Social distancing, self-isolation and the widespread stress of the COVID-19 outbreak is taking a toll on our mental health. Many of us have lost a lot of the things that usually keep us emotionally well.
Two-thirds of South Africans reported anxiety and depression in lockdown according to the SA Depression and Anxiety Group (Sadag).
Reasons for stress abound in lockdown. Feelings of fear, anxiety and loneliness are being felt by everyone to some degree. For those already dealing with pre-existing anxiety and depression, the situation is especially bad. Financial stress, family tension, claustrophobia, widespread worry, a drop in social interactions, less nature and sunshine, more screens and bad news…
We know that psychological stress can have a negative effect on inflammation and the immune system but another concern is the longer-term psychological impact of quarantine and a possible secondary epidemic of burnouts and stress-related issues further down the line.
We wanted to offer 3 evidence-based ways to reduce anxiety and manage feelings of overwhelm, given the limited space available to us right now:
Move your body every day
Whether it’s 1 minute of jumping jack squats, 5 minutes of stretching, a free online yoga class, 10 push-ups, dancing solo for the duration of a song (here’s a quarantunes spotify playlist if you need something new), moving our bodies is the best way to release built-up emotions and stress. Ideally a brisk walk outside in the fresh air and sun (for that much-needed, immune-boosting Vitamin D), but if getting out is not possible as is the case for a lot of us right now, then do what you can inside. Multiple studies show that exercise can improve mental health by helping the brain cope better with stress.
Be as kind as you can to yourself and others
A psychological reaction is normal right now. Allow yourself to have one. If you can, let go of any and all expectations of how things (or the people around you) are ‘meant to be’ during this time . Instead, try approach yourself and others with plenty of compassion and curiosity (the opposite of judgement). Give yourself as much rest, relief and comfort as possible in these unique circumstances.
Use your breath as a tool to quickly calm your nervous system
Taking longer and lower inhales and exhales not only encourages full oxygen exchange, it can also slow your heartbeat and lower or stabilize blood pressure, thereby mitigating the physical effects of anxiety and at the same time sending signals of safety to the brain. Deep breaths can lower cortisol (the stress hormone that if regularly elevated can weaken our immune system).
Try the 4-7-8 breathing technique or simple box breathing next time you start feeling overwhelmed. If you can, make a point of practicing a few deep breaths at a set time each day in the morning, midday or evening before bed.
There are more ways take care of your mental health during this time.
Sadag suggests alleviating stress and anxiety during lockdown with exercise, chatting to somebody, or watching a film or TV show (not the news). Visit Sadag’s website, which contains their helpline numbers, here.
Another way to help calm your nervous system might be to take some magnesium glycinate (if your health practitioner agrees). Magnesium – a.k.a nature’s chill pill – is a micronutrient (found in dark leafy greens, nuts, seeds, seafood and more) that helps to calm the nervous system, mildly lower blood pressure, and quickly relaxes smooth muscle. Taking a relaxing hot epsom salt bath might be another way to relieve stress while getting in some extra magnesium (in the form of magnesium sulphate) into the body.
Other more obvious tactics that we’re all aware of but are worth mentioning again are to avoid alcohol, drugs and other depressants; to get enough sleep every night ; and to seek help and trusted support from professionals if you’re experiencing acute anxiety or depression.
How are you coping with feelings of anxiety during lockdown?
If you have any tips or tricks to share with us, please do! You can find us on the ‘gram where we share ideas and support in real time on our stories and connect with each other virtually. We’d love to see you there 🙂