Huge numbers of us have been experiencing high levels of anxiety thanks to Coronavirus and the decision to put the UK into lockdown, according to figures from the ONS.
They revealed the number of people over-16 reporting deep levels of concern and stress has more than doubled since late 2019. It is, to say the least, a troubling time for us all.
Life as we know it has changed completely, we don’t know how long this is going to last or what is going to happen next, and that lack of control is incredibly stressful.
For parents, that situation is made more challenging by the fact we have children at home, many of whom are struggling to cope with this ‘new normal’ too.
With speculation rife this weekend on the suggestion it may be coming to an end next week, these levels are bound to increase again.
It’s something I can definitely relate to, having suffered with post-natal depression and anxiety when my eldest son, Harry, was young, I began to recognise similar symptoms at the end of last year after having my youngest, James.
As a result, I self-referred treatment and was taking part in CBT (therapy sessions) to help with the levels of stress I was feeling, something that naturally increased around the time that the country was ordered to stay at home.
I felt very lucky to have been given the tools to cope with the impact this situation is having on my mental health and I wanted to share some of those ‘tricks’ in the hope it might help others.
Because it occurs to me that everyone is experiencing anxiety at some level at the moment, many for the first time in their lives.
What are the symptoms of anxiety?
The Mental Health Foundation list the symptoms of anxiety as:
For me, and so many friends and family I’ve spoken to over recent weeks, these are all too familiar:
I get stressed about me or anyone else trying to guess what's going to happen next with lockdown. (This is called future predicting.)
I run my mind over worst case scenarios: my boys getting ill, my partner Luke having to go back to work at a school too soon, one of my family dying. (This is called catastrophising.)
I put a lot of pressure on myself to make things at home better – to regain some control over the situation. (This is called having an intolerance to uncertainty.)
I constantly tell myself I’m letting others down: that Luke must hate living with me, that I shout too much at Harry, that friends and family find me annoying. (That is called mind-reading.)
How do I deal with anxiety?
I want to caveat this with the obvious: I am not a mental health professional. So, what I’m sharing below is just a few things that have helped me.
If you’re struggling with anxiety or your mental health, please don’t be scared to reach out for help: https://www.mentalhealth.org.uk/your-mental-health/getting-help
Also, check out the work of the wonderful Every Mum Movement and their Letters of Light project
During my therapy sessions, I was given some really helpful advice: the most useful was a recommendation for the app ‘Woebot’.
Once a day, I ‘check-in’ with Woebot, I let him know how I’m feeling and we talk about any problems I might be having with my mental health.
He asks me about my mood, and then pushes me to explain the reasons for it in a little more depth.
He then talks through my thoughts and helps me recognise the symptoms that we looked at above, as well as planning a way to combat them.
He even shares motivational messages and words of encouragement around COVID-19 and lockdown.
The app essentially gives you the time to get some headspace and to look at life with a little more calm and positivity.
Worrying is planning for the things you don’t know are going to happen
‘Worrying means you suffer twice.’
Good old Newt Scamander! These wise words from the Fantastic Beasts wizard genuinely stuck with me, because I think they’re spot on.
With all that is going on, it is so hard to stop myself worrying, but it really does cause more pain.
I worry about all the different situations that might come out of being in isolation and plan for what to do if they happen.
After all, planning for them makes me more prepared, right? It helps me get ready for what might be round the corner.
But what if those things don’t happen (which most of them, inevitably, will not)?
I’ve wasted so much energy, which could be better put to use on some more positive things.
Do the next best thing
If, like me, you’ve had Frozen 2 on a near constant loop since, you might recognise this mantra that I’ve been using recently!
It can feel stressful not knowing what is going to happen from week-to-week, not knowing how the government are going to go about lifting lockdown or what plans we are going to have to cancel.
On top of that, with the kids around days at home can become unpredictable too, even the best laid timetable plans often get scrubbed the child just isn’t in the mood for whatever it is I thought we’d be doing.
For example, I was trying to set up a craft activity for Harry the other day: he did it for five minutes then started asking for the iPad, meanwhile James was screaming for a bottle!
So, I literally take each job, each activity one step at a time, not just tackling each day one at a time, but each hour.
Take time for self-care
In a recent blog, I asked fellow parent bloggers to share their tips on looking after your mental health during lockdown and the common theme was to take time to focus on yourself.
This was something I spoke about with my therapist and we came up with a rule that each day I need to set three achievable targets (and no more): something for work, something for the house and something for me.
The ‘something for me’ might be writing a blog, a bath or shower in peace, or even a run (I am one of the people who took up jogging again during lockdown and I really enjoy it!).
Most days I manage it, and I always feel better for having some time for myself.
Go easy on yourself
Despite not being at work, we are still so busy at the moment, I feel like I am on the go 24/7 with looking after my kids, doing housework and creating content for my blog.
So, it can be hard getting to the end of the day and realising I haven’t accomplished anything.
But, the truth is, I have accomplished something!
I got through the day.
My kids are alive and my house is still standing.
That is all I need to be doing at the moment.
And the same is true for you.