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COVID-19 - Techniques and Ideas from CBT to manage anxiety during Coronavirus

Updated: Apr 8, 2020

In recent days the world has gone a bit mad - there is a lot of uncertainty, fear and anxiety. I have gathered a few thoughts on things based on what we know about anxiety and hopefully for some these ideas may help.

Follow a reputable source

This is a serious threat which will require appropriate action. However, we want to take measured action based on the facts at hand. There are a number of reputable news agencies out there that will keep you up to date with the current ever-changing situation and advice of experts. It is probably helpful to find one source you trust and stick with that.

I am not an expert on mortgages so I followed advice from a professional advisor before buying my house. I am not an expert on damp so I followed a damp expert’s advice when we installed vents in our roof. People train their lives to develop knowledge in very specific areas, it is probably best to focus on following the guidance they provide checking no more than twice daily for update.

Lessen social media

Social media is always a double-edged sword. Research on social media's impact on happiness suggest that it is a good thing if you are commenting, engaging and socialising, as long as it is the vehicle arranging social connection rather than the social connection itself. Where social media is damaging to mental health tends to be when we are "lurking"; mindlessly scrolling, "consuming" content. At this moment, I would advise limiting time on social media, scroll less and avoid engaging in rumour or scaremongering.

There is so much conversation about COVID-19 on social media. Everyone has information and even if true, it needs to be considered how helpful it is that you engage with it. We know that the more we hear of something bad happening the more we focus on just how awful it will be and neglect the actual likelihoods of particular outcomes. In CBT we call this catastrophisation and it is one of many common cognitive distortions or thinking errors.

The mental process of worry is designed to stimulate anxiety. Anxiety is the fight or flight system kicking in, designed to prepare us for negative outcomes. The more you worry, the more anxious you become and the need to worry is furthered. This cycle at full steam removes us from reality and convinces us that the worst-case scenario will definitely happen.

It can help to minimise the quantity of external stimulus that focus our thoughts on the danger at this time.

Room Psychotherapy explains how we must act to defeat anxiety perpetuating unhelpful worry
The Worry Cycle

Do something

To break free of the worry cycle we need to find action that changes our situation. If worrying about a genuine problem that we can take action on, worry is good if productive in finding things we can actually do that changes the worrying situation. Otherwise it is just perpetuating unhelpful feelings of anxiety.

The worry tree seeks to help people make decisions as to whether it is worth investing time in worry
The Worry Decision Tree

It is very important in the coming weeks to remain active. Keeping busy denies time for worry and rumination. Being busy will ensure you don't get caught in worry cycles and will also protect your mood during a difficult and gloomy time for all. Give some thought to tasks that you "want to do" that don't fall into the category of tasks that you feel you "have to do" - you can identify these tasks by asking the question "If at any point I wished to stop doing this, could I?" Try to find at least one hour a day for doing something like this - these tasks are stress and pressure free, self-care as ever, will be vitally important to sustain positive mental health.

Set aside time to worry

Some people find it helpful to allocate some specific time for worry. As worries occur through the day, take note of them and tell yourself you will think through them later on during your set "worry time". Note them down and then engage with an unrelated activity, task or challenge. When your specific worry time comes around, hopefully the anxiety avoided from not indulging worry all day long will enable you to take a rational approach in identifying worries worthy of your time. Identify the real from the hypothetical and set about asking “how” questions to solve the difficulty. If the worry is a “what if”, then it is likely best to strike a line through it and distract yourself by doing something else.

Try to be kind

Fear is a very selfish master. When we perceive danger anxiety makes us prioritise self-preservation above all else. This week I saw a video of a woman buying all the toilet roll in a store and literally fighting with another customer looking to buy one pack. The next few weeks will likely be hard enough, it could be made easier if we try to be mindful of others fears and worries and where possible help with compassion.

Everyone will have their own personal concerns regarding Coronavirus, some will fear for their health, others the health of loved ones and others their livelihoods or businesses. Try to keep in mind, before judging others that we have all had our own paths to this point, with experiences influencing how we think and feel. Nobody actively chooses to do the second best thing – try to believe that had you had their life, facing their current stresses you’d be saying the same or doing the exact same thing - it helps with finding empathy.

Two people looking at the same situation can see it very differently based on their life experience to that point and the current personal stresses and pressures they face.
The Two Hills of Perspective

When you care for someone else it stimulates yours and their nurturing, caring, soothing parasympathetic systems. In others words, everyone feels calmer and happier. At this time I really hope that we can care for one another, be kind, empathetic and compassionate.

To finish up, I found this fantastic site that looks to link people who need help at this time with people kind enough to offer their time. Please check it out and consider signing up or signposting someone you know in need.

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1 Comment

Thanks very much for this resource - found the "Do something" guidance helpful and I plan to take that onboard.

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