Freelance writer Jennifer Wallis draws upon her own experience of anxiety during coronavirus
I've struggled with anxiety for as long as I can remember. As a small child I guess I was what you'd call a ‘natural worrier'. I've lived with that constant, consistent and catastrophic feeling of impending doom and panic for so long that it became normal.
Things came to a head a few years back. I'd just begun to embark on my freelance journey and was living in a small, but perfectly overpriced flat in Hackney. I was feeling increasingly stressed and worried about the future and had a million different "What ifs?" going round and round in my head; "What if I can't pay my rent?", "What if I don't get paid tomorrow?" "What if the editor hates what I've written?" "What if I'm just a terrible writer?"
I wondered what was wrong with me. I felt like a failure. At the time I lived with a housemate who "had to meditate". Every. Single. Day. I thought this was weird and that there had to be something inherently wrong with someone who needed to do this each day. Long story short(ish), she told me to try meditating for 10 minutes and see how I felt. I did. I went into my room and sat crossed legged in semi-darkness and breathed deeply. In and out. Feeling the sensation of my breath as it passed through my nose and into my belly and out again. And, wow, I felt calmer, reassured, brighter and wondered why on earth I hadn't done it before.
Why am I telling you this? Well, right now, with COVID-19 raging across the world, many of you will likely be feeling fear and anxiety. An unknown situation such as this can cause people who suffer from generalised anxiety disorder and other panic disorders to project and catastrophize, and I have a tendency to do this on a normal day. The charity Mind defines anxiety as "what we feel when we are worried, tense or afraid - particularly about things that are about to happen, or which we think could happen in the future. Anxiety is a natural human response when we perceive that we are under threat. It can be experienced through our thoughts, feelings and physical sensations".
For people like me, anxious AND self-employed (oh and I also top up my income working in hospitality, a winning combination right now) this current situation is testing to say the least. So I wanted to put together a little anxiety 101, from experience, on how you can remain focussed and bring some calm into your life.
- Meditate, meditate, meditate. Trust me. This has literally, and I mean LITERALLY, saved me. I use a wonderful app Insight Timer that's free to download and has an abundance of guided meditations, talks and wonderful ambient sounds to use. The nature ones are great.
- Practice gratitude. The simple act of writing down five things you are thankful for each morning, say the tree outside your window, the birds singing, your job or the warm bed you get to sleep in, will make you realise that you already have lots of great things in your life.
- Make space. I've developed a little routine whereby I switch my phone to aeroplane mode around 10pm at night and it doesn't come on again until after my morning routine, rather than just delving straight into Instagram or emails the instant I wake up. Give yourself some space to breathe before you begin your day.
- Write it down. If something is causing you anxiety the simple act of writing it down can make it feel smaller. Keeping a journal is great for this. There's also an excellent tool called Morning Pages where you write three stream of consciousness-style pages first thing in the morning and get it all out. All of it. Keeping a journal is also a wonderful tool.
- Talk to a friend. We have so much technology available at our fingertips to connect us and yet we are a generation who report feeling increasingly lonely. Meeting face to face may not be possible if we're self-isolating so take advantage of the wonders of FaceTime.
- Exercise. Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked. If you can't or don't want to use the gym at the moment, bring the gym home. Buy some cheap weights and a cheap and cheerful yoga mat and recreate that gym class in your lounge or garden. There are also plenty of YouTube videos for fitness classes and yoga. Go for a run and if you have a bike go for a ride with a friend. Just make sure you cycle at least one metre apart.
- Minimise news consumption. Yes, it's important we keep up to date with the current situation, but try to take it in in small doses and use trusted news sources so you don't feel overwhelmed
- Get outside. Nature is free and right on our doorstep. Just being in it will bring peace and clarity.
- Read. There are so many books on health, wellness and mindfulness that will help adjust your mindset in times of stress.
I'm sure the very sight of the above list might fill you with terror, but even just adding a couple of the above into your daily routine will do wonders. You don't have to do it all and it doesn't have to be perfect, but adding in little positive steps will help you manage anxiety in times of crisis. My basic routine consists of turning my phone off later in the evening and leaving it off first thing, doing the Morning Pages and then some yoga and/or exercise followed by meditation for 10 or 15 minutes. If things are starting to feel really gloomy and you feel you can't reach out to a friend there are people you can talk to such as Mind 0300 123 3393 and The Samaritans 116 123. Remember, we are all in this together so let's look after ourselves and look out for one another.
Jennifer Wallis is a freelance journalist and copywriter. Tweet her @jenwriteswords_