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10 tips to ease anxiety

Breathe deeply, relax and switch off. You don’t have to queue at the pharmacy for these anti-anxiety prescriptions.

Text: Katharina Rilling; photo: Nik Shuliahin / Unsplash

We’re currently all experiencing isolation, partial lockdown, empty shelves in the supermarket and uncertainty as to what will happen next. With no end in sight, we’re all worried about our health and our finances. The coronavirus touches everyone – no matter who we are or how we live. “It's no wonder that there’s a widespread sense of insecurity at the moment”, says psychotherapist Dania Schiftan. “We all worry about different things. Some people are scared that they’ll catch the virus, while others experience a vague sense of unease. And then, of course, there are those with financial worries. And some are burdened by a powerful apocalyptic fear.”

People are particularly concerned about the loss of control and autonomy over their own life. We’ve been forced to change our habits in the last few weeks. We fear things that disrupt our routine. Of course we’re familiar with social crises – but we usually observe them from a distance. We know they happen around the world, but not here! Now we’re experiencing it first-hand.

Initial analysis

So what can we do when we feel anxiety coming on? First, it can help to think about what kind of anxiety you’re experiencing. What triggers the anxiety? Is it the virus itself? Or what could happen to you in hospital? Are you worried about friends and family? Or is it the loneliness that’s making you panic? If you learn to understand your feelings of anxiety, it’s easier to do something about them. Taking action helps. For example, if you’re worried about being broke, you should inform yourself in detail about the financial support available to you. However, Schiftan also says: “Many things are still unclear at the moment. So, it’s probably a good idea to learn to deal with the insecurity and powerlessness. And there are tools you can use to help.”

1. Don’t be hard on yourself

One thing is certain: the exceptional situation we currently find ourselves in won’t last forever. The crisis will pass. It’s important to bear this in mind. But we also have to realise that we’ve not experienced a situation like this before. “Very many people are experiencing a range of strong emotions such as fear, helplessness, anger, sadness, frustration or hopelessness. You are not alone and don’t have to feel ashamed. Allow yourself to feel these emotions!”, advises psychotherapist Dania Schiftan. “If you judge yourself for experiencing this rollercoaster of emotions, you may fall into a downward spiral.”

2. Carry on as normal – almost

Cooking, housework, exercise, sleep – create a routine that gives you some stability. “Always go to bed at the same time, eat regular meals. Shower and put on your work clothes in the morning, even if you’re working from home,” advises Schiftan. Clear structures stabilise your psyche. They make you feel safe. It might help to make lists and mentally tick items off as you go. “After getting up, it’s a good idea to have a change of scene and go into another room, if possible.” If you have problems sleeping at night, switch off your mobile phone an hour before you want to sleep. And: being active and playing music, dancing, meditating, reading, writing poems, doing crafts or having a clean out usually helps you go to bed happier.”  

3. Stronger together

Yes, we’ve got to keep our distance from others. But only physically. In times of crisis, social contact is more important than ever. Continue to participate in family life or the lives of your friends – even if you’re not allowed to meet colleagues, grandchildren or parents at the moment. Phone them, chat online or have video calls. Spend virtual time with people who help you relax or friends who are funny. It will do you good to speak to people who are calm and not as worried as you. Take your cue from them: What do they think about the situation and how are they handling it?  

4. Switch off

Sad personal stories, fake news and emotional social media posts can be frightening. So, only get your information from reputable media sources and official bodies, such as the FOPH. “To make sure you’re not constantly flooded with information, you should ration your media consumption,” advises Schiftan. Non-stop reporting can escalate your anxiety, turning it to panic when you’re standing in front of empty supermarket shelves. So, switch off all your push notifications and vow to catch up on the news no more than once a day. A daily news bulletin on TV or a good newsletter summarising the most important news of the day is quite sufficient.

5. Forget about corona for a while

Reducing your constant exposure to the news will help you take a mental break from corona and free up time for other things: watch live concerts or readings online, watch a comedy or read a good book. For once, getting easily distracted is a blessing rather than a curse! Schiftan: “Doing something else can help you switch off mentally for a while – even if it doesn’t get rid of your anxiety for good.”

6. Stay strong

When we’re stressed, our bodies crave food that releases energy quickly such as cake, fast food and chocolate. If you can resist sweet, fatty foods in favour of healthier options, you’ll feel better in the long run. It’s best to plan meals and snacks in advance so you don’t have to go shopping as often and always have something healthy in your fridge. If you don’t fancy cooking, why not order a tasty take-away – and in doing so support local businesses, too. Many local restaurants are currently offering special delivery or take-away services.

7. Keep moving

“When the body is stressed and constantly on edge, exercise does you good,” says Schiftan. “Anxiety makes us rigid, leading to tension in our muscles, too.” A long walk in the woods helps release tension, frees the mind, and energises us. But you can also get exercise at home: Do yoga, shake yourself like a dog, dance to your favourite music or stretch. You’ll feel better afterwards! You can currently join in with all sorts of yoga, aerobics or pilates courses online. Give it a try!  

8. Try physical stimuli

If you start to panic, it can help to expose your body to stimuli. If the attack is mild to moderate, first try drinking a glass of water. Or breathe from your diaphragm. “Place a hand on your stomach below your belly button. Your stomach gets round when you inhale, then flattens out again when you exhale. Breathe regularly, focus on your breathing and let other thoughts pass by like clouds,” explains Schiftan. If the panic attack is severe, take a cold shower, put chilli or wasabi in your mouth, place ice cubes on your body.

9. Find a purpose

Instead of putting your life on hold, try to find a (new) purpose. Now you’ve got more time on your hands, you can tackle all the things you’ve only thought about doing in the past, such as finishing your photo albums, digging over the garden or learning to draw. If you want to do something meaningful, think about projects that will continue to have an effect once the coronavirus has passed. Helping others who are even worse off than you can have a positive impact on your own well-being.  

10. Accept help

“At the moment, many therapists are offering online sessions,” says Dania Schiftan.“If you don’t feel good, you should certainly make use of these offers.” On the new platform dedicated to mental health during the coronavirus, you’ll find contact details for therapists and many other tips to help you keep calm during the pandemic: