We’re all living in different circumstances and facing different challenges during the Covid-19 pandemic. We’ve come into this experience with varying levels of mental and physical health, so it’s fair to say that everyone will be feeling slightly different right now.
However, one thing that we all share is a basic human need for connection and a sense of control. No matter where you’re living and what your situation is, the anxiety and feelings of frustration caused by the ongoing and changing nature of the Covid-19 pandemic affects us all.
Right now, our internal protection system is focused on recognising and alerting us to danger and helping us to deal with the threat by activating our fight or flight mechanism. The anxiety generated by this system is likely to stay around if we don’t take steps to manage it, especially as solutions to the threat we’re facing aren’t straight forward.
If you’re looking for effective ways to manage your feelings, the first step is to try and understand them better. This can be difficult given how much our emotions vary on a daily basis, but if you take the time to reflect, you can start to make sense of what’s bothering you and what triggers those feelings.
Anxiety and irritability
Two of the most common emotions we’re experiencing are anxiety and irritability. Both are completely understandable given the situation and they’ll reveal themselves differently in each of us.
Irritability is linked to our threat system and is usually a sign that we are becoming overwhelmed by stress. Ongoing change to our usual routines, poor sleeping patterns, juggling family and work concerns are all contributors as to why people are experiencing several emotions at once.
Anxiety, on the other hand, may give us a sense of urgency, an overwhelming sense of fear, racing thoughts and irritability may be part of this experience. Emotions play out differently in all of us, so it may be worth just noticing how they affect you, where they start in the body, how they make you feel, and how they prompt you to behave. What are the tell-tale signs that are specific to you?
How to feel better
Firstly, tune in and acknowledge that you’re feeling this way. It may be wise to keep a diary to recognise the situations and triggers that prompt feelings of anxiety and frustration and to help you manage your expectations of yourself and others. Label the feelings you have: ‘here is anxiety’, ‘there is a lot of frustration around at the moment’, ‘this is anger’. This creates a gap in where we can separate ourselves from our emotions. Then we are in a position to make wiser choices of what action to take instead of being caught up in our emotions and acting in ways that are reactive and unhelpful for ourselves and others.
Breathing exercises may help to calm your system and can be practised in the moment. Becoming aware of your body and your breathing can disrupt the flow of negative and anxious thoughts. Feel the weight of your body as you stand or sit, focus on your feet and imagine being supported by the solid ground beneath you.
It’s also very important to communicate how you feel, so those around you are aware that you’re feeling overwhelmed and can provide support and compassion. We need each other’s care and understanding right now and dealing with these feelings alone is unlikely to be helpful to yourself and others. Be kind to yourself. Remember that you’re living through a global crisis. Take time to recognise when your threat system is activated. This might feel as though your thoughts are being pulled away to brood on the past or into anxiety about the future. Aim to pull your focus back into the present moment and focus on the task at hand. It’s also important to recognise that whilst you may have lost the ability to achieve things in others areas of your life for now, you’re contributing to a wider effort by supporting yourself, your family, friends and workplace.
Find a sense of meaning through this time by nurturing relationships, looking out for others facing difficulty and contributing to something bigger than yourself to help you rediscover a sense of purpose throughout these long days.
Remember, none of this is your fault
These feelings are not your fault. How you feel is entirely normal and understandable given the circumstances we’re all facing. Our brains are programmed to recognise threats quickly and, whilst the emotions you’re experiencing may be unpleasant for you, they are your body’s way of trying to protect you during difficult times. However, we do need to take steps to manage these emotions and relate to them in a way that doesn’t overwhelm us.
A compassionate approach to ourselves and others is an antidote to the fear and anxiety that many of us are feeling. We’ll all have times when we feel overwhelmed with the challenges we’re facing. We might experience a deep sense of sadness and grief for all the things we have lost and may lose in the future.
It’s ok to have bad days. As with all things, they will pass, and although unpleasant they are a sign that you’re connecting deeply with the things that are happening outside of you, many of which are outside your control.
Written by Kirsty Lilley, mental health specialist at CABA
CABA provides lifelong support to past and present ICAEW members, ACA students, ICAEW staff, and their close family members.
If you’re worried about the impact of the coronavirus on you and your family, find out how CABA can support you.