Coping with anxiety and stress amidst the Covid-19 pandemic
Anxiety is a normal human emotion; it motivates us to avoid dangerous situations and stay safe. While you may not normally be an anxious person, you are likely currently faced with quite novel challenges. Remind yourself that it is okay to feel some anxiety during periods of change or uncertainty about the future. Naturally, feelings of unease, worry and concern at this time are expected. However, if you feel anxiety and stress are taking control it can become problematic, leading to panic and fear, causing harm.
Treat yourself kindly and acknowledge that how you feel is normal; an experience that you are sharing with many people around the world. Common responses include:
Feeling stressed or overwhelmed
Anxiety, worry, or fear
Confusion, difficulty concentrating
Emotional – feeling sad, crying, increased frustration or anger
Difficulty concentrating or sleeping
Avoidance and procrastination
loss of interest in usual enjoyable activities
Physical symptoms, such as increased heart rate, stomach upset, fatigue, sweating, inability to relax
Feeling lonely and isolated
What follows are practical strategies and information that may assist you to you manage feelings of anxiety and concern at this time.
1. Separate facts from myth-information
Ensure the information you are receiving is from reputable sources. Constant media coverage, and discussions amongst the community can distort facts and perpetuate incorrect information, which leads to increased fear. Also, allow yourself to take a break from the coverage or limit your exposure if you need.
The Australian Government’s Health Alert (www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert) provides accurate, up to date information about Covid-19.
Additionally, the World Health Organisation (www.who.int/emergencies/diseases/novel-coronavirus-2019) provides information on a global level that is reputable.
This will assist you in following practical advice from sources that you can trust. You can then make an appropriate plan for looking after yourself and loved ones over the coming weeks.
2. Follow health guidelines
Protect yourself and your loved ones by following recommendations of regular hand washing, coughing into elbows, not touching your face, maintaining physical distance and staying at home.
The risk of contracting Covid-19 has been proven to be minimal if these directions are followed: www.health.gov.au/news/health-alerts/novel-coronavirus-2019-ncov-health-alert#protect-others-and-stop-the-spread
3. Maintain perspective
It can be unhelpful to react to situations based on fear and panic, and it is easy to feel overwhelmed with the amount of information we are being provided. It is ok to take a break from news and social media to assist us to maintain perspective, particularly if this is making you more anxious then limit your exposure. Because our brains are designed to look for the worst case scenario, it is important to practice helpful thinking to positively cope with heightened anxiety. Ask yourself:
Am I getting ahead of myself, assuming something bad will happen when I really don’t know the outcome? Remind yourself that the actual number of confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia is extremely low.
Am I overestimating how bad the consequences will be? Remember, illness due to coronavirus infection is usually mild and most people recover without needing specialised treatment.
Am I underestimating my ability to cope? Sometimes thinking about how you would cope, even if the worst were to happen, can help you put things into perspective.
(Australian Psychological Society, 2020)
4. Focus on what is in your control
Another question to ask yourself is ‘what can I do right now?’ rather than being overly aware of what you can no longer do or getting lost in worries about what might happen in the future. While this is natural, it is unhelpful to set up your mental-camp there.
By focusing on what you can do – right now – you bring back a sense of stability and control. This is helpful for yourself, and for your loved ones. It helps you to notice the flowers in your life, the things to be grateful for, when our crisis-impaired instinct wants to notice all of the weeds.
This can also assist you to stay grounded in your values; acting in ways that continue to reflect how you’d like to remember yourself and what you stood for when you look back to this day in 12 month time.
5. Physical distance not social isolation
Whilst we have been asked to maintain physical distance, be creative with connecting with friends and loved ones in other ways. Be creative about connecting! Make a concerted effort to reach out and communicate through phone or online, host an online morning tea, watch the same movie together in different houses and message each other throughout, engaging in online sharing of positive news stories with your loved ones.
6. Practice self-care
Acknowledge your feelings and share these with others, seeking professional help if you want to. You can also process your feelings in other ways, such as writing about them (journaling, poetry, song writing), moving physically (exercise, dance, yoga), or being creative (art, crafts, photography).
Prioritise enjoyable activities and hobbies (whilst adhering to social distancing recommendations)
Maintain routine, as this provides a sense of predictability and consistency
Laugh as much as you can, watch comedies, read jokes, listen to comedy podcasts
Keep up, or improve, a healthy lifestyle (nutrition, sleep, exercise)
Practice, or train your body, to relax via meditation, relaxation training, mindfulness.
7. Pause and breath
When we feel like there are an insurmountable list of tasks that need our attention, it can be natural to get caught up in the chaos. Be sure to regularly practice pausing and stepping back from it all.
This could literally be a step backwards as you notice your feet press against the floor, with the weight of your body pushing down through them and into the earth. Notice your body standing there, your lower legs, your upper legs, your stomach, your chest, your arms and shoulders and your head. Take 3 full breaths as you notice the air fill up your lungs and push your stomach out, before breathing that air out.
8. Compassion – for yourself and others
A lot of these approaches are inviting you to take care of yourself during this period of stress; a very important aspect of maintaining wellbeing. To build on this, see if you can also put some time into helping out someone around you. Small gestures make a big difference – for the receiver and for yourself. There is a real commonality here that deserves an expression of kindness towards our fellow human beings.
9. Maintain contact with USQ
Check your USQ email account for regular communication about changes and supports.
Look at the information provided through USQ’s website for the most accurate information: www.usq.edu.au/current-students/support/covid-19-online-learning?utm_campaign=alert_20&utm_medium=email&utm_source=20_closure_campus_facilities&utm_content=online-learning-at-usq
Your Student Relationship Officers are here to answer any questions you may have, via Live Chat or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.
10. Seek additional support if needed
There are a number of supports you can access in the university and wider community if you need this, including:
USQ Health and Wellness team: www.usq.edu.au/current-students/support/health-and-wellness
Your local GP or health service
Community resources (counselling, financial, accommodation): www.askizzy.com
Further resources and support
Lifeline (www.lifeline.org.au) – support for anyone experiencing personal crisis and suicide prevention services. 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Ph: 13 11 14
Suicide Call Back Service (www.suicidecallbackservice.org.au) - nationwide service that provides professional 24/7 telephone and online counselling to people who are affected by suicide. 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Ph: 1300 659 467, or online counselling/chat options are available.
Beyond Blue (www.beyondblue.org.au) - mental health support, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week, nationwide. Ph: 1300 22 4636 and online chat available.
Mensline (www.mensline.org.au) – professional support for men with relationship and mental health concerns, 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Phone 1300 78 99 78 and online counselling.
1800Respect - Confidential information, counselling and support services for people impacted by sexual assault, domestic or family violence and abuse. 24 hours per day, 7 days per week. Ph: 1800 737 732 and online chat.
The Desk (www.thedesk.org.au) provides students with information and skills to help them be relaxed, energised, and connected during their time at university.
Breathe2Relax (Apple app store and Google play) - provides instructions for deep breathing exercises that can help reduce stress. Deep breathing has been shown to improve mood and deal with anger and anxiety.
The Quiet Place (Google play) - use the quiet place app to better understand how the stressful modern world is taking over your life and how it can be improved.
Smiling Mind (Apple app store and Google play) – a free mindfulness app developed by psychologists and educators to help bring balance to your life.
Mood Gym (www.moodgym.com.au) – is like an interactive self-help book which helps you to learn and practise skills which can help to prevent and manage depression and anxiety. It is great for development of resilience.
Headspace (online and app) (www.headspace.com) - meditations, sleep, and movement exercises to assist you to manage anxious feelings.