May 6, 2020

The coronavirus pandemic is driving levels of disruption, change and uncertainty that are utterly unfamiliar. Few people have experienced such upheaval before. Isolation and uncertainty can erode mental health. It’s crucial to take care of your mind right now. This is particularly challenging when many of the things that have underpinned your mental wellbeing are no longer an option.

Regulating anxiety

Anxiety is a normal evolutionary response to threat. It is designed to protect us. However, our anxiety mechanisms evolved at a time when the threats we faced were typically immediate, physical danger, such as bears or snakes. Our body responds to perceived threats with the fight-or-flight response- by pumping adrenaline to prepare us for action. Although the threats we face today- infectious disease and economic uncertainty etc.- do not call for an immediate physical response, our body still responds as if they do. 

As such you may be suffering from persistent high levels of stress hormones and tension, which can have debilitating effects on mental and physical health. But that doesn’t have to be the case. There are plenty of simple and effective ways to diminish anxiety and maintain a healthy mind during these difficult times.

Stop inadvertently fuelling your own anxiety

People often engage in safety behaviours that offer short-term relief from anxiety but intensify it over time. You might be compulsively checking the news and social media to keep track of things. But when you’re feeling anxious your mind naturally hones in on perceived threats, and by gorging on alarming news you are fuelling further anxiety and reinforcing this vicious cycle. Limit your news consumption to 30 minutes or less. For important information stick to reliable, rational resources, such as John Hopkins’ Coronavirus Resource Center.

Tweak your social media exposure. Unfollow accounts and friends who post alarmist content, and focus more on interesting and uplifting sources.

Humans crave certainty and right now that’s just not possible. (Is it ever?). By accepting uncertainty you don’t have to generate unnecessary suffering.

Put the breaks on

In fight-or-flight, our sympathetic nervous system is activated. The parasympathetic nervous system restores our body to a calm and balanced state. It is like a parachute that brings us down for a soft landing.

Breathing techniques are a quick and easy way to activate that parachute.

Our breathing is quicker and shallower when we’re tense. By taking deep breaths into your belly, and lengthening the outbreath, you can quickly restore balance to your nervous system and soothe anxiety. Try this a few times throughout the day.

Healthier thinking

Thoughts are not facts.

It’s not outside events that drive our feelings and behaviours, but rather our interpretations of those events. We can’t always change what’s happening, but we can change the way we think about it.

At times like this, we might fall into a number of thinking traps. We catastrophise, predicting the worst case scenario and ignoring other, more likely possibilities. We think in black-and-white terms, seeing things as completely terrible rather than in shades of gray. We get tunnel vision, honing in on specific details and neglecting to see the bigger picture. These all fuel fear and misery.

But it’s possible to become aware of your thinking, evaluate it and reframe it.

You can ask yourself:

  • What’s a different way of looking at this situation?
  • Is this all bad or could I see some good in this?
  • What’s the worst case scenario? What’s the best case scenario? What’s the most likely scenario?
  • What would I tell a friend in this situation?

You can reframe your thoughts like this:

“This is a horrible situation and I can’t take it.” → “This is a difficult time but there are plenty of things I can do to make it more manageable, such as supporting friends and family and practicing self-care.”

Ground yourself with the senses

Anxiety is all about the future, and the future only exists in your mind. As such mindfully grounding yourself in the present is a powerful antidote.

Use the senses to do this.

The 5-4-3-2-1 technique is quick and effective.

Take a moment to notice:

5 things you can see

4 things you can touch

3 things you can hear

2 things you can smell

1 thing you can taste (if you can’t taste anything use your imagination to create something)

Take a moment to appreciate each of these senses as deeply as you can. This can take you out of compulsive thinking and give you a moment of stillness.

Remind yourself that right here right now, you are OK.

You could take this as an opportunity to give meditation a try. Even just ten minutes a day can make a difference to levels of stress and wellbeing. Headspace and Insight Timer are good places to get started.


Exercise releases endorphins and other neurotransmitters which help diminish anxiety, insulate you from stress and generate a sense of wellbeing.

With many countries in lockdown, you might need to get creative.

Bodyweight exercise offers an endless array of interesting progressions to challenge yourself.

(Read the full article here: 

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