Everyone is dealing with the pandemic in their own way. Some people are experiencing intense feelings of anxiety for the very first time. While many others who have been experiencing anxiety for a long time are now facing more extreme and constant feelings of anxiety that might be impacting their daily life.
Whether you're concerned about yourself or a loved one, fears about the pandemic can take an emotional toll.
We asked Dr Jennifer Opoku, a Chartered Counselling Psychologist specialising in anxiety, about her experiences treating people with anxiety during the pandemic.
On Wednesday 17th February, Dr Opoku will join other Clinical Partners specialists in an online discussion to share skill and strategies to help you manage your anxiety.
The free event will see our experts welcoming your questions as they explore all aspects of anxiety, including common causes and how to choose the right strategies to challenge your thinking, feelings and behaviours.
For many people, the pandemic is triggering feelings of uncertainty, a lack of control and, to an extent, a lack of information. These psychological factors add to the feeling of stress and anxiety.
The lockdown is also triggering memories and issues that many people might not have properly dealt with, such as negative feelings of uncertainty. Yes, lockdown is a huge contributing factor, however it's more about what it's doing for their memories that haven't been properly processed. We see this a lot, not just with memories of uncertainty, but also memories of feeling trapped and not knowing where their future is heading.
In usual times, many people cope and understand themselves by looking at other people for a frame of reference. Those things are much more distant now and that can cause increased feelings of uncertainty. Add to that a lack of interaction. We have social platforms to communicate, but there's only so much that it can do in terms of keeping people connected - it's no replacement for in-person interaction. For those who rely on being in close contact with friends or family for support having this withdrawn can be especially challenging.
In many ways it's about the same things. Anxiety is always about overestimating the danger while underestimating your ability to cope. We need to explore what that danger is for each person and then challenge their concerns.
During lockdown, I've been trying to connect whatever their issue is to the current situation and specifically to the feeling about the past that it is triggering.
I would then look at what the person can do to change, or we might go back and explore and resolve the past issue through behaviour experiments. Unfortunately, this type of activity is being made harder in the lockdown for many reasons.
Take someone who is suffering from social anxiety, which is the fear of being judged negatively in social situations and therefore avoiding them. Pre-lockdown, I would challenge the individual to get out, talk to people and observe how people are acting towards them. But right now, we can't do that for obvious reasons. For the individual, this means they don't get the opportunity to challenge or disconfirm a lot of the negative thoughts they're having. As such, their safety behaviours go unchallenged and their anxieties remain the same.
Firstly, it's important to recognise that there's no one-size-fits-all solution, so we must treat every person uniquely.
Often it's about starting small, focusing on the basics and reminding people of the here and now. Anxiety is often future focussed. We think about the things we can't do and the things we're scared of in the future. Bringing people's attention back to the here and now is often one of the most helpful things we can do.
We often give people breathing techniques to help them keep calm, but when you say this to someone who's feeling extremely anxious, they can often, quite understandably, dismiss that information if they don't understand how it can help.
Breathing is one of the simplest things we can do to calm ourselves down. It's about a few things: First, breathing deeply and slowly can stop your mind wandering into the future and worrying about what will happen. Again, it's about bringing the individual back to the here and now, and reminding them that everything's ok, they're not in danger right now.
Deep breathing exercises can also elevate levels of serotonin. Serotonin is produced in the stomach lining so when we breathe from our stomachs we release this chemical, which regulates anxiety, happiness and mood. Low levels of serotonin have been associated with depression, but higher levels can help you feel happier, calmer and less anxious.
Breathing exercises can also help calm the part of the brain responsible for creating stress, so by engaging that part of the brain, we can reduce stress levels.
On 17th February Dr Jennifer Opoku will join other Clinical Partners experts, Emma Woodhouse and Dr Olukemi Akanle in a more in-depth online discussion to talk about their experiences treating people with anxiety during the pandemic.
The open discussion will see our experts sharing skills and strategies to help you thrive while welcoming your questions and listening to your experiences.
The event is free to attend but registration is limited, so join now if you're concerned about yourself or a loved one.