Health and other forms of anxiety and coronavirus

The constant new barrage of developments regarding the current outbreak of COVID-19 (also known as coronavirus) can cause particular challenges for people living with anxiety, stress and/or anxiety-based depression especially those that have health anxiety and/or Obsessive Compulsive Disorder – OCD..

Whilst there’s plenty of advice on how to protect yourself and limit the risk of exposing yourself to the virus, little has been said about the effect a problem of this nature- can have on our mental health and specifically those who have pre-existing mental health issues such as anxiety disorders.

It is well established that for many that live with anxiety, a common characteristic is that of having an ability to tolerate uncertainty.  The current situation with coronavirus has clearly created a lot of uncertainty which might be difficult for those with pre-existing anxiety conditions such as health anxiety to manage.

For such individuals the whole situation may feel extra daunting and worrying and with the extensive media coverage that the subject has attracted, it’s understandable that some people may feel overwhelmed and begin to catastrophise – imagining the worst case scenario.

One thing that might be helpful for those experiencing anxiety to remember is that whilst no-one knows exactly what might happen, the good news is that most services and businesses will already have a contingency plan in place to ensure that they are able to continue operating as close to normal as possible.

Anxiety UK also has a robust business continuity plan in place which will allow us to keep supporting those that need our help. Our services will not be disrupted and anyone who needs further assistance around any aspect of anxiety can contact us via our support email (support@anxietyuk.org.uk) or by calling the helpline on 03444 775 774 between the usual opening hours of 9.30am – 5.30pm.

Health anxiety can make any kind of symptom feel like the worst case scenario, however taking on board the below tips should help those experiencing health anxiety to feel in control and manage their anxiety:

Firstly, try to limit your exposure to news sources which are covering the coronavirus issue as this only serves to feed fear.

Ensure that you have some mental ‘downtime’ woven into your daily schedule.   Mindfulness practice can be incredibly helpful with apps such as the Headspace app (available to all Anxiety UK members at no additional cost) assist with keeping us in the here and now as opposed to allowing our minds to think about future scenarios which might never happen.

If you are feeling concerned or overly worried about it there are some techniques you can use to help manage your anxiety such as simple breathing or (short-term) distraction exercises and mindfulness. A free guide is available to download here (https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/products/booklet/breathing-and-relaxation-guide/)

Try practising the APPLE technique which encourages you to Acknowledge, Pause, Pull back, Let go and Explore..

Acknowledge – Notice and acknowledge the uncertainty as it comes to mind.

Pause – Don’t react as you normally do. Don’t react at all. Just pause and breath.

Pull back – Tell yourself this is just the worry talking, and this apparent need for certainty is not helpful and not necessary. It is only a thought or feeling. Don’t believe everything you think. Thoughts are not statements or facts.

Let go – Let go of the thought or feeling. It will pass. You don’t have to respond to them. You might imagine them floating away in a bubble or cloud.

Explore – Explore the present moment, because right now, in this moment, all is well. Notice your breathing and the sensations of your breathing. Notice the ground beneath you. Look around and notice what you see, what you hear, what you can touch, what you can smell. Right now. Then shift your focus of attention to something else – on what you need to do, on what you were doing before you noticed the worry, or do something else – mindfully with your full attention.

If you feel that you need more targeted and 1:1 support for your anxiety, here at Anxiety UK we have a range of services which you might find helpful including talking therapy support services: Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT), counselling and clinical hypnotherapy – all accessible at reduced rates.

For more information on health anxiety in general, you can download our fact sheet here – https://www.anxietyuk.org.uk/products/anxiety-condition/health-anxiety/health-anxiety-fact-sheet-instant-download/