10 ways to ease an anxious mind during lockdown

If you’re feeling stressed during the coronavirus outbreak, we’ve found some expert tips for staying calm.

If you’re part of the one in four people who suffers with a mental health issue, the uncertainty surrounding coronavirus can be especially difficult to deal with.

It’s an unprecedented situation that can feel incredibly overwhelming, and when you throw lots of extra time to worry into the mix, it’s easy to see how panic and dread can spiral out of control.

The good news is that lockdown is only temporary, and your anxiety and fears will pass. But until then, we’ve asked mental health experts to share some simple but effective techniques for managing anxiety during this time.

1. Try meditation

If you’re prone to catastrophising and worrying about the future, paying more attention to the present moment can help you to put your fears into perspective.

“Mindful meditation requires you to make a note of each thought as it arises,” says Dr Earim Chaudry, medical director at men’s wellness platform Manual. “While it is very difficult to reach the state of an ’empty mind’ straight away, you will be able to relax your mind and observe how your feelings and emotions move around in different patterns.”

Apps like Headspace and Calm are a good starting point for beginners who want to tap into the technique.

2. Stay connected to your social circle

Staying virtually in touch is one way to protect your mental health as you practise social distancing or self-isolation – particularly if you live alone.

“There is a world out there of apps and games you can play online with your friends to stay connected,” says Chaudry.

“Find online games, like Scrabble, where you can chat and play at the same time. Group phone calls are also a good way to ensure that you stay connected on a human level too.”

3. Exercise your creative brain

“Creativity is always a great outlet for those who tend to feel anxious, or need something to put their mind to,” says Chaudry. You could try drawing, painting or even have a go at some creative writing to break up the weekends.

“Colouring is a very good activity to partake in and there are tons of free templates online. Putting pencil to paper has been specifically been proven to relax the part of your brain controlling fear – the amygdala – which can promote feelings of calm and relaxation,” he adds.

4. Have a good stretch

Scientists have long said that regular physical activity can decrease stress, elevate your mood and help you to get a better night’s sleep, thanks to the release of ‘happy’ hormones called endorphins.

“Many online yoga and home workout classes are available on YouTube, where you can tap into endless hours of relaxation, with no equipment needed,” says Chaudry.

5. Let the sunlight in

If you’re feeling the anxiety-inducing effects of cabin fever, try to get as much sunlight and fresh air into your home as possible.

“While not everyone is blessed with a back garden, there are many ways of ensuring you get enough sunlight and plants around you if you live in a flat within a big city,” says Chaudry.

“Don’t forget to open the windows and get some fresh air in your house,” he stresses. With spring upon us, the weather is proving to be slightly more clement, which makes it possible to keep fresh air flowing through your home all day.

6. Stick to a routine

Settling into a schedule will allow you to be more productive and can help to keep your anxiety levels to a minimum.

“If you’re working from home, start the day with some physical activity and meditation, and while taking your lunch breaks, take some time off screens to do some reading,” says Chaudry.

“The regularity of your routine will ensure that you do not spend any time letting your mind wander through worst case scenarios.”

7. Keep obsessive behaviours in check

“Washing your hands is essential to prevent germs from spreading, even from your hands to your face. However, if you are confined at home and have no contact with other people, you do not need to be washing your hands every 20 minutes,” says Chaudry.

“By keeping an eye the amount of times you wash your hands and being more pragmatic about it, you will let your mind feel more at ease.”

8. Spend your time productively

Have a clear out, do all of the admin tasks you’ve been putting off and write letters or emails to people you’ve been meaning to catch up with.

“Think about everything you’ve wanted to do at home but never had the time to,” says Chaudry. “You can also give a call to those long lost family members you’ve been meaning to talk to, check up on loved ones, or read the really big book you never thought you’d have time to dive into.”

9. Just breathe

View this post on Instagram

🍃🙌🏻 #breathe

A post shared by Marie-Ève Champagne (@marieeve_champagne_) on

The next time you’re feeling anxious, try this simple breathing technique for calming racing thoughts.

“Count to eight breathing in, hold at the top for four and then countdown eight to one on exhale,” says Dr Jonquille Chantrey. “Repeat this for the five minutes and you should start to feel your heart rate slow down.”

10. Control your news

It’s vital to stay informed with the latest government advice, but reading misinformation or sensationalised stories can easily exacerbate your anxiety. The same goes for WhatsApp groups that are flooded with terrifying theories.

“We are in danger of being swamped by social media,” says Mark Simmonds, author of Breakdown And Repair, A Father’s Tale Of Stress And Success.

“The good news is that each of us is in a position to control not only how we communicate, but also how often and also with whom.”

Simmonds advises you stick to trusted news sources and limit the amount of time you spend ruminating with friends on social media.

“Take some control over your communication channels and decide what is best for your own state of mind.”