It's a strange feeling isn't it, waking up each morning. For a moment I find myself thinking it's just another day, everything feels perfectly ordinary. And then the news comes on the radio or I hear the kids playing outside on a weekday and I remember that things are just a little bit skewy. I can't put my finger on the feeling. I suppose like so many others I go from 'everything will be fine' to 'we are all doomed'!
We're not of course.
To keep things in perspective, Corona Virus is so far being held responsible for 104 deaths in the UK (19.3.20) By comparison, there are around 165,000 cancer deaths. And heart disease causes nearly 170,000 each year. Now, this doesn't mean that Corona should not be taken extremely seriously, but something can and is being done about it. Following advice and taking precautions is vital, but worrying ourselves sick is not going to help.
Anxiety is an awful thing. It can make us feel as though we are literally going crazy. It never seems to stay at one level. It oscillates up and down, often influenced by what's going on around us and where we allow our brains to go. When the world feels a little off kilter, those of us with anxious minds need to be extra aware of keeping our worries in check. So what steps can we take to calm our fractious thoughts during these tough times?
Take News Notifications Off Your Phone
It's great to be aware and to stay up to date with important information on Corona Virus, but news apps seem to be pinging every hour at the moment. Scientists have proven that each time our smartphone bleeps with a new notification, it changes the chemistry inside our brain. Those constant notifications, especially when we're anticipating bad news, trigger high levels of the 'stress hormone' cortisol, which can have damaging effects. Physical responses include an increased heart rate, tense muscles and sweaty palms.
Aside from the current situation, technology is already raising our anxiety levels and putting the human brain on constant high alert - even more so now, as we await the next notification about movement restrictions, supermarket shortages and death tolls.
Research by neuroscientists at the University of California, have found that high levels of cortisol will create long-lasting brain changes, which can leave us in an almost constant state of fight-or-flight. Without a release, we experience those strange butterflies and sickly nervousness.
Taking news notifications off our phone does not mean ignoring what's going on with corona virus. It just means we can be more conscious to check in once or twice a day, rather than jumping to that ping every hour.
Read & Know that You're Not Alone
I love that there is a term used to explain the benefits of reading for anxiety; 'bibliotherapy' - a combination of the Greek words for therapy and books.
I enjoy reading but I very rarely find myself with enough time to finish a book. That might change over the coming days and weeks! Knowing we are not alone in experiencing certain situations and feelings can help us to make more sense of them. If you find yourself with a little extra time at home right now, reading books that share experiences and show you how people came through the other side can help reassure to you.
Matt Haig is one of my absolute favourite writers. You might have heard about his Sunday Times BestSeller 'How Not to Die'. His follow up 'Notes on a Nervous Planet' - here on Amazon is particularly poignant at the moment. Looking at sleep, news, social media, addiction, work and play, Matt Haig invites us to feel calmer, happier and question the habits of the digital age. Reviews suggest this book might even change the way you spend your precious time on earth.
If you prefer to zone out for a short while, the simple act of reading a novel can also be beneficial. Reading about the success of a hero or heroine can put us in their shoes, giving us a psychological shot of courage & encouraging personal growth. Scientists have shown that this physically changes our brain patterns. Not only are we able to escape from our problems through reading, doing so can increase compassion to another’s suffering, as well as to our own. This in turn can be a major aid to self-growth and healing, whilst simultaneously helping to decrease our anxiety.
Soothe Aggravated Skin
Heightened anxiety can also translate into extra aggravated skin. That cortisol release I talked about creates inflammation, which in turn exacerbates and reddens pre-existing skin conditions. We might find ourselves subconsciously scratching more often, in the same way that some people bite their nails. Studies show that the act of chewing or scratching reportedly relieves stress, tension, or boredom.
My Skin Soothing Spray is made using a combination of Ballon Oil, Sunflower and Blackcurrant Extract - an active botanical called Defensil-Plus. This helps form a light, invisible coating on our skin which in turn protects us from airborne allergens and that anxious need to scratch and pick. Apply it before bed to get a better nights sleep.
It might be something you've been intending to try for a while, but simply not prioritised. I speak to a great many people who are a little nervous to begin. Whilst meditation can throw up all sorts of questions; am I doing it right? am I meant to feel this way? should I not be preventing scary thoughts from coming into my mind? Actually meditation is much less daunting or complex than we might think.
Why not start by using an app such as Calm or Headspace. Think of a guided meditation like listening to story time. All you really have to do is sit there and listen. Try not to worry about what you should feel or experience or look like. Just relax, in a quiet space and begin.
Indulge Yourself in Extra Care
Now more than ever it's vital that we take extra special care of ourselves. Simple actions such as taking a long relaxing bath, lighting candles, walking out in fresh air if we're still able to. Certain scents are renowned for their mind-soothing properties. Patchouli, for example, is thought to promote calmness and relaxation, whilst lavender works as an anxiolytic (anxiety reliever) and as a sedative, to increase relaxation and help bring about peaceful sleep. According to a 2015 study, bergamot also helps to relieve anxiety and improve mood.
Whilst we are all conscious of supporting local businesses through these tough times, please check out my wonderful friend Nikki Hill who makes these beautiful Calm scented candles from £12.50.
Sip Skin Soothing Tea
Turning to a soothing cuppa in times of stress is a very British tradition. Studies have shown that a single cup of tea can significantly reduce anxiety levels after suffering a stressful experience, providing a calming effect for the individual concerned.
Tea contains high levels of polyphenols, these powerful antioxidants are proven to offer a number of beneficial properties, including the ability to alleviate cognitive impairment. As well as the soothing qualities of the tea itself, psychologists found that the simple act of putting the kettle on also helped by tapping into our collective conscious and symbolism.
Psychologist Dr Malcolm Cross, of City University London, explains: “This study shows that the social psychological aspects of tea enhance the effects of its chemical make-up on our bodies and brains. It's possible that this culturally rooted, symbiotic function between mind and body explains why Britons instinctively turn to tea in times of need."
There is certainly something relaxing when it comes to the ritual of making tea. I love to use a glass teapot like this Ikea one and make a loose leaf infusion with my Skin Purity Tea first thing in the morning. The chamomile and calendula in my blend are particularly effective. Chamomile can be used to treat insomnia and to induce sedation (calming effects). It is widely regarded as a mild tranquilliser and sleep-inducer. Whilst Calendula also offers soothing properties to calm inflammation.
Reach out to Somebody
Please don't think you're silly or overreacting if you're not feeling quite right at the moment. It's perfectly normal to feel all sorts of things in response to an unprecedented situation. There is no right or wrong way to go about coping. Your feelings are your feelings and you are perfectly entitled to them.
If there is a friend or family member you can reach out to, let them know how you're feeling. Talk it through. Take advantage of FaceTime or Skype to connect with people, especially if you're feeling physically isolated. Technology can be used for such an amazing purpose at a time like this. Stay connected.
If you prefer to chat with somebody independent of friends and family, consider working with a therapist. I love doing this anyway - crisis or no crisis! It helps to keep my stress and anxiety in check and encourages me to park worries at the back of my mind throughout the week until my next session. The BACP can help you find somebody to work with. This doesn't have to be face-to-face, lots of therapists use video calling too.
Remember, this too shall pass.