How to Combat Stress and Anxiety during the Coronavirus Pandemic
We are going through some exceptional times due to the Coronavirus pandemic and at the moment our lives are in a state of limbo while we wait for the storm to pass.
Many are feeling anxious and fearful. We can all do something each day to help us lower our stress levels during the Coronavirus pandemic and by working together we will get through this. There are of course factors that are outside our control like the time it will take to find a vaccine. However, there is so much we can do, and we have control of in our daily lives for our own well-being and that of the whole community simply by adhering to physical isolation to contain the spread of the virus. Now more than ever our mental and physical wellness takes priority. We are not powerless, and we need to be resourceful, finding the strength within us to get through this.
Acknowledge the Current Situation
We all need to make adjustments in the current situation, starting from our mental state. First of all, we need to acknowledge the difficult times we are living in and that life right now is not as it used to be. We might feel sadness and some people may experience feelings similar to grief for a lifestyle they used to have. For example, elderly people may experience more loneliness as they are not allowed to have visitors at home and children may miss spending time with their friends.
The Coronavirus pandemic is a collective challenge that affects everybody, no matter where you are from, who you are or what your social status is. Everybody needs to adapt, and we need to make peace with it so we can get on with our lives and protect the lives of people around us.
We must also acknowledge that each situation is different, as some people are experiencing more difficulties than others: to name a few, the medical staff fighting at the forefront of the epidemic, people with pre-existing health conditions, vulnerable people and business owners worried about the well-being of their employees, being able to pay them a salary and the ability for the business to generate an income. There are so many people worrying about their loved ones, those struggling with self-isolation and all sorts of challenges in their daily life.
Coronavirus: Stress, Fear, Anxiety and What to Do About It
People are experiencing an increased level of stress at this time and a portion of this stress can also be generated by the media: we are getting constant updates; we are exposed to upsetting images and we are facing the unknown. It looks like we are living in an age when the world is almost shifting in a new direction because of COVID-19 as we are forced to stay indoors to save lives and to change our habits. Plus, there is uncertainty which can cause a great deal of fear.
A certain amount of fear at this time is normal and it’s because we are aware of fear that we care for our lives and therefore we want to save our lives and those of others. A reasonable amount of fear makes us rethink our actions, for example making sure we wash our hands regularly and we stay at home. This is because we understand that there is a danger and the danger is real, therefore the stress we experience is actually necessary to save our lives and we shouldn’t fight it completely because we are basically in survival mode.
However, the problem starts when this fear mode transforms and becomes overwhelming, taking over everything and turning into a state of constant anxiety, in which you become unable to recreate your formal daily life: anxiety blocks creativity, the ability to adapt, it makes sleep more difficult and can compromise the immune system.
After you have acknowledged how you feel, ask yourself what are the things you need to put in place in your daily life?
One thing that helped me greatly during this time is making a weekly plan with my family: we write on a piece of paper what we have to do on a daily basis as a family, such as my work, my husband’s work, what activities to do with our son, what other priorities we have for our relatives. Our Monday to Friday plan ensures there is a time for everything in the week and having a structure on paper diminishes anxiety, because we know upfront what we are going to do, what we are going to cook and when I have time to work so I am not wondering when I will find the time to do it. Knowing there’s an allocated time for everything in the day gives us a sense of stability and, consequently, a sense of calm.
Therefore, now more than ever we have the time to look within because there are probably fewer distractions outside of ourselves and we can take this opportunity to look inside and understand new ways to combat stress and anxiety.
As mentioned earlier, the first step is to fully acknowledge the situation we are in, that daily life and its modalities have changed, and we need to take all of this into account. We need to just stop for a moment and listen to what this situation triggers within us or how it makes us feel and what it means for us.
On a more practical level, perhaps this means having to make changes to your daily life, for example looking after your kids and keeping them engaged during the day, or rethinking your job or business, and on an emotional level acknowledging how this makes you feel.
Unless we acknowledge the stress, the tension and the worry we can’t really start to process this, feel safer and be creative again.
How Sophrology Can Help
In Sophrology we can actually learn to tune into how we feel through the Body Scan and use an exercise of Level 1 like The Pump, for example, to transform the tension we feel and learn that actually there is a certain amount of tension we can let go to gain more clarity.
After we have managed to work through the tension then perhaps, we may gain a bit more clarity to help us decide what is best for our inner state. Ask yourself: how can I organise my daily life to minimise the amount of stress and anxiety and to protect my mental health? Listen to your inner wisdom and seek a solution that suits you.
Solutions can include reducing the amount of work we are doing each day, asking for help to a partner or someone we are confined with, or, if we are alone and isolated, making sure we are connected with people through a phone call, through a video conference, or by speaking to the next door neighbour. Some have created a WhatsApp group in their street, putting a note through neighbours’ doors and building a WhatsApp community, so that people can come together at their threshold, maybe to sing or even do a short exercise session together while still keeping their safe physical distance, in other words anything to keep proactive to help manage the anxiety.
Those isolating staying home with kids need to make sure that as parents they implement something to look after themselves. This can be for example carving out 45 minutes a day when you can actually think about yourself and what your physical and emotional needs are. You can do a bit of exercise in your living room, have a relaxing bath, do something for yourself to find the clarity to know what you need to implement in your daily life at the moment.
Part of self-care is being mindful of how you spend your time on social media and watching the news. Perhaps checking the news once or twice a day at most, choosing the source of news you are watching or reading from because there’s so much that is either irrelevant or that just builds anxiety. Learn how to protect yourself from negativity in the media and how to look at life through many perspectives, not just at the problems we are all facing. For example, you can protect yourself and build positivity by taking a short mindful break first thing in the morning, or in the evening before going to bed, or even when you feel the build-up of tension.
The easiest way is to focus on your breathing by placing your hands on your belly and feeling the tummy expand while breathing in slowly and then come back while breathing out. Slowing down your breathing shifts your thinking to the present moment and has a soothing effect on the nervous system. In fact, studies found that slow and controlled breathing increases alpha brain waves in the brain, which are linked to feeling calm and creative.
When we feel stressed, we need to take extra care with our eating and sleeping properly if possible, making sure we look after our diet, we drink enough water and we have a half an hour walk a day.
It’s so important to maintain mental health and combat stress and anxiety, implementing some physical activity on top. If you can’t leave your home you can still fit in half an hour of exercise following online fitness classes such as those from The Body Coach and Zanna Van Dijk, or if you like yoga you can try Sarah Platt-Finger and Yoga Muni by Dipa, for Pilates you can follow Hollie Grant.
Sophrology is actually a moving meditation so for people who are not used to move or don’t have a sports background, they can use Sophrology as a way to let go of the build-up of tension in their body. Sophrology exercises are based on gentle movement so they will not raise your heart rate, but they can contribute, alongside a fitness regime, to build more flexibility by releasing tension, increase blood flow in the muscles and have a better connection with your body.
You can do a Sophrology practice at home for 5 or 10 minutes a day and you can find audio recordings on the website to guide you through the exercises. You can experience the benefits of the practice right from the first session. Positive effects of any mindfulness practice, such as Sophrology, include reducing feelings of stress and anxiety, learning how to process feelings of fear constructively, learning how to cope with difficult situations, improving memory and decision-making, and lowering blood pressure.
Positivity can be one of the best tools you can deploy to help you cope during the pandemic.
Remember to be gentle with yourself. Some people want to be productive and maybe right now it’s not totally possible to follow what our mind would like to do and achieve, and we have to accept reality and be gentle with ourselves. We can choose to do what is realistic to achieve and have the flexibility of rethinking our goals, our aims and adapting them to the reality of our daily life and taking into account that we are human beings who have fears and anxiety and therefore we have to factor this into our productivity and our aims.
We can choose to cultivate positivity: we have a choice about what we do in this time. Some people may have more choices than others in this situation, so we need to acknowledge we are very different and we can’t generalise, but this time of increased anxiety and fear is perhaps an opportunity to look beyond that, find some healing and creative solutions, ways to reinforce our communities, becoming mindful about the planet, and all the good things we have seen are happening and also spiritually it might be a very difficult time to actually help us progress on a spiritual level and to be kinder to each other, realising that the economy doesn’t solve everything and we need to reconsider our systems and how society works to bring more balance and a more caring approach to business, society, individuals and communities, elders and health.
It’s an opportunity to see that side and having hope but also through Sophrology we need to consciously look for the positive, maybe by having a gratitude journal. We are finding that writing a gratitude diary as a family really helps to proactively look at the bright side, helping each other to see the beauty in this world and giving thanks for the life we live, our health, our loved ones.
Sophrology, being a dynamic form of relaxation and mindfulness, can even be practised outdoors during a walk-in nature, allowing to feel the ground beneath our feet and inhaling the fresh air deeply. Through Sophrology we rediscover our connection with nature and with our body, listening to physical sensations (the sun’s warmth on our skin, for example).
With a regular Sophrology practice you learn to tap into your inner resources like resilience and creativity, which are essential tools to keep going and find solutions to problems. Over time, you gain a sense of perspective: you are not your thoughts and you are not defined by your emotions. All this comes and goes and, by finding moments of stillness, you get a glimpse into mental clarity.
The more practice you get, the better insights you receive. You can project positive images of yourself on your inner screen: in other words, by going within, you can access from your wealth of personal qualities, see yourself in a better light, aware of your wholeness and your ability to cope with any challenge. You are enough and you are doing the best that you can.
This is a gentle reminder to be kind to yourself, to allow yourself to just be, without judgement. We are all in this together, one day at a time. Stay safe.