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Pandemic anxiety – How to help yourself and your family through a time of crisis

25 March, 2020
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Times of crisis like the COVID-19 (coronavirus) pandemic can bring up lots of uncomfortable emotions – stress, vulnerability, worry, fear and more. Some people feel these emotions more strongly than others, even within the same household. Research shows that novel or unfamiliar threats (like the past Ebola and Avian flu pandemics) raise anxiety more than a familiar threat like influenza or a car accident might. This is down to brain activity in the amygdala, the centre that controls fear. A pandemic can also cause mental health issues to arise for the first time, or existing conditions to worsen.

The key thing to remember is that everyone reacts differently, and what may be completely manageable for you may be extremely distressing for someone else. Even those who haven’t been directly impacted by COVID-19 may experience strong emotions around it. Now is the time to look out for your kids, teens, and older family members… but don’t forget that you need to care for yourself and your own mental health too.

How to help yourself

Self-care is more than just a buzzword. It’s a great way to help us manage stress and keep mentally healthy. And, it doesn’t have to be hard work. By taking the time to do something you truly enjoy each day, you are practicing self-care. Each person’s self-care routine will look different. It could be as simple as getting up early to enjoy a peaceful coffee before the rest of household wakes or making time to stretch or exercise. By taking some time to focus on you, rather than what’s happening out there in the world, you might feel more grounded and in control of your emotions. In this article, we’ll look at ways to self-care that you can do while maintaining social distancing.

Staying at home

  • Continue to eat healthfully and prepare nourishing food. It might be harder to get some of the items you usually do but aim to pack in lots of fresh veggies into your meals remembering frozen, canned or dried are all great shelf stable nutritious choices. When you can, add fresh seasonal options. Look at what you can get easily and build your meal ideas around that.
  • If you’re feeling overwhelmed by the constant mentions of COVID-19, take breaks from traditional media (TV, radio and newspapers) and limit social media or temporarily unfollow news sites or accounts that bring up negative feelings for you. It can help to set a time limit to spend on reading or watching COVID-19 news each day, e.g. 15 minutes each evening, instead of constantly checking for updates throughout the day.
  • Make the most of online shopping and try a new ‘social distancing-friendly’ hobby – gardening, gaming, cross stitch, journaling, craft, music or baking.
  • Make time to speak to a friend or loved one each day – and try video calling for the face-to-face experience.
  • Keep up your exercise routine. You don’t need much equipment to get a good workout, and in fact, bodyweight exercises don’t require any at all. Of course, there is a wealth of workout content on YouTube, and many gyms, dance studios, personal trainers etc. have now put lessons online to help keep their businesses afloat during this time.
  • Use the Coping Calendar below to inspire a daily idea for looking after yourself or someone else. There are 30 to get through!

Coping Calendar

How to help others

  • Look for the signs that your loved one may be struggling to cope or feeling stressed or anxious, and acknowledge this with them. Let them know you are here to help.
  • Be a calm, positive and uplifting presence – be careful to not let COVID-19 dominate every conversation. If people around you are concerned about COVID-19 ‘news’ they’ve heard or seen, point them towards reputable sources like the Department of Heath website or WHO to get their information and let them know that rumours are just that – rumours.
  • Reach out to someone different every day. Check in on old friends you haven’t spoken to in a while and see how they’re faring.

How to help your children

  • Kids adopt the coping strategies they see in their parents. If you can remain calm, confident and lead by example, you can help reduce their anxieties.
  • Talk to your children openly and honestly about COVID-19, but on a level that they understand. Ask questions to see how much they understand and how they’re feeling. Provide reassurance that you’ll keep them safe and be open for questions when they need to talk. Here is a detailed resource from Verywell about how to have those conversations.
  • Events or activities which your child may have been looking forward to will likely have been cancelled. Explain to your child the reasons behind this and how this helps them and other people to stay well.
  • If you’re social distancing or self-isolating, set up Skype or video call dates for your kids to chat to their grandparents, other family members or friends.
  • Are the kids unable to attend school? Keep their routine similar. Get up at the same time, get them dressed, and spend time learning, playing and doing exercise as they usually would.
  • Have fun through play! It’s not only a chance to unwind and destress but the extra time together is a chance to create fun memories.

All information contained in this article is intended for general information purposes only. The information provided should not be relied upon as medical advice and does not supersede or replace a consultation with a suitably qualified healthcare professional.

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