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We're about the enter our 3rd week of Stage 4 lockdown during the second wave of the coronavirus, and the level of anxiety is noticeably higher than in the first wave.
It is perfectly natural that we should feel more anxious, but often this kind of cold logic doesn't help reset our thinking. On the other hand, following these three recommendations will help you reset your thinking and reduce your stress.
Normally, I'm unphased by life, but Covid is hard to cope with
I'm ordinarily unphased by life. After surviving two primary cancers, two near-death experiences in aeroplanes, a near-miss from a lighting strike and my wife flat-lining during childbirth I've developed substantial resilience. But the coronavirus is still getting to me.
Here are some of the things I do to maintain my forward motion and to keep things in perspective. In Melbourne, Australia, we are at the end of the second week of severe lockdown restrictions brought on by the second wave.
We are under a curfew and must not leave home after 8 pm or before 5 am. During the day we can only leave home once per day except for essential services or to buy take-away food. That once-per-day includes exercise, so we can walk with our children or exercise, but not both if it requires leaving home more than once. Masks are compulsory when outside. Most businesses have been ordered to close.
There are fewer people on the streets, more shops and businesses failing, and this second wave is amplifying all the economic ills of the first wave. Uncertainty about our jobs is increasing. Our feelings of loss of control and certainty took a hit in the first wave, and now they are shattered. It is no wonder that we all feel more stressed, anxious, and fearful. It would abnormal if we didn't.
You're not powerless
These circumstances all take an emotional toll, especially if you're already living with an anxiety-carryover from the first wave. But you're not powerless, try these three ways to quell your coronavirus anxiety:
#1 Try less doomscrolling
We're amid a worldwide pandemic, and it is a frightening time. Whether we are coping with homeschooling or the re-opening of schools, we are all bracing for what may come next. While it is natural to want to stay informed and search for hopeful signs of when this might end, this can become obsessive.
The uncertainty surrounding coronavirus is the hardest thing to handle for most of us. We still don't know precisely how we'll be impacted, how long this will last, or how bad things might get. So we search for answers - sometimes relentlessly. We have to learn to resist the urge to escape or calm our fears by obsessively reading virus updates.
The problem is that we are conditioned to zoom in on the potential threat - like a survival instinct. Bad news sells and the headlines are dominated by places where the pandemic is currently hitting the hardest, and who it is hitting hardest. Mundane activities, like shaking hands and celebrations, have become life-threatening events. The news coverage amplifies where birthday parties have resulted in disaster.
There's also a lot of misinformation going around, as well as sensationalistic coverage that only feeds into fear. And that makes it all too easy to spiral out into overwhelming dread and panic. It's important to pause and not to open everything you see when scrolling, and not to keep scrolling as a reaction to be being overwhelmed.
Here are some tips:
#2 Add routine to your waking up and going to bed
After waking up and just before you go to sleep, do some regular things that are relaxing and uplifting.
In Charles B Roth's 1940 book "Secrets Of Closing Sales" one of the first secrets he revealed was to make your first call on someone who you were sure would buy - no matter how small the sale. This success set you up for success for the rest of the day.
What you do early in the morning sets the mood for the day.
I start work at 8 am and set breaks with a Pomodoro Timer for every 25 minutes. Then I stop for lunch at around 12 and watch ABC World News. After working a little longer, I go for a run at around 2 pm and afterwards work on to about 6.
It's also essential to eat healthy foods, which is not as easy as it sounds as stress drives us to eat more "comfort foods," e.g. junk. Move your snack and junk foods to the high back-shelf of your cupboard, and fill up your fruit bowl, and add nuts as well.
In the evening, get yourself set up for a good night's sleep. Learn how to leave your troubles out of your bed.
Negative emotions experienced in the evening impact sleep quality. So best you avoid the onslaught of opinions on Twitter, the rising death tolls in news stories, or the texts from friends and family members that trigger anxious thoughts.
Personally, I am opening fewer and fewer Facebook notifications as they tend to reflect the anxiety of others rather than calming thoughts.
Listening to a calming podcast, practising meditation, relaxation techniques, or tuning in to your favourite playlists will help calm anxiety before bed. I favour listening to music, preceded by a simple meditation I learnt in Indonesia. Doing those makes a difference, and I usually sleep well.
Try not to negate the calming effect of these suggestions by then lying in bed watching the bad news on TV. Watch something calming, not War Of The Worlds which will make you feel more anxious as it did me!
Your eating habits also play a role in how well you sleep. Avoid eating too late, and try to eat more nutrient-rich foods rather than carbohydrate-rich foods after dinner. Nuts like pistachios are also known to help us sleep better - eat 20 or 30 pistachio nuts 4 or 5 hours before bedtime.
Maintain your day-to-day activities and a routine as much as possible. Having a regular healthy routine will have a positive impact on your thoughts and feelings.
#3 Breathing - square breathing
One simple breathing technique which will help you relieve stress is square breathing. You can do this any time of course, but adding it to your routine first thing in the morning or the last thing at night is a good way to make it part of your daily life.
Here is the technique. You are going to visualise your breath travelling along a square.
As you follow the instructions below to inhale, hold your breath, or exhale, count slowly to three on each side of the square. Try it now.
This simple breathing exercise helps increase activation in our parasympathetic nervous system, which is associated with resting and digesting. It also reduces the activity of the sympathetic nervous system, which is responsible for our fight or flight response and is linked to anxiety. Thus, it helps us rest and relax.
In addition to the physical relaxation it brings, this type of breathing helps our mind place things in perspective.
During the breathing, it can suddenly occur to us that things are not as bad as we are imagining, or that there are solutions to issues which are confronting us. The breathing allows us to surface our subconscious mind which has been working on answers for us, but which have been smothered by our anxiety.
I do this breathing when I take my regular 25-minute work breaks (along with some stretches for my neck).
Stress itself is not anxiety, if you manage it
Look after your body: get enough sleep, exercise, eat well, avoid smoking, excessive alcohol and drugs. These will help protect your mental health and immune system.
Some stress is normal, and stress itself is not anxiety or depression.
During this worrying and challenging time, managing your stress levels should be a priority. The steps above will help put things in perspective and, perhaps, enable you to help others.
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