Anxiety around the “new normal”

For the anxious amongst us, daily activities – from socialising to shopping – can seem daunting even without the new protective measures which have been put in place following the Covid-19 outbreak. However, with a “new normal”, consisting of one-way-systems, two-metre distancing and face masks to name but a few measures, we often find ourselves in unknown territory, and simple tasks can seem increasingly anxiety-provoking. Furthermore, with there being little information on how things will progress over the next months and years, we might struggle to come to terms with the uncertainty surrounding many aspects of our lives. This article will deal with how to come to terms with this anxiety, and provide some tips on how to cope with it.

It’s okay to be anxious:

First of all, it is important to remember that it is okay to feel anxious about the “new normal”. As we have been repeatedly told, these are unprecedented times, which highlights that, on an individual level, we could not have prepared ourselves for this particular situation. If you are feeling out of your depth and that your situation has fallen out of your control, it may well feel overwhelming. But remember that your thoughts and feelings are fully justified. It is certainly not weak to feel scared because this is an objectively frightening time. We are living through a global pandemic: don’t blame yourself for feeling anxious.

Anxiety-busting techniques:

Nonetheless, whilst our anxiety is perhaps more intense than before, any techniques that we had previously learnt to deal with our anxiety are still valid and relevant in this moment. If you have ever undergone therapy, or if you have helpful mantras or rituals to help you cope with anxious outbursts, it is important to put them to use now more than ever!

One anxiety-busting technique is called ‘exposure therapy’. This technique is based on the fact that the way in which we respond to our anxiety can be a strong maintaining factor for that very anxiety. This is because when we escape an anxiety-provoking situation (for example, a supermarket with a complicated one-way system), we continue to associate the situation with causing us panic. Therefore, the next time we go into the supermarket, the anxiety will worsen because we go in expecting the situation to cause panic. Research shows that by tackling avoidance in a systematic way, we can reduce our anxiety associated with that situation. Instead of escaping the situation, we should sit with the anxiety until our adrenaline response reduces. If we repeat this process regularly, the initial anxiety we experience in association with the situation will decrease due to having learnt that our fears are irrational.

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Keeping things in perspective:

One cognitive distortion which our anxious minds tend to use to trick us into thinking our thoughts are rational, is called ‘personalization’. This is where we come to believe that we are at least partially responsible for everything bad that happens around us. Both during and after the pandemic, it is inevitable that there will be unpleasant consequences, from deaths to financial struggles. Whether it is yourself, a family member or a friend affected, it is important to recognise that you are not responsible for anything negative that has occurred due to coronavirus. A mantra you can say to yourself if you begin to feel guilty, is “I tried my best”, and realise that that alone is more than anyone expects of you. Nobody is capable of singlehandedly solving the world’s problems, but that is why we live as a society.

If it helps you to feel more in control of your situation, you might create yourself a new purpose to counter the uncertainty of the moment, for example by learning a new skill, using your talents to fundraise, or talking on the phone to a person shielding who might be lonely. But equally, do not feel pressured to keep up with the seemingly common trends of reinvention of the self. As Matt Haig said:

“These are not normal times so don’t have normal expectations of yourself. Don’t beat yourself up over how you work from home or home school. We are in the middle of a global crisis. Allow yourself to just exist rather than achieve.”

Further support:

Finally, for further support, the NHS has a campaign called ‘Every Mind Matters’ with an abundance of tips and resources such as mindfulness audios and short workout videos to help you to support yourself during these times.