Over the last few months, we’ve all experienced a range of different emotions and feelings. It’s been quite the emotional rollercoaster for many of us, from confusion and excitement, to fear and uncertainty. There are a host of problems that people worldwide have been facing every day, and anxiety and loneliness are two of the most common ones. If you’ve felt more anxious than usual, have been feeling low or down, or if you just need some extra help to get through the day, remember that you’re not alone. It’s totally normal and understandable that many of us need support to cope right now.
We know that not everyone has access to professional help, so we compiled a list of tips from therapists that we’ve spoken to and found out some things that can help you cope right now.
Number 1 – Tap Into Your Favourite Movie
Movie therapist Lynn Anderton believes that watching your favourite films can self-soothe and take your mind back to better, more clear times in your life. She says: “I would encourage people to tap into their favourite movie – it can help you look at the crisis in a different way. Your personality and behaviour are very prevalent during times of stress. Seeing your behaviours projected back to you can help you understand how to overcome barriers. This might be around feeling isolated. Maybe it’s about connecting in a more unconventional way to overcome loneliness or use your movie collection to self-soothe through times of emotional crisis.”
Number 2 – Breathe Deeply
Yoga therapist Joann Buchan suggests that breathing deeply can aid us in coping with tricky situations. She says: “Breathe – especially when you are in public wearing a mask. Once you take your mask off, relax your jaw and shoulders, and take a few deep breaths. As you breathe, feel your breath expand in your ribs and belly. When we’re stressed or anxious, our breath is often shallow in the top 1/3 of our lungs. We want to breathe deeply into the lungs to expand the ribs and belly using the diaphragm, take in more oxygen and prevent feelings, or manage feelings, of stress and anxiety. Breathe deeply, especially to prevent increased anxiety or claustrophobia when we wear masks.”
Number 3 – Focus On What You Can Control
Dr Rakish Rana, a founder of The Clear Coach, explained that, as humans, we like to be in control. Right now, we have more uncertainty around us than usual. Dr Rana says: “Having uncertainty means we don’t have control, and as humans, we like to be in control. The way forward is by understanding that many things are out of your control. And instead to focus on things that are in your control such as how you treat others, physical exercise, or even food.”
He also advised setting achievable goals, suggesting: “Take actionable steps towards achievable goals. By working towards a goal, your mind stays focused on a task rather than letting it ruminate on things out of your control. Learning to accept that we live in a world of constant change, where there will be challenges to face, helps build resilience. This can be done through labelling your emotions, through meditative techniques, and through journaling and reflection.’
Number 4 – Give Yourself A Worry Time
Holly Beedon, Clinical Lead at Living Well UK, suggests that we all need to set aside a worrying time of about 20 minutes for ourselves. She says: “Every day, give yourself a maximum of 20 minutes to think about these worries. Ask yourself what’s causing them, what are you getting from having them, and can you do anything about them? Hopefully, you won’t have to use the full 20 minutes of the allotted time, but once you’re done, do something nice and relaxing for the rest of the evening.”
Number 5 – Exercise Every Day
Holly Beedon also suggested that exercising and fulfilling a to-do list can help us feel more accomplished. She said: “One of the key ways to maintain a positive outlook is by exercising every day. Another is by carrying out tasks that most households would normally put on hold due to work and socialising.” Holly suggests creating a to-do list, completing tasks in the house or squeezing in a workout could lead to a positive effect on your mental health.
Karen Sargent, a life coach, also emphasised this point, saying: “This is one of the most effective ways to work stress and anxiety out of your body. When COVID hit, I felt very anxious, as a lot of my work got cancelled. I started running, and it completely transformed how I felt.” Exercise allows you to use all the feel-good endorphins that come with it as a tool to cope with tricky circumstances.
Number 6 – Cuddle Your Pet
Kate Bolland, who specialises in animal-assisted therapy suggests that spending time with a four-legged friend can help you cope. She says: “Research shows that stroking an animal for just 15 minutes helps to relieve feelings of anxiety, lowers levels of the stress hormone cortisol and boosts the production of mood-enhancing hormones serotonin and dopamine. There are social benefits too; spontaneous conversation can be sparked with strangers while you’re walking your dog in the park. This can help you to feel a connection, encourage laughter and relieve feelings of loneliness. If you don’t have your own pet, consider offering to walk a neighbour or a friend’s dog. The chances are, they’ll be grateful for the break. And remember, animals are not carriers of COVID-19.”
Number 7 – Practice Mindfulness
A clinical psychologist, Kari Deas, said that practising mindfulness can be a great coping mechanism if you don’t have access to therapy. She said: “Mindfulness can reduce anxiety, improve sleep and lift the mood. This is all about training ourselves to be more ‘in the moment’ and less ‘in our minds’.”
“Modern life is often very mindless. We mindlessly commute, eat, scroll through our phones and watch TV. This can leave our minds overstimulated, busy and we can feel anxious, exhausted and find it difficult to rest. Becoming more mindful takes some practice; the most effective way to do this is daily mindful exercises. This can be mindfulness meditation from YouTube or other apps. It could be as simple as setting a stopwatch to observe an object (e.g. – a flower/leaf/candle/your hand) for a few minutes. Notice when your attention wanders and gently bring it back to the object. You can start off at a minute and try to build up to 10 minutes a day.”
Number 8 – Feel Your Feelings
Kari Deas also said that in order for us to cope, we need to work on every emotion we feel, and not push aside any of them. She said: “Because negative emotions feel unpleasant, we often try to avoid having them, instead, believing that if we don’t give them the time and focus, they will go away. This is the opposite of the truth. If we try to force away our emotions or ignore them, we end up suppressing them and they can turn into a bit of a pressure cooker. Meaning they burst out of us eventually and often at an inappropriate time or towards the wrong person.”
“During this pandemic, we are all feeling things a bit more than usual. Life has changed for all of us and this can create anxiety. If we don’t give these emotions some space to exist and be released, we will suffer (and so might those around us). Giving yourself a few minutes each day to just ask yourself ‘how do I feel?’ Without trying to fix the feeling or run away from it, just allow the answer to be there and give it some space. Giving yourself permission to experience what you are feeling can be helpful and sometimes enough for emotions to process.”
Number 9 – Allow Yourself To Rest
Kari Deas also suggested that we need to allow ourselves to rest. She said: “Our society is often very focussed on being active. Often, the only time we stop is when we go to sleep. This isn’t good for us and it certainly isn’t the way to have a restful sleep. Most of us are exhausted all the time and feel like we need stimulants like coffee or energy drinks. The one thing that we often fail to do when we are exhausted is to actually rest!”
“Just give yourself a small amount of time in the day to do nothing – no activity at all – no TV or phone. Just give your mind a bit of space. For most of us, this is a difficult practice and highlights how much we keep ourselves busy. But if we give ourselves these moments throughout the day, we actually end up being more productive.”
Number 10 – Avoid Procrastination
Holly Beedon also reminded us not to ignore our negative thoughts. Sometimes, the methods that we use to try and distract ourselves from negativity can be more harmful than the actual negative thoughts. She said: “While it might seem more tempting to spend time scrolling through your phone or stay in bed or on the sofa all day, keeping active will ensure that you stray away from things that might further impact how you’re feeling. Eating too much junk food, drinking too much alcohol or isolating yourself from others, can all heavily influence your mood. So be mindful if you find yourself falling into this routine.”
Number 11 – Practice Self Care
Holly Beedon added that we should practice self-care when we feel anxiety about returning to work. She said, “I cannot express how important it is to practice self-care, especially when you feel elements of Sunday night dread creeping in.”
She continued: “There are a number of tactics and methods that you can carry out to keep you calm, from running yourself a hot bath, practising yoga or simply having a short meditation session. Equally, allowing yourself time to do something that you enjoy such as watching your favourite TV show or baking are great ways to take some time out from situations that may be causing you stress. Also, make sure you’re fully organised and head to bed at a decent time: that way you can go to bed with a clear mind knowing that everything is ready for the morning. Give yourself something to look forward to, like a Monday treat”.
Number 12 – Your Accomplishments Don’t Define Your Worth
Daniel Fryer, a psychotherapist, said that in order to cope, we can’t let ourselves be defined by our accomplishments alone. He said: “Sadly, when we don’t think that we are doing our best, we tend to put ourselves down, concluding that we are failures or useless in some way. You are not a failure, even on the days when you mess it all up. You are and always were a worthwhile, fallible human being. And you will get things right and you will get things wrong; you will have good days and bad days. That’s all part of life and has no bearing on you as a person. Remind yourself of that constantly: you are perfectly fine as you are.”
Number 13 – Reduce Caffeine
Life coach Kate Grosvenor suggested reducing caffeine intake. This may seem impossible, especially if you’re working from home. Kate also admitted this, as she said: “I love coffee. No, I mean, I really LOVE coffee. If I could, I would drink 10 cups a day.” She also continued: “But it makes me feel wired so I can’t. When you’re feeling anxious or worried and your nervous system is already fired up, you simply don’t need added wiring – it’s too much. If you need to, have a cup in the morning and then switch to herbal tea and water for the rest of the day and you will feel so much more at peace. Your physiology and your psychology are so intertwined. This stuff really matters.”
Number 14 – Practice Gratitude
A business psychologist, Karen Sargent, said that we should take a moment to appreciate the small good things around us to cope when things get stressful. She explained: “When things aren’t working out, it’s easy to get stuck in a pattern of only noticing the bad things in life. Gratitude helps you acknowledge the good stuff too, and has some great benefits. Research shows practising gratitude for as little as a week can lift your mood and create a sense of abundance. To practice gratitude, think of three things you’re grateful for every day. They could be small things – like the fact that you had your favourite recipe for lunch. The important thing is to connect to the sense of gratitude and savour it”
Number 15 – Be Conscious About What You Say To Yourself
Anna Wood, a psychologist, said: “Self-talk is so important! We’ve all been there when we say negative things to ourselves. Be conscious of the things that you’re saying to yourself, and when you catch yourself saying negative things, flip it! For example, if you keep thinking ‘I’ve never got any money’, stop yourself and write down the positive version of that. For example, ‘I always find the money I need’. Remember, if you’re looking for something to go wrong, you’ll find it.”
Number 16 – Call A Helpline Or Get Help Online
Valerie Gage, a counsellor, suggests finding help through helplines. With modern technology, if you need someone to talk to, they are only a few taps away. Using online resources such as online support groups and communities can help you cope. She said: “If you’re struggling with your mental health and finding things difficult, get in touch with either your local or national helpline dedicated to mental health support. You may be able to speak with someone over the phone or via a chat room, usually with others, and the great news is that these are free services!”