We spoke to Kidney Care UK counsellor Sarah about anxiety created by the Covid-19 pandemic and how you can cope with situations you may find particularly stressful.
At the end of this guidance, we have provided links to sources of further help and information.
How can I cope with anxiety brought on by the pandemic?
We deal with anxiety all the time and it is very normal to feel anxious. Since the pandemic has started, most people’s baseline anxiety has gone up, because we feel like so much is out of our control. The frequent news broadcasts and lockdowns gave us time for us to focus on this anxiety, so we need to think how we can reduce our base rate anxiety to help us cope better day to day.
How we reduce our level of anxiety is different for everyone, but can include exercise, breathing techniques, and spending time with friends and family. Running helps Sarah dissipate tight pent-up feelings, but there are many things that work in the same way that do not require the same level of fitness, for example going for a walk or doing a muscle relaxation exercise.
Audiobooks also help to take Sarah out of her own head and into someone else’s world, so it stops her from going over and over worry and ruminating, providing a distraction.
There lots of ways of distracting and calming yourself, such as watching a film, building a model aircraft, playing a computer game etc. It is important to think about what works for you. If you feel yourself becoming anxious, or that you mind is beginning to dwell on things, do whatever works for you to refocus.
Other things include knitting a jumper, organising the family holiday photographs into an album, or gardening. Understanding which activities to do to distract and calm yourself gives you back control by learning to recognise when anxiety is rising and doing something about it.
It is also really important to recognise what you have already achieved. You have coped with kidney disease as well as the pandemic. You are managing and you can do this.
I’m still shielding and planning to continue to do so. This is making me feel pretty low and hopeless. What can I do to help myself cope emotionally with this?
It would be foolish to deny that continuing to shield is a very depressing prospect and Sarah suggested any kidney patients considering shielding need to think about looking after their mental health as well as their physical health.
People need to do what feels comfortable for them but if the prospect of continued shielding makes them feel low and hopeless, it suggests that doing so is not working for their mental health. What they might like to do is consider what can they do differently and still feel safe.
It is important to remember that we are in a different place now than we were earlier in the pandemic, when there were lockdowns and some of us weren’t able to see friends and family. That is not the case this year. This year we have vaccines, new treatments and lateral flow tests available so we are better armed. With this in mind, Sarah suggested that if seeing your grandchildren, girl/boyfriend or best friend is going to give you a boost but also concerns you, you can use tools like lateral flow tests and keeping the area well-ventilated to help reassure you.
Routines and planning activities to keep your spirits up
Sometimes when we are feeling low, our motivation to do things is lower. We can see all the barriers to doing things and it becomes easier not to do them, so the less we do, the less we feel like doing. Very often, Sarah's clients who are feeling low tell her they have nothing to look forward to. It is really important to have something to look forward to and getting a routine in place, peppered with things to look forward to, can elevate our mood.
It does not have to be anything grand like going on holiday, and could be something as simple as having your friend around to watch the football or meeting someone for a walk and a coffee. Going to bed and rising at similar times and keeping a daily routine is also important. This sort of structure helps us avoid the cycle of doing less and then feeling like doing less.
Is it normal to feel anxious in crowded situations like public transport? What can I do to calm myself?
Anxiety is a normal part of life, and it is normal to be anxious during a pandemic in a crowded place, especially with an underlying health condition. If you can avoid rush hours then it is wise to do so, but if you have to travel on a busy train or bus, you can manage your anxiety by thinking about what you can control.
You can wear a mask and wash your hands, you can distract yourself by listening to music or reading a paper or you can do a breathing exercise. And it is important to try to avoid black and white thinking. It is not a foregone conclusion that by travelling on a public transport you will get Covid-19.
When we are anxious, we often focus on the worst, so try not to give yourself negative messages. Instead, remind yourself that you are wearing a mask and keeping yourself safe and you are still here after nearly two years of Covid-19. Sarah also commends practising mindfulness techniques so that we can employ them at any time.
Sources of further information
- Every Mind Matters has advice about coping with anxiety as restrictions ease.
- NHS Grampian has produced Tips on how to cope if you are worried about Coronavirus and in isolation