It is official. Covid-19, aka the coronavirus, is alive and spreading on our green isle. It is invisible, contagious and let's be honest, scary.
We hear the statistics from other countries. People get sick, people get isolated and yes, some people die. The best way we can protect ourselves is to wash our hands, not shake the hands of other people, wash our hands, isolate ourselves if we have been away, keep a certain distance from other people and yes, wash our hands.
I am not a medical person and know very little about Covid-19. I do know a lot about anxiety, which can spread even quicker than the virus.
We all know children, teenagers and adults of every age who are very anxious about what could happen, might happen and indeed, probably will happen, if the virus spreads.
"Don't panic," we are told. "Follow the guidelines." "We have plans in place." The key thing I have learned from managing my own anxieties over the years and from helping others to understand and manage theirs is that reassurance does not work.
It is lovely to get and important to give, but its effects only last as long as it takes for us to think thoughts such as "yes, but what if …" and our anxiety switch is triggered again.
So, what do we do? I suggest the following three steps to helping us manage our own anxiety and helping others manage theirs.
1. See anxiety as a normal and important response to danger and/or perceived danger.
2. Recognise that our own thoughts such as "what if …?" can rapidly increase our levels of anxiety.
3. Focus deliberately on helpful actions we can take.
This can be summed up in the 'Coping Sentence':
'I feel … because (I think) … but …'
The Coping Sentence is a very powerful tool to help us manage our own anxieties and to help others to manage theirs. It is a way of helping us to acknowledge our feelings rather than bottling them up or denying them. It is a way of linking our feelings to our thoughts. Most importantly, it is a way of deliberately focusing on helpful actions we choose to take.
Some examples are:
We can also use the Coping Sentence when responding to other people's anxieties. For example: I think you are feeling anxious because you think that you could get the virus but:
My final suggestion is: I feel worried because I do not know what the future holds but I choose to make the most of the time, energy and health I have right now.
Dr Claire Hayes is a consultant clinical psychologist