Quality sleep makes a significant difference to our mental and physical health, so it’s important to get enough of it. An area in the brain called the medial prefrontal cortex gets deactivated after a sleepless night, which studies have suggested is the region that lessens anxiety and stress. In fact, a sleepless night raises anxiety levels by up to 30%. Sleep restores the brain’s mechanism of regulating our feelings, lowering emotional and physiological reactivity, thus preventing the escalation of anxiety.
We all want good sleep, of course we do. But getting enough is easier said than done. Some simple tips to do so include maintaining a regular sleeping pattern, avoiding screens before bed and cutting back on caffeine. Supplements can also help, such as our CBD oil, which has been proven to reduce anxiety and improve sleep. One reason for this is its ability to lower cortisol levels, a stress hormone that peaks in the morning. However, people who suffer from sleep deprivation tend to have high levels at night. In the study referenced above, researchers found that cortisol levels decreased more when participants took 300 or 600 mg of CBD oil (see our page for information on dosage). These results suggest that CBD affects the release of cortisol, creating a better sleep experience for those who take it.
Look after your body
During “unprecedented” times like this, it can be easy to maintain unhealthy patterns of behaviour picked up during lockdown. For example, despite gyms reopening, one source suggests that 47% of previous members won’t return. Rather than letting your lockdown habits continue, make a conscious effort to exercise, whether it’s lifting weights, yoga classes, or walking. It’s well proven that exercise lessens symptoms of anxiety through its ability to induce feel-good endorphins.
As well as exercising, recalibrating your diet should be a priority. Although some have taken lockdown as an opportunity to improve their cooking skills, others opted to use it as an excuse to eat what they want since there wasn’t much else to do, with junk food dominating their diets. While the odd takeaway is a great way to bond with your household, too many can have a marked impact on your health. Revert back to eating well-balanced meals, with plenty of green vegetables, eggs and nuts, all of which help induce a positive state of mind and combat anxiety.
Get present in the moment through mindfulness and meditation
Focusing on the present, rather than worrying about the future, can help with difficult emotions and improve our wellbeing. Research has proved that mindfulness helps reduce anxiety. It teaches us how to respond to anxiety-inducing situations with awareness of the present moment, rather than reacting impulsively, whether that be with compulsions or a desperate search for distraction and avoidance. Being aware of your internal emotional state is necessary to better regulate those emotions and thoughts.
Mindfulness works by encouraging us to open up and accept our emotions, without judgement or analysis — just observation. As a result, we are better able to identify, experience, and process our emotions and thoughts, and react more measuredly. The practice of mindfulness has been shown to benefit awareness of our bodies and improves our ability to focus attention. This makes it easier to pay attention to a present task, rather than being distracted by anxiety.
Further research has shown that meditation reduces anxiety. These changes seem to be mediated through the brain regions associated with those self-referential thoughts. If you’re looking to begin your journey in meditation, apps like Headspace make expert guidance accessible to anyone. Although it’s not a quick fix, studies show that with consistent meditation, physical changes to the brain can be seen within eight weeks.
Laugh and do more of what you enjoy
Don’t they say laughter is the best medicine? It’s not far from the truth, with laughter proven to help with anxiety. Here is a list of reasons why
- According to this comprehensive study, laughter “stimulates multiple physiological systems that decrease levels of stress hormones, such as cortisol and epinephrine”, which are secreted when experiencing anxiety.
- Laughter triggers the release of endorphins, the body’s natural feel-good chemicals. These promote an overall sense of well-being and improve general mood.
- This isn’t related to anxiety exactly, but laughter is also proven to increase immune cells and infection-fighting antibodies. This therefore increases your resistance to disease and viruses, which can overall boost your wellbeing.
If we ask ourselves what we enjoy doing, usually a few things pop-up. Whether it’s the last time you laughed until you cried, got that warm butterfly feeling in your stomach, or felt at ease and content, do these activities more.
Stay connected and share your thoughts
It’s so important to not lose the power of human connection, and maintaining healthy relationships with people we trust is crucial for our mental wellbeing. Thankfully, there are lots of different ways to stay in touch with people when you cannot meet in person, including scheduling time each week to speak over the phone or having a slot for regular video calls.
You also need to remember that it’s okay to share your specific concerns with others you trust. Just talking is great, but feeling like you’re holding back is unhelpful. So don’t. Speak your mind, get things off your chest, even if they are hard to articulate. The mere act of saying it out loud is helpful. Doing this may help the person you’re talking to as well, as they could be feeling similar thoughts, but choose not to speak up. As a result of your initiative and bravery, you have created a safe environment for someone else too.
If you cannot speak to someone you know or if doing so has not helped, there are plenty of helplines you can try instead. If people can be open and share their thoughts, whether it’s with those you know personally or a service like Samaritans, then that’s healthy. As long as you’re not holding onto all these tensions by yourself, it’s a positive thing to allow your thoughts to be in the open.
Get help from a professional
Another viable option if you are feeling anxious is getting help from a therapist — you can access the NHS free service or hire a professional. The former has numerous ‘talking therapies’ available, which help with common mental health problems like stress, anxiety and depression. These include self-help guides, counselling and cognitive behaviour therapy (CBT), which is especially good for noticing patterns of thoughts or behaviours that relate to anxiety. The therapy you are offered depends on which one has been shown to be most helpful for your symptoms. Here’s how you get set up with an NHS therapist:
- Contact your local NHS psychological therapies (IAPT) service.
- A person from the service will get in touch, usually within a few weeks.
- They’ll ask for more details about the problems you’re having — known as an assessment.
- If the service thinks they can help you, they’ll recommend a therapy based on your symptoms and how severe they are.
- Waiting times for the first session vary, but the service will tell you what to expect.
You can also opt to hire a private professional, though be aware that you’ll usually be charged for appointments. Mental health charities offer some great advice on finding the best therapist, referring to the British Association for Counselling and Psychotherapy (BACP). This is a membership organisation and a registered charity that sets standards and regulations for therapeutic practice. The BACP has a useful ‘find a therapist’ directory of registered and non-registered therapists, as well as accredited CBT professionals. You can also find helpful guidance about finding the right therapist for you.