We’re only weeks into the new year and it has been anything but ideal for many of us.
A fast-moving variant, rapid antigen test shortages and empty supermarket shelves are only adding to years worth of dread and anxiety.
This anxiety can show up in the body in many different ways.
When you feel anxious, your alarm system – the sympathetic nervous system – is telling you something is wrong.
“Our cortisol and stress hormones are elevated and it makes us get ready to run,” Dr Jo Lane, clinical psychologist and research fellow at the Australian National University, told The New Daily.
As a result, you may have a stress headache, clench your fists or jaw, your breathing and heart rate can increase or you can feel tightness in your throat and chest.
It’s normal to feel anxious at this time with all the uncertainty around us, but there are strategies we can use to reduce our anxiety.
Dr Lane said taking five to 10 deep breaths enables the alarm system in your body to know that you’re OK.
If you want guidance, you can use breathing and mindfulness apps such as Insight Timer, Calm or Headspace.
Brock Bastian, professor in psychology at the University of Melbourne, said breathing exercises are particularly good for acute anxiety, where you feel really overwhelmed and panicked.
By concentrating on your breathing, you’re giving your mind a point of focus so it isn’t jumping between anxious thoughts.
Anxious energy can make you feel agitated or fidgety, so Dr Lane recommended doing physical exercise as an outlet for the tension in your body.
Try stretching, walking, running or dancing around your home.
3. Ground yourself
This is about being in the present.
“Anxiety is all about fear of the future and what might happen, so grounding helps us be present and in the moment,” Dr Lane explained.
One technique you can use focuses on the five senses, being sight, touch, hearing, smell and taste.
Counting down from five, ask yourself to list five things you can see, four things you can feel, three things you can touch and so on until you complete the exercise.
This can help your mind return to the present.
Other techniques you can try are singing a song or reciting a poem in your head.
It may sound trite, but it’s always worth remembering to be kind to yourself and others.
“Now that the dust has settled around Christmas, it’s like, ‘Wait a minute, nothing has changed, we’re still at home’. So notice that it is a difficult time,” Dr Lane said.
The cumulative stress from the past two years may have made you less tolerant, you may snap at small things or become easily frustrated.
But we are in this together, so talking about these feelings to each other or a professional can really help.
5. Maintain a perspective
Dr Bastian reminded people to keep things in perspective.
“Remember that this won’t be forever, even though it feels like it’s neverending,” he said.
“But every pandemic does come to a conclusion, so keeping that perspective is really important.”
Dr Bastian also emphasised how natural and normal it is to feel what we’re feeling towards COVID-19.
Often we can question ourselves or we don’t feel comfortable with our negative responses.
“But that’s an indicator that this is a really hard experience, not an indicator that you’re weak or that you should be doing better,” he said.
“We’re living through a pandemic.”
If you are feeling overwhelmed, help is available:
If you or someone near you is in immediate danger, please call emergency services on 000.