How to manage anxiety during the COVID-19 pandemic
Interview with Dr. Phil. David Eldred, Psychotherapist in The Kusnacht Practice
15.06.2020 - Interviews, Mental health
What are some of the most common symptoms of anxiety?
David Eldred: Well, some common signs of mild to severe anxiety include, for example, discomfort in your stomach. Another would be a feeling of tightness or pressure in your chest causing, for example, shortness or tightness of breath, or causing irregularities in the rhythms of your heartbeat, or irregularities in your gastro-intestinal tract. There are usually on-going mental concerns or worries that are difficult to distance oneself from and to stop.
Some people experience a generalised feeling of anxiety that causes them to feel anxious about a wide range of situations and issues, rather than one specific event. This kind of anxiety we say is “free-floating anxiety”, and it lasts over days or weeks or even longer. As soon as one anxious thought is resolved, another appears about a different issue. There are various statistics about how many people suffer from such anxiety. Still, world-wide, it seems that an estimated 7% of the population suffers from ongoing anxiety at any one time. And most people will experience some form of distressful anxiety leading to a lessening of their daily functioning. About twice as many women suffer from anxiety than men. It is more prevalent in people under the age of 35 years old and seems to be more prevalent in wealthier countries.
Surrounding COVID-19, the uncertainty of what is going to happen next is frightening. How can we ease this anxiety?
DE: Now, in the times of coronavirus, this has been exceptionally difficult as we all were desperate for answers immediately. In the initial months, there were barely any facts at all. Real facts come slowly, with a lot of focus and effort.
First, with or without facts, we all must gain emotional distance from what is making us anxious. Many of us chose to keep ourselves well-informed daily. We have spent a lot of time following the news. Naturally, it is essential that we try to think clearly about the details of what is making us anxious and then find answers, factual answers. Then find your own strategies to deal with the thing that is making you anxious. But this is making it too easy. People who suffer from ongoing anxiety, or what is called generalised, non-specific anxiety, struggle a lot with having no answers, and may not even know what their anxiety is about.
Can self-isolation and lockdown cause long-lasting stress?
DE: Certainly, isolation and lockdown cause high levels of stress. We see this most vividly in homes for the elderly where the elderly were suddenly cut off from family and friends, many of them isolated and restricted to their rooms alone, or isolated while in the dining rooms, forced to wear masks whether they understood or not. And many of those who suffer from some form of dementia were bewildered and extraordinarily stressed. That stress is rapidly reduced as the restrictions are loosened up.
What coping strategies are there for those with the feelings of overwhelming stress and worry caused by lockdown?
DE: Make sure you get enough sleep and at least 15 or 20 minutes of moderate to intense exercise a day. Eat well, hold back on the junk food, and make an intense effort to discipline and distance yourself from your irritability and frustration… and all that takes concentrated effort.
How can you manage your stress if new rules mean that you can’t access your normal therapies?
DE: During the lockdown, normal therapies were accessible to many via virtual electronic means. Here at The Kusnacht Practice, we were in touch with many clients in their home countries via such mediums. In Zürich, personal counselling sessions were available in cases of emergency.
How can anxiety be treated? How long does the treatment last?
DE: We spoke earlier about several ways of coping with anxiety. It is, natural, necessary and important to mention medication. I am not making a recommendation here, but be it herbal, dietary supplements or medical drugs, these offer some effective and important means to regulate and alleviate anxiety. There is substantial evidence that shows that coupled together, pharmacology and counselling can be an effective form of coping with anxiety. Again, sleep, diet, exercise, meditation and coming up with solutions are critical components for dealing with anxiety.
Thank you very much Dr. Phil. David Eldred.
DE: Thank you, and please send in any other questions you may have.