Managing Covid Anxiety“I think anxiety is a pretty normal reaction to a pretty abnormal state of affairs.”

As heard on The Ryan Tubridy Show

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Senior Clinical Psychologist Dr Keith Gaynor is well, but he’s anxious. Being anxious is fairly universal, Keith told Ryan Tubridy on Thursday, given the nature of the pandemic we’ve all been enduring for the past six months. 

I think anxiety is a pretty normal reaction to a pretty abnormal state of affairs.” 

Anxiety is a normal human reaction to being threatened and at the moment, there are potential threats everywhere: the shops, the bus, the street. And the virus itself is not the only threat – it has wreaked havoc with the economy and people’s jobs, as well as destroying their social lives. So, it’s little wonder there are far more people anxious now than there were before the pandemic.  

“I think it’s ok to acknowledge that we’re frightened. If we pretend we’re not, or pretend everything is ok, or pretend it’s normal – whatever it is, it’s not normal. And so, I think it’s ok to say, ‘Look, I’m worried by this. I get frightened by this.’ And then, actually, to tell someone else.” 

The other person, Keith says, will be in exactly the same boat. Because the whole country’s in the same boat and it’s important that we recognise this. It’s also vitally important that mental health services are funded properly because there will be a lot more people who’ll need them over the winter. 

So, how do we manage this anxiety we’re all feeling? How do we get through each day carrying our anxiety with us? Keith has seven suggestions to help lighten the load: 

  1. Know your own anxiety: the thing that makes you anxious, might not make me anxious, so you need to know what your own anxiety triggers are. 
  2. Mind the Body: anxiety releases excess adrenaline into the body. A clinically-proven method of dealing with this is exercise, which can help lessen the physical effects of anxiety. 
  3. Know your own beliefs: if you believe that if you contract Covid-19 you will die, then you will be more anxious. Inform yourself of the risks – most people will not die from Covid-19. 
  4. Protect your identity: if you’re a sports fan and your team isn’t playing, connect with the team and other fans and keep that part of who you are. 
  5. Don’t think so much about Covid: it’s ok to not think about Covid. You don’t need a news update every hour. Distract yourself with a book, a TV series, gardening or whatever works for you. 
  6. Maintain your social connections: we’ve never had so many ways of talking to people and you should be using all of them to stay connected. 
  7. Stop taking unnecessary precautions: you need to do all the basics to stay safe, but adding things to the list will make you more anxious. You don’t need to microwave your library books. 

Keith is, as Ryan calls him, a rock of sense and his seven steps to manage your Covid-related anxiety are so valuable in these strange, strange times. 

You can hear Keith’s full conversation with Ryan by going here. 

Dr Keith Gaynor is a Senior Clinical Psychologist in St John of God Hospital and Assistant Professor in Clinical Psychology at the School of Psychology, UCD. He’s the author of Protecting Mental Health, which is published by Veritas Publications. 

St John of God Hospital is running a Living Well with the New Normal outpatient support programme. 

Niall Ó Sioradáin 

© The Listener 2020

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