How to manage your anxiety and well-being during COVID-19

It does seem like the world is in turmoil at the moment. This is a hard time for many as we try to manage our negative feelings, fear and anxiety. Educational psychologist and life coach Ashleigh Sacks has this advice to help you manage your emotions during this challenging time.

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Victor Frankel the famous psychologist once said: “An abnormal reaction to an abnormal situation is normal behaviour.” What this means is that if you were acting normal in this difficult situation, it would be strange. It’s perfectly ok to feel worried and nervous sometimes, especially about the well-being of yourself and your loved ones. But, it’s also important to remember that being in a state of continuous anxiety is not helpful to the situation, nor is it beneficial to your mental and physical health.

In fact, the opposite is true. Prolonged feelings of negativity have been shown to cause adverse or negative physical reactions in the body. (For example, think of stress and its harmful effects on the body). So, knowing this type of thinking is harmful, use this knowledge as a motivation to work towards feeling better. After all, do your loved ones benefit from your worrying or do they benefit from you feeling stable, positive, hopeful and encouraging about the future?

Victor Frankel lived through the Holocaust, one of the darkest periods of human history. Despite the challenges he faced he found deep meaning, love and compassion in his experiences. He is quoted as saying, “When we are no longer able to change a situation, we are challenged to change ourselves.”

There is nothing you can do to change the current situation facing the world – COVID-19 is something that is happening and unfortunately, out of our control. However, what you do have control over is yourself and how you respond to this situation.

ALSO SEE: How to stop your lockdown stress from affecting your kids

The first thing you need to know is your mind is powerful. It’s responsible for your wellbeing and happiness or the opposite of that. So, make the most of this time during lockdown to manage your anxiety and increase your emotional wellbeing.

Your emotions

Start by noticing your feelings. Slow down a bit and notice when you are feeling negative. Don’t fight it, don’t try and rationalise it, just feel it for a few seconds and be ok with where you are.

Meditation

If there is only one thing you do to help eliminate negative feelings, it’s to start a meditation practice. Meditation will help elevate any negative thinking and help you take back control of your brain. Take 10 minutes each day to focus on your breathing, or a sound around you. You can also listen to a guided meditation (there are many free meditations to choose from on YouTube).

Mindfulness

Mindfulness is the practice of focusing on the present. At its most basic level, being mindful means living more fully in the moment and it’s been proven to help reduce anxiety and depression and cope with negative feelings. Remember, “now” is all you have at your disposal. Spending it on “what if’” is robbing you of the joy you can experience. The best way to live in the now is to savour the moment. If you are with your family, feel the love you feel and the joy of having them at your side.

Cultivate a positive mindset

By using meditation and practising mindfulness, your brain should be a blank canvas for you to start changing your thoughts for the better. Not only will this make you feel better overall, but this will also allow you to be a positive force in the lives of those around you. Take the time to feel good by:

  • Starting your day with giving thanks (for example, be thankful for your bed, your home, your family, your health, your family’s health).
  • Making a point of writing down 3 things you are grateful each day in a journal.
  • Reducing your exposure to negative news and social media.
  • Consciously try to reduce complaining, excessive worrying and blaming.

By cultivating a more positive mindset, you’ll see your life turn around. We often think we are focused on the good when we say, “I don’t want to be sick” but the mind still picks up the word “sick”. Rather say, “I want to be healthy”, “I want to see myself in perfect health and happiness”. You will see your life change before your eyes.

Find positive in the current situation

I know it seems like everything is bad right now but if you start looking for the good it will start to come into your life. First, stop listening to the news and talking about everything bad going on – this doesn’t help the situation. Start saying things like:

  • “I know this situation is hard”
  • “I think I can look for something good in this situation”
  • “Looking for the good might make me feel better”
  • “I like feeling better”
  • “It’s ok to feel better”
  • “Feeling better might make the situation better”
  • “There are positive things in this situation”
  • “It’s positive that people are working on a cure – actually many people are working on a cure”
  • “I like knowing humans are inventive and have come up with solutions to problems in the past”
  • “There must be a solution”
  • “I like knowing that more people in the world are healthy and not affected by this”
  • “It’s good that governments have come together and tried to find solutions that will help manage the situation”
  • “I appreciate that I am healthy right now and not affected by this”
  • “I like knowing that I can be there for my family right now, by being happy and positive for them”
  • “I feel things are going to work out in a really good way”
  • “I am already feeling better”
  • “I am going to look for more aspects of this that are positive”
  • “I can think about the fact that…. insert anything you can think of (for example, the environment is improving, people are showing kindness to one another, I can stay in contact because I have internet access).

Use this time to be kind to yourself 

Imagine coming out of this a stronger, better version of yourself. You can do this by starting to take care of yourself – from the inside out.

  • Write a list of your favourite things about yourself and all the things you are proud of. Look at this daily.
  • Silence your inner critic. Use the little voice in your head to spread kindness and positivity to yourself and others. Be your own best friend and cheerleader. Say nice things to yourself. For example, “I am doing great”, “I am wonderful”, “I am worthy and deserving of all the best”, “I am so proud of myself”. Say these kind things to yourself as much as you can – your powerful mind will eventually start to believe it.
  • Do things for you that make you happy, including pampering and spoiling yourself whenever you can. Practise a hobby you enjoy, spend time with people who make you feel happy, stay away from toxic people, events, books, movies (anything that makes you feel bad).
  • Honour your boundaries – say no when things don’t suit you. When someone is treating you in ways that don’t feel right, don’t fight it and make yourself feel terrible. Ask yourself, “Would I rather be right or would I rather be happy?”

Be kind to others

Once you are replenished and have done something for yourself, you can start to be there for others. Do good if you can, be loving and supportive. Volunteer telephonically or go the extra mile for someone in your family.

Externalise negative feelings and traits

Saying things like, “I am just a depressed person” or “I am always anxious and there is nothing I can do about it” or, “I don’t know what to do with my sadness” associates you with the trait. It’s disempowering and makes it feel like you are out of your control. Remember, you are not your negative feelings. These feelings are just visitors and you can start learning to let them come and go. Rather say, “I sometimes feel sad but I am learning how to cope and getting better every day” or, “I have learnt many techniques and am getting better at managing my anxious feelings” or, “I am gaining more control over the feelings of anxiety I have and that feels good.”

Have compassion and love for yourself

Don’t be too hard on yourself. Realise that no matter what, the things that happen to you shape you in positive ways. Try to cultivate more calm, ease and love in your daily life, especially towards yourself! Know that you are always on the right path because everything you go through is contributing to your growth and development.

More about the expert:

Ashleigh Sacks is a registered educational psychologist, life coach, workshop facilitator and educational product creator. She has her own private practice in Johannesburg, HappyMe Psychology, and also works at a local remedial school. Ashleigh is passionate about working with people of all ages to empower them to live lives infused with happiness and wellbeing. She has supported hundreds of students through her school-based interventions, including students in disadvantaged communities like Alexandra township and Diepsloot. For more information, tips and advice follow her on Facebook @happymepsychology.

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