Anxious about COVID? You’re not alone

This blog talks about mental health.

If you are struggling right now we recommend talking to a mental health professional you know and trust.

Otherwise, Beyond Blue and Lifeline have great resources and support to help you manage your mental health.

It’s now more than two years into the pandemic and we’re all experiencing the physical and mental toll it’s taking on our lives.

If you’ve noticed that you’re feeling anxious about COVID, you’re not alone - it’s a very normal response. Anxiety often happens in periods of change and uncertainty. And with COVID it might feel like that period has been going on for quite a while.

Anxiety can be hard to describe but it often feels like stress, fear and worry.

In this blog we’ll be talking about this common response to the pandemic and how it relates to the disability community. We’ll also give you some strategies that you can use to help you manage any anxiety you might be feeling about COVID.

COVID-19 and the disability community

It’s no secret that COVID has been particularly difficult for our community. For us, the anxiety can be even greater.

Even before the pandemic, the health and wellbeing of our community was a pressing concern, so when COVID-19 was declared, many of us who went into lockdown and stayed in isolation longer than our counterparts. This is because the disability community can be more vulnerable to the virus and change can often be a bit harder for us to manage.

Concerningly, a 2020 study conducted in the UK by the Office for National Statistics found that people with intellectual disability were 3.7 times more at risk of death than their non-disabled counterparts.

It’s no wonder we might be feeling anxious.

But through these challenges and changes that we have experienced, many of us have come through to the other side stronger than ever before. The resilience of our community has been astounding.

Anxiety isn’t always a bad thing

With the uncertainty and changes to our routine impacted, anxiety in the face of COVID is a normal, logical response.

Anxiety is one of the most commonly diagnosed mental health conditions in Australia, and we may all experience anxiety at some point in life.

Interestingly, research following past pandemics has shown that people who worry are more likely to act in a way that keeps the virus at bay. Feeling anxious in certain situations can help us avoid danger, triggering our 'fight or flight' response. This is how we keep ourselves safe. This worry also reminds you to wash your hands, bring a face mask and social distance.

Our top tips for coping with anxiety in the pandemic

1. Seek help if you need to

If anxiety is having a big impact on your life it might be worth looking at getting extra mental health support.

Here’s what you should lookout for:

  • The feeling of being ‘on edge’ or unable to stop worrying
  • Restlessness or irritability
  • Shortness of breath or rapid breathing
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Distrubed sleep, fatigue and exhaustion
  • Physical reactions like headaches, muscle tension, upset stomach
  • Feeling lightheaded, faint, or dizzy
  • Actively avoiding situations which make you feel nervous or anxious.

For most people, their first port of call when it comes to getting professional help is to see your regular General Practitioner. Your GP will be able to refer you to another professional who specialises in mental health.

2. Stay connected - even if you’re isolating

Connection is so important, but it can be much harder if you’re self-isolating. At the beginning of the pandemic, we put together a resource called ‘Putting the social in social distancing’. In it you can find tips on how to stay connected with your friends and family even if you can’t see them in person.

3. Focus on what you can control

This is a big one. When it comes to the pandemic, there is so much that feels completely out of our control. This can cause us to panic, worry, and, evidently, buying way more toilet paper than we actually need.

When things feel so out of control one of the best things we can do is focus on what is in our control. While we can’t control things like where and how the virus spreads, travel restrictions or the health of our loved ones, there's a surprising amount that is in our control. Things like washing our hands, going outside, eating healthily and staying connected with the people we love are all in our control.

4. Stay informed but don’t obsessively follow the news

Yep, we know. This is easier said than done a lot of the time.

When we’re in the throes of a pandemic it’s important to stay informed. That way we can manage our risks and help keep ourselves and the people around us safe. That said, it can be very easy to go overboard - this is called “doom scrolling”. While doom scrolling can be addictive and can, in a lot of cases, increase anxiety, if you find yourself glued to bad news, it might be worth stepping away. Or perhaps even setting a time each day where you can check the news.

And remember, it’s always important that you prioritise your own safety and health. You are not in this alone, and help is available. Below are some places to go for information and support.

  • Beyond Blue: a free helpline that provides advice and support via telephone - 1300 22 4636 and Beyond Blue - Web Chat available 24/7
  • Kids Helpline: a free, confidential 24/7 online and phone counselling service for young people aged 5 to 25 - 1800 55 1800 or About WebChat Counselling | Kids Helpline. The wait time can be up to 40-50 minutes in the evening.
  • Mindspot Clinic provides free, anonymous assessment and treatment for adults experiencing stress, anxiety, and OCD.
  • myCompass is an online, self-guided program for people experiencing mild to moderate symptoms of anxiety.
  • Smiling Mind App is a free program developed by psychologists to help bring balance to people’s lives through meditation and mindfulness.
  • Talk to your GP to create a mental health treatment plan. This plan entitles you to Medicare rebates for up to 20 sessions per year with some allied mental health professionals. See more information at the Services Australia website.

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