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Health Anxiety during COVID-19

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​It’s important to remember to look after yourself in times like those which we currently find ourselves in, both physically and mentally. As a society, we have made some great progress the past few years when it comes to recognising the importance of a person’s mental health, but when a global pandemic refocuses all of our attention spans back to the physical it can be easy to neglect your own brain.

Health Anxiety has spiked over the past few weeks. The midst of a global pandemic like the current COVID-19 outbreak is fertile ground for health anxiety to germinate, even for people who have probably never experienced it before. If you have never heard of Health Anxiety, it is a strong, overwhelming sense that you are incredibly ill, even if you only have mild symptoms, or even no symptoms at all.

The current news cycle is not only making this problem worse for sufferers, but also causing people who have never suffered Health Anxiety before to struggle. After all, it’s too easy at the moment to feel the slightest tickle in your throat and immediately think, ‘Do I have it? Am I going to be the person to infect my family? Are we all going to get sick because of me?’

If you’ve found yourself beginning to have these intrusive thoughts, the first thing to remember is that you are not alone. So many of us who have been lucky enough to be mostly healthy throughout our lives have suddenly began experiencing intrusive, anxious thoughts related to the current pandemic.

We’ve put together some of our top tips for helping keep calm during these uncertain times, and to help keep you mentally healthy.

Get off the news websites

As a society, we’ve used to absorbing news in a certain way, even in the age of 24-hour news channels and smartphones. When something bad happens, for example a terror attack, it happens. The first bit of news is the worst, as you try and absorb the horrible thing that just happened. Then, in the time after, the news cycle is putting the pieces together, answering questions, and eventually fading when something else comes along and the subject stops being reported on.

With this global pandemic, however, we’re receiving news in a way we never have before: we got the news about COVID-19, and then all the news after it is escalating. We’re watching events unfold in real-time, every time we refresh the news or our twitter feeds it seems to get worse, and we have no idea how this will end.

There’s a big difference between staying informed on the current events, and obsessively checking. Put a limit on yourself, maybe only allow yourself to check the news or Twitter’s Trending section once or twice a day. By limiting your exposure to what is becoming a steady stream of bad news, you’re giving your brain some space to breathe, and to think about something else.

Get outside

It can be tempting when you hear the words ‘lockdown’ to think that means ‘stay inside on the couch’. The problem with that is sitting on the couch is that gives your mind plenty of time to wander, and begin to focus on all of the bad news we’re being fed. Getting outside to exercise isn’t only allowed once a day, but encouraged. A walk down the street to the park, or just around the block, will do you the world of good, calm your mind, and make you feel a little bit like things are normal, even during lockdown.

Practice Mindfulness

The term ‘mindfulness’ has become a bit of a buzz-word in recent years, but it really does work. Taking five or ten minutes to focus on your breathing and centring yourself will help you feel more relaxed, and in tune with yourself. There are some great resources online to help guide you if you’re new to practising mindfulness, including guided breathing exercises on YouTube.

Connect with others

Feelings of isolation and disconnect are only going to increase over the coming weeks, giving you more time to wallow in your own thoughts, so do everything that you can to stay connected. Use technology to stay connected to friends, family, and work colleagues – a video call can do wonders to lift people’s spirits whilst we’re all confined!

You could also use this as an excuse to make some real connections in your local community. Take the time to introduce yourself to your neighbours, offer to pick up some essentials for your elderly or vulnerable neighbours when you have to nip to the shops. One of our senior consultants, Emma, recently introduced herself to an elderly neighbour and offered to walk her dog for her.

This sort of connection will last a long time after all of this is over, and will make you feel so much better whilst we’re all going through this. Having a support network, or even just a ‘people-I-say-hello-to-in-the-street’ network, can make the world of difference.

Remember, you’re not alone in this. Our society is currently dealing with an issue the likes of which hasn’t been seen in a long time. But as we have seen time and time again through history, in tough times people throw aside their differences and come together. Reach out, make a connection, and we’ll all get through this together.