For the vast majority of us, the corona virus pandemic is our first experience of being on what’s now referred to as ‘a war footing’. And rather like bombs dropping in the Blitz, we don’t know where, when and who the virus will hit next. So it makes sense that we’re anxious.
Like a ripple of stress, a bit of anxiety can be helpful in getting us to take sensible precautions. But this war zone is catapulting some of us into a degree of totally understandable anxiety that’s not helpful in getting through daily life – particularly because anxiety can suppress our immune system, which is our very best defence weapon in one-on-one combat against the virus.
This is not to minimise the potential effects of the pandemic but hopefully to give our minds some degree of calm so we can face the issues and manage them in the best way we’re able.
If you are used to working in an office environment, working from home can present its own challenges so there are tips on this too.
I asked trusted experts including health educator and GP Dr Andrew Tresidder and neuroscientist and psychiatrist Dr Tara Swart to help me compile first aid tips we can all use when anxiety threatens to take over our brains. They’re a pick ‘n mix blend – but I do recommend you start practising the first one now so that it comes easily when you really need it.
Deep belly breathing:
Fact: breathing rapidly, shallowly and irregularly from the upper chest will keep you in a state of anxiety. Whereas breathing slowly and rhythmically down and up from your belly will make you feel calm immediately It’s also helpful if you wake in the night with a racing brain:
So – sit straight, feet on the floor, hands at rest, shoulders down, head above your shoulders (ie not poking forward like a tortoise), eyes shut if you wish.
Take slow, regular, rhythmic breaths in and out through your nose. Feel the breath going right down to your belly. Hold it there for a few moments, then exhale slowly, gently through your nose. There is no precise timing for this but some experts recommend inhaling for a count of 4, holding for 7, then exhaling for 8.
If you like to visualise this breathing exercise, you can imagine sitting cross legged on the sea shore, sun warming your skin, breeze rippling through your hair, listening to the waves. As you breathe in, imagine the water slowly coming up the shore; note how the white fringe of spume hovers at the top as you gently hold that breath; then see it gently flowing out again.
Create a positive mantra/affirmation:
When you have anxious thoughts, replace them with a phrase or sentence that soothes you. Write it out – if you’re creative make it beautiful – and pin on your desk/fridge door/near your bed. Sarah’s longtime favourite is ‘all shall be well, and all shall be well, and all manner of thing shall be well,’ from medieval mystic Julian of Norwich. Women’s health expert Emma Cannon sent us a lovely poem about healing by Kitty O’Meara – find it on YouTube. Please do take a moment to look at it – it’s very special.
Practise yoga, tai chi, dancing or whatever form of mindful exercise you enjoy:
Moving our physical body keeps us in the present and can burn off stress hormones. There are plenty of options online to choose from including movementformodernlife.com, which has been recommended to us and claims it’s ‘Yoga made easy’.
The buzz phrase is ‘lean in’ but if you’re feeling anxious, try leaning back into your spine. You don’t have to do this vigorously, just think it and your body will follow. Feel your shoulder blades going down, your chest expanding and mind chatter stilling.
Look at birds, animals, flowers and trees:
Walk out in a garden or park if you can – or simply gaze out of the window at the sky. Even looking at pictures of nature can help. “Information from nature interacts with our human software and helps restore harmony,’ says Dr Tresidder.
Try flower remedies and other plant helpers:
Keep combination essences to hand, such as Bach Rescue Remedy or Jan de Vries Emergency Essence. Put a few drops on your wrist, or directly on your tongue (avoiding touching dropper to tongue) or ‘lace’ your glass of water. Using one of these regularly day in, day out, as well as on a ‘panic’ basis, may help during this time. We find homeopathic arnica helps bruised minds as well as bodies. Nelsons Arnica 30C is suggested for fearfulness as well as coughing and injury; two pillules every two hours for the first six doses, then four times daily.
Play your favourite calming music:
For some this will be Mozart, Bach, Hildegard of Bingen or Gregorian chant, while for others it’s birdsong, whale music, Bruce Springsteen or rap that reduces levels of cortisol, the stress hormone. Try a range of different music and see what gets through to your brain. Spotify has a section dedicated to freeing listeners from stress and anxiety.
Keep in touch:
Working at home on your own or self-isolating can be a lonely business. So make a list of people you can contact by email, phone or writing (revolutionary idea but we love getting cards/letters through the post). This works both ways: also make a list of vulnerable friends/colleagues/neighbours you can offer help to. Older people can find information and support from Age UK – the free Advice Line is 080 678 1602. The Good Neighbours Network may be able to help those over 70 who are alone; this may take the form of telephone support and delivery of food and/or medicines. Details on their website, goodneighbours.org.uk.
Also…create a routine:
Set an alarm, get showered/dressed and put on your usual skincare/make up. Organise a timetable for your day. If you are working at home, make a list of priorities. Have regular meals – grazing is the demon of home workers. Look for interesting store cupboard recipes online, eg Melissa Hemsley’s How to cook money-saving meals from your store cupboard.
Set limits on news binging:
If you feel you need to know what the latest pandemic updates are, check in once or twice a day – and not last thing at night. Sleep is vital so you do need to switch off properly so your brain doesn’t race in a frenzy of worry all night.
Comfort declutter rather than comfort eat…:
Turning out cupboards and organising the contents is calming and satisfying –putting you in control of at least one section of your life. Some of us like laundry and ironing – dashing away with a smoothing iron and folding things soothes our minds.
Take pleasure in small things:
A warm bath with scented bath oil/salts, dark chocolate dissolving on your tongue, reading a favourite novel or watching your favourite soap/old films/box sets, arranging a vase of flowers – whatever floats your boat.
Eat well and consider supplements:
Take a good quality probiotic; research shows that improving the quality and diversity of your gut bacteria helps reduce stress, anxiety and even symptoms of depression, according to Dr Swart. Many good ones available online such as Mega Probiotic ND and Symprove. Vitamin D3 is vital for the immune system and may also enhance brain levels of serotonin (the neurotransmitter which is believed to help regulate mood, among other activities). Try BetterYou DLux 3000 Spray. Pharmacist Shabir Daya says that at times of stress, you may need more B and C vitamins to meet the demands of your adrenal glands. He suggests food-based Terranova Vitamin B Complex with Vitamin C.
Magnesium is often called ‘Nature’s tranquilliser’ and most of us have below optimal levels. Dr Swart recommends applying it to the skin as it’s better absorbed that route. Put magnesium salts in your bath – there’s a range of delicious scented bath salts but a less costly option is Epsom salts. Alternatively, try BetterYou Magnesium Oil Sensitive Spray, which is specially helpful for people with touchy skin that may react to topical magnesium.