Seven ways to manage stress and anxiety in lockdown

Man laying on a sofa reading a book

Recent events have turned all our lives upside down. Normal routines have gone out of the window and many of us could be struggling to adjust to our new reality.

By Dr Subashini M, Associate Medical Director, Aviva UK Health and Protection

Feeling worried, stressed or anxious is an entirely normal reaction. For many people, routine is the cornerstone of their lives. Others may not realise just how much routine they have until it’s gone.

Literally everything has changed in a short space of time. If you live with your family, you’re likely now spending more time together than you normally would. If you live alone, you suddenly face the challenge of not physically seeing or spending time with anyone else for an unknown length of time. Both can be difficult situations to cope with. 

So, what do you do to combat stress or anxiety? We have a few suggestions you could try:

Breathe

  • One of the simplest but most effective things you can do is focus on your breathing. By controlling that, you’re sending a message to your body not to panic.
  • Breathe in through your nose and out through your mouth, spending longer breathing out than in. Do this for two minutes and you’ll start feeling calmer.
  • Search online for breathing techniques and exercises to find one that works best for you. Your fitness tracker may have a built-in breathing exercise, or you can download apps to help you.

Talk to someone

  • Call a trusted friend or relative to talk about how you’re feeling.
  • Getting things off your chest is healthy, whether you need a shoulder to cry on or someone to listen to you rant.
  • If you can’t reach a friend or family members and really need help, there’s support available from mental health charities and dedicated helplines like the Samaritans. If you’re employed, you may also have support through your employee benefits package.

Switch off from the world

  • Take a break from social media – it can become overwhelming if you’re constantly checking it.
  • Limit your exposure to the news to short bursts or one bulletin a day. In times like these, there’s a temptation to stay glued to the news cycle, but with everyone focused on the current situation, it could simply fuel your anxiety.
  • Read a book instead of a newspaper, or watch a film, and lose yourself in another world.

Do something with your hands

  • Take your mind off the overall situation by doing something with your hands. It will force you to concentrate on what you’re doing instead.
  • Change your focus by gardening, cooking, baking, drawing, knitting, sewing, mending or building something, writing a letter, or whatever takes your fancy.
  • Concentrating on the task at hand means you’re present in the moment rather than thinking about anything else. This is also known as mindfulness.

Go outside

  • Take advantage of the spring weather, get some fresh air and feel the sun and breeze on your face.
  • Take a daily walk or ride a bike for exercise in your local area, remembering to keep a distance of at least 2 metres from others.
  • Connect with nature, whether by getting your hands dirty in your garden or simply by observing birds, insects or other flora or fauna.

Be kind to yourself

  • Treat yourself to a long soak in the bath, luxuriate in the shower, wear something you love, dance, sing, meditate, exercise, or eat a favourite meal. 
  • Avoid harmful coping mechanisms like alcohol or increased smoking, which are likely to make you feel worse. 
  • Don’t set yourself unrealistic goals like learning a new language, reading the entire works of Shakespeare or redesigning your whole life. More spare time can be an opportunity to learn new skills or tick things off your bucket list, but don’t put extra pressure on yourself if you’re having difficulty concentrating.

Laugh

  • Laughter is a brilliant medicine because it releases endorphins, the body’s natural painkiller. In other words, having a giggle makes you feel better.
  • Laughter is also great to help you bond with people. It’s contagious, so once one person starts laughing, other people will join in, whether they know what they’re laughing at or not.
  • Watch funny videos, tell jokes, relive happy memories, do silly walks or voices, do anything that makes you laugh. It will release our natural feel-good chemicals and boost your mood.

Nothing lasts forever…

One important thing to remember if you’re feeling stressed or anxious is that nothing lasts forever. 

Life will return to normal at some point. And when it does, we may not take for granted the simple things like meeting up with friends and family, going to the gym or having a day out. But, don’t forget, you can still use these techniques to help you control your stress and anxiety once normal service is resumed.