It’s not surprising that in the last two weeks I’ve received an unusual number of messages with this simple but heartfelt request. It would be hard not to be anxious at this time, wouldn’t it? We are all going through something we’ve not experienced before. Any sense of security we previously felt has been rocked.
Some people will be finding it harder than others: people who are usually more anxious; who have other big stresses going on in their lives; who don’t have as much support as they need; who have had tough early lives that may have made them more vulnerable to anxiety; or who have a specific reason to fear this virus more than others, perhaps because they or someone they love is more at-risk than others. Or even people who don’t have a specific reason like that but who just are feeling extra anxious because this is such a new situation. You don’t need an excuse!
That’s the first thing, then: feeling anxious is very normal and will happen to some people and in some situations more than others.
I had to deal with some extreme anxiety last year. See here if you want to read about that and how I dealt with it. (Trigger warning.)
Secondly, understanding why (biologically) anxiety exists and is normal is important and empowering. Anxiety is a biological reaction to threat. (‘Threat’ means any challenge that the person needs to react to.) The results of this reaction – raised heart rate and breathing, sweaty palms, loss of appetite, feeling hyper-alert, not being able to concentrate on other things – are what make us better able to deal with that threat. Anxiety is therefore a positive thing.
Third, we need to understand why, if anxiety is positive, it’s such a problem!
It’s a problem when:
- It happens at an unhelpful time – for example, when we are trying to sleep or eat or work
- It makes us feel so unwell that instead of focusing on what we need to do we can only notice how unwell we feel – this is what ‘panic’ is
- It is a constant feeling that doesn’t give us a break
- We think of it as only being negative so we start to fear anxiety itself
Now we can look at some strategies to stop those problems happening. All my books are written to help you have the strongest possible protection against these negatives but here are my very top tips:
- Learn and practise a breathing strategy – see here
- Build relaxation breaks into EVERY day, no matter how busy you are – to take your mind off anxiety, always choose ones that need concentration
- Have daily physical exercise – could be a walk or run, yoga using an online video, dancing to music in your room
- Have a selection of activities that you know will take your mind off worry – exciting book, film/video, online game, difficult puzzle, watching sport, engaging hobby, following a recipe – and use one whenever needed
- Keep up social contact – know who to turn to for a chat/laugh
- Do something good for someone else – this will make you feel better as well as giving you something to concentrate on
- Do a ‘What went well?’ exercise every day – see here.
- Seek out things to make you laugh – see here
- Look forward to the light – there will be better times ahead so find a way to visualise that, imagining what you’ll do when this is over
- Get creative – write a poem, draw a picture or make a poster about how life will be better soon – maybe enter my Antiviral Creative Writing Competition!
Most of all, be kind to yourself. I’m very sorry that you’ve been feeling so worried but I do understand why: it’s very natural and normal, even though it feels horrible. You did the right thing asking for help and if my words haven’t helped please talk to an adult you trust or contact one of the relevant organisations in your country – in the UK that would be Childline or the Samaritans. There is help out there and anyone can need support sometimes.
You can get through this and each of us can be better, kinder and stronger at the end of it. Take care and stay well.
There are more tips in a printable sheet here. Here is a post I wrote at the start of the COVID19 crisis. And please tell your schools about my Stress Well for Schools course – this will help all young people cope better and feel stronger in the face of natural anxiety.