Anxiety: Friend or Foe during Covid 19?

Carolyn Barber of Portsmouth’s Good Mental Health Cooperative, and local researcher and social entrepreneur, shares advice and resources on how to manage your mental health in lockdown.

In 2015 some French researchers looked at how an anxious person may be better prepared to deal with a crisis than their more laid back counterparts.

‘Anxious people process threats using regions of the brain responsible for action. Meanwhile, ‘low anxious’ people process them in sensory circuits, responsible for face recognition’.

There is certainly some anecdotal evidence that for some who experience severe anxiety, the public health crisis has eased their distress. It’s possible that the slowing down of the sheer busyness and pace of life, reduces daily stress factors.

On the other hand, the experience from China and countries such as Italy and Spain – ahead of the UK in terms of the impact of the pandemic – suggests that mental distress is likely to escalate as isolation and uncertainty about the future continues. One source estimated that 42% of the Chinese population were experiencing anxiety. The World Health Organisation identifies the mental health of health and care workers, those on the frontline of dealing with Covid 19, as a major concern for public health strategies.

All this highlights just how important it is to pay attention to our own mental health. Learning the principles of ’emotional first aid’ is one way to remind ourselves that these are seriously distressing times for most of us.

Psychologist Guy Winch identifies five such principles in his book Emotional First Aid:

  • Recognize when you’re in emotional pain.
  • Be gentle and compassionate with yourself.
  • Distract yourself from rumination.
  • Redefine your view of failure.
  • Find meaning in loss.

Physical pain is the body’s way of telling us that something is wrong. This goes for emotional pain as well. Anxiety is our body’s alert system, and has an important protective purpose. It can prepare us for action where needed, or alert us to emotional distress.

AnxietyUK suggests practising the ‘Apple’ technique to deal with anxiety and worries.

  • Acknowledge: Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.
  • Pause: Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Pause and breathe.
  • Pull back: Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.
  • Let go: Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.
  • Explore: Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.

Over the coming weeks, I’ll be sharing a range of strategies and resources to help you build mental and emotional resilience during the Covid-19 crisis.

This is just as important as our physical strength if we were planning to run a marathon! And just like our physical health, taking care of our mental health is about establishing good habits as part of our regular routine. 

We’ve been hard at work updating the Resources section of the Good Mental Health Coop website – these are resources you can use to build your mental and emotional resilience during these testing times. The Resources are divided under 4 themes – Meet, Relax, Learn, Create – please take some time to browse and check them out. 

Click here for Resources for Resilience


This article was originally published as a newsletter. Check out the Good Mental Health Coop website, where you can sign up to receive Carolyn’s weekly mental health updates by email, and find out more about the amazing work the Coop do. You can also follow the Coop on Twitter and Facebook, and you can read all of Carolyn’s articles for S&C here.

Image by jarmoluk from Pixabay.


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