COVID-19 anxiety
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Colin Adams, qualified life coach and director at Henley Training, gives his top tips on how to approach mindfulness as a key worker in order to cope with COVID-19 anxiety

Since March 23rd, people across the UK have been ordered to stay at home to help achieve two things: protect our national health service and save lives. Beyond only leaving your house for shopping and exercise, people who are able to have been urged to work from home. However, for a large chunk of the population, this is not possible. Keyworkers, i.e. those who are relied upon to keep the country moving, be it a nurse, a care home worker or a checkout assistant, do not have this choice. In such uncertain times, this can understandably bring swathes of anxiety upon these individuals who are leaving the house every day to support our society.

How might keyworkers be better able to manage their mental health during the COVID-19 crisis? With anxieties around what the world will look like weeks and months from now, holistic approaches such as mindfulness can help you to ground yourself and focus on the present moment.

How to spot anxiety

Everybody can feel anxious at times, but if you feel like you are unable to keep up with your thoughts and find it difficult to relax when it comes to unwinding, this may be due to anxiety.

According to the mental health charity Mind, symptoms of anxiety can include difficulty sleeping, low moods, restlessness and a reduced attention span, all of which are likely to affect you as an individual, others around you and your performance at work. This could be due to financial worries, health concerns or the lack of certainty around the pandemic.

If you feel like your mind is racing at a hundred miles per hour, experts suggest that using mindfulness can be useful in reducing anxiety, as it focuses on what is currently happening now.

Here are some things to think about when taking a mindfulness approach to cope with COVID-19 anxiety.

Use your senses

Anxiety attacks can often make you feel like you are out of touch with the world around you. Following the R-I-F-A protocol when you feel like a wave of anxiety is approaching can help you ground yourself. To do this, you should:

Relax – relax your muscles, loosen your shoulders, unclench your jaw, then, move onto step two.
Inhale – take a deep breath using your diaphragm by breathing in from your stomach and taking it all the way up to the top of your lungs, then breathing it out like a sigh. Repeat this 5-10 times.
Focus – Choose something in the room and focus on it whilst you are doing the previous step to get yourself meditating.

Affirmations – Slowly and firmly repeat some affirming words to yourself, such as “I am worthy”, “I am safe and healthy”. This will switch your inner monologue to something kind and gentle at a time where there may be a lot of pressure being put onto you.

Put extra focus into your movement, your sense of smell, taste, touch and hearing. When you eat, think about the flavours your food is imparting. When you are going for a run, take a moment to notice the breeze on your skin.

Compromise with yourself and lower self-expectations

As a keyworker, your time is probably your most precious resource, so making a realistic attempt of staying within your own personal limits will do your mental health a world of good.

Being rigid and strict with yourself in a time like this is likely to cause frustration. Find a compromise of what is possible for you to achieve and what you want to achieve. On your days off, for example, say “I will go for a brisk walk around the block” rather than “I will run 10k every day”. 

Do and think on a day-by-day basis

If you are finding it difficult to keep up with your thoughts, making a list of what you’ll be doing today can stop you from premeditating on what might happen in the future. Try writing down a list of tasks you will be tackling for the day on a sticky note and putting it somewhere you will easily see it i.e. your bedroom door, to remind you to not venture out of that list.

The idea is to move away from thoughts, both from the past and future, and look at what you are doing in the present moment. In a time like this where uncertainty is rife, a better use of your time would be on what is on the agenda for today.

Focus on tasks one at a time

Spinning too many plates and taking on too many things at once is likely to heighten anxiety and cause you to make mistakes. Chances are, if you’re focusing on multiple tasks, you may not give each one the correct attention it needs. Slow down, choose one task, and finish it off to the best of your ability before moving on to the next.


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