As we adjust to the repercussions of the COVID-19 pandemic and learn more about the virus, it’s easy to see why people are anxious now more than ever. Anxiety is, after all, our body’s natural response to challenges such as deadlines, financial concerns and other problems.
With the current health crisis however, more and more people find themselves dealing with pandemic anxiety—a form of anxiety that leaves people angry and sleepless. To learn more about this, we spoke to psychologist Dr. Lilian Ng Gui, chairwoman of the Counseling Division of the Psychological Association of the Philippines.
What is pandemic anxiety?
According to Dr. Gui, pandemic anxiety is our body’s response to a widespread disease. In this case, being isolated at home and worrying about your loved one’s well-being can be a constant source of stress.
For people who have anxiety disorders, pathological responses shift from everyday challenges to the possible impacts of COVID-19 on their lives. “Anxiety disorders are based on two words: ‘What if,’ followed by the worst scenario your brain can devise,” Gui quotes Chicago-based psychologist Patrick McGrath.
Symptoms of pandemic anxiety may include a major spike in your heart rate and breathing, which can cause more panic as it feels like you’re gasping for breath. While this is happening, your muscles will tense up, which can cause headaches and muscle pains over time.
Pandemic anxiety will also prompt a rush of cortisol and adrenaline, which are hormones that prepare your body for an emergency. This can lead to digestive problems, trouble sleeping and other issues.
How do we deal with it?
The World Health Organization’s (WHO) Department of Mental Health and Substance Use and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released recommended mental health care tips, but here are additional steps you can take:
Focus on things you can control: There are many aspects of the crisis that are out of your hands, and shifting your focus on things you can control can help. While you can’t control the severity of the outbreak in your area, you can take precautions to reduce your risk of exposure to the virus.
Another technique that helps is bringing attention to your body and your breathing. Focusing on the sights, sounds and smells around you, paying attention to what you feel at the moment and breathing slowly will help you feel more calm.
Taking up relaxation practices: One of the most effective ways to reduce stress is by activating your body’s natural relaxation response, which slows your breathing and lowers your blood pressure. Setting aside the time to practice meditation, rhythmic exercises and yoga every day can go a long way.
It’s important to note that it takes some trial and error to find a relaxation practice that works for you, and it takes time and practice to reap its benefits. While results come sooner with regular practice, don’t get discouraged when you miss a few days or weeks—you can always build up your momentum again.
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Writer: ANGELA PATRICIA SUACILLO