If 2020 hasn’t made your anxiety levels rise, frankly, we’re stunned.
This has been a year of fear and uncertainty; from the terror that we or our loved ones will catch coronavirus, to the lingering sense that the world outside our doors is a scary place, only exacerbated by lockdown being introduced, then lifted, then introduced again.
Now we’re at another stage of Covid-19 fear: second wave anxiety, brought on by the looming threat of an ominous second wave of the virus, the risk of a second nationwide lockdown, and the slide back into the restrictions that marked our spring and summer months, all with the added fear of what winter will bring.
What is second wave anxiety?
Second wave anxiety describes the stress and worry associated with this strange moment in time, when a second wave of coronavirus feels like it’s on the horizon and rolling lockdowns are coming into place.
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Your second wave anxiety might have a specific concern – you’re worried your hometown is about to have stricter restrictions put into place, or you don’t think people are taking coronavirus seriously enough, for example – or it might be a general sense of unease at the prospect of what’s to come.
Whatever the focus, second wave anxiety needs to be treated with special care. Just because we’ve gone through lockdown once doesn’t mean everything will be plain sailing.
‘The second wave is really going to affect people terribly in terms of their mental health,’ Dr Becky Spelman tells Metro.co.uk. ‘People who bounced back after their lives were severely affected the first time may find it more difficult to be resilient for a second time.’
How to tackle second wave anxiety
First of all, make sure to acknowledge how you’re feeling and accept that feeling worried, sad, or anxious about the current state of things – as well as what’s to come – is perfectly normal.
We’re living in a pandemic. Things are weird and everything is so uncertain. Our lives have been thrown up into the air and our plans for the near future are all off-kilter. That’s bound to provoke anxiety.
The pandemic and how the world deals with it is out of our individual control, but the good news is that there are things we can all do to help soothe our second wave anxiety.
When you’re feeling anxious about the state of the world, it’s easy to feel completely overwhelmed, and then fall into a paralysing trap of feeling like there’s simply too much to deal with, too much to do, doing nothing, and then feeling rubbish about it.
Giving yourself some achievable goals each day doesn’t only add some structure to a time that feels messy and out of control, but also makes sure you have a sense of purpose and accomplishment – both key in tackling anxiety.
‘I would suggest setting some goals in relation to something you can take control of, which will lead to feelings of accomplishment,’ says Dr Spelman. ‘These goals should be small, achievable and something that you can work on consistently to achieve a goal in a timely manner.’
Focus on hobbies
This can tie into those goals we just mentioned, again giving you a sense of achievement, whether that’s for baking something delicious, finishing of an embroidery kit, or finishing a book.
But on the flipside, it can be really relaxing to do something that isn’t tied to productivity, and that you can enjoy just for the sake of it.
Choose something you can really immerse yourself in and that will allow you to forget about the outside world and your worries about the future, even if just for a moment.
Okay, so there might not be a bunch of guided meditation sessions specifically tailored for dealing with the threat of a second wave of coronavirus.
But there are plenty of mindfulness apps and meditation guides designed to help with anxiety more generally, and that will help in this situation.
‘Mindfulness describes practices that anchor you to the present moment,’ says Babylon’s Behavioral Therapist, Bethany Thacker. ‘It can help combat the anxiety-inducing effects of negative thinking.’
In moments when everything feels overwhelming, it’s helpful to try the mindfulness technique of grounding, which ties you back into the present moment when your brain is running ahead to all the things that could happen in the future.
Bethany recommends: ‘An exercise you can do almost anywhere is the 5-4-3-2-1 technique. Begin by noticing and listing five things you see (perhaps all are the same color), then four things you can hear, three things you can feel, two things you can smell, and lastly one thing you can taste.
‘Grounding yourself in the present moment will help keep your focus away from the stress inducing “what ifs” of the future.’
Reframe your thinking
A good technique is to reality-check your negative thoughts and get into the practice of reframing them in a more positive light. It feels weird and uncomfortable at first, but it does get easier, promise.
So let’s say you’re worrying about going into another lockdown and feeling lonely. How could you reframe that thought?
First, it might be worth thinking back about the first lockdown and how that was for you. Were there any parts that you enjoyed? Did you learn any lessons about yourself from that experience?
Perhaps in your first lockdown, you realised the power of connecting with loved ones with more regular phone calls, or finally took the time to try baking bread. Or maybe you learned that you need to finish on time or make space in your routine for exercise: these are things you can then look forward to doing if we do get put back into lockdown.
How reframing your thoughts can help to tackle second wave anxiety
‘Use this cognitive technique to look at a situation differently by changing its meaning and viewing it from a different perspective,’ says Bethany. ‘Identify and acknowledge what you’re experiencing – then restate it in a positive direction.’
Some examples of reframing:
If you think: ‘Being stuck at home is going to be terrible, I’m dreading another lockdown’
Try: ‘Being at home has given me more time to spend with my family and allowed me to take better care of myself’
If you think: ‘This pandemic will never end. Life will never be the same’
Try: ‘This pandemic won’t last forever, and we will emerge from this experience more creative, innovative, and resilient.’
If you think: ‘I can’t do this, it’s too much, it’s too difficult’
Try: ‘I’ve overcome similar challenges before, and I’ll get through this too, I just need to approach it from a fresh angle’
If you think: ‘Everything is scary and I don’t know what’s going to happen’
Try: ‘I don’t know what’s going to happen next, but that’s an opportunity to learn more things about myself. I know that whatever happens, I’m equipped to handle it’
Have a routine
While we’ve been doing coronavirus-themed special episodes for our weekly podcast, Mentally Yours, there’s one bit of expert advice that has popped up over and over again: you really need to have a solid routine.
In a time when everything feels uncertain and out of control, it’s helpful to get back to the basics and give yourself some structure in your day-to-day.
Have a bedtime and a regular wake-up time. Give yourself a to-do list, even if it’s for small things like making the bed. Divide your day into blocks of time and assign things – including time for just relaxing – throughout so you know what your day looks like from the moment you wake up and you don’t end up feeling like you’ve wasted your waking hours.
‘Adults and children thrive on structure and routine,’ Bethany explains. ‘At its core, anxiety is a perceived loss of control – by sticking to a routine, we can regain that sense of control, which eases our minds.’
Learn to say ‘no’
It’s easy to fall into the trap of taking far too much on because we think we have to, or that it would be rude to just say ‘actually, I can’t do that right now’.
If you’re experiencing second wave anxiety, there might be things you’re just not comfortable doing, whether that’s meeting up with friends or getting public transport to go into the office.
Saying ‘yes’ to things you don’t want to do is only going to make your anxiety worse. You’ll worry in the leadup to whatever the thing is, feel rubbish while you’re doing it, and then be exhausted from the mental load of all that worrying once it’s done.
‘Learning to say “no” is truly a skill – one that we could probably all work on being better at,’ says Bethany. ‘Not all stressors are within your control, but some are.
‘Take control over the parts of your life that you can change and are causing you stress – one way to do this may be to say “no” more often.
‘This is especially true if you find yourself taking on more than you can handle, as juggling multiple responsibilities can leave you feeling overwhelmed.
‘Being selective about what you take on – and saying no to things that will unnecessarily add to your load can reduce your stress levels.
‘This can be especially hard when the person you are saying “no” to is a family member or friend – but setting these healthy boundaries not only is beneficial to your wellbeing, but the relationship as well.’
Focus on previous achievements and successes
Bethany says: ‘Reflect on times when you’ve overcome difficult challenges. Highlight these accomplishments and use them as inspiration to confront current and future obstacles.’
Coming out of lockdown, you might have compared your months to everyone else’s and come up feeling short. How did they write a bloody novel while all I did was watch the entirety of Below Deck?
Ditch the comparison and reframe that line of thinking. Rather than worrying about what you didn’t do, focus on celebrating the things you did.
You made it through the first lockdown, which is an accomplishment in itself. You looked after yourself and survived a really difficult time. You’ve overcome periods of high stress and anxiety before, and you can absolutely do it again. Repeat that like a mantra.
Feeling thankful for things – and expressing that gratitude – is tied to better mental wellbeing.
‘When we express gratitude and appreciation for the people, places, and things around us – our stress levels decrease and it helps train our brains to look for the positive,’ says Bethany.
You knew it was coming, and you know it’s important.
You don’t need to commit to a half marathon or even a massive gym session. Doing anything physical with get those endorphins going and help use up all that anxious energy.
Go for a walk, learn a TikTok dance, or schedule in a bike ride for the weekend.
Do something you look forward to every day
This ties back in with having a routine, but make sure that every single day you have something planned that you’ll enjoy.
That will mean that no matter what happens with coronavirus and the next lockdown, you always have a bright spot in your day and something positive to think about.
‘There are likely to be bumps in the road along the way; things that would have been easy before are not so easy now,’ says Dr Spelman, ‘but spending time brainstorming how you can find more fulfilment in your life can lead to lots of new ideas that you might not have thought of before.
‘Do something that you look forward to each day and this will help keep you feeling hopeful about the future.’
Need support? Contact the Samaritans
For emotional support you can call the Samaritans 24-hour helpline on 116 123, email [email protected], visit a Samaritans branch in person or go to the Samaritans website.
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