Why we're all feeling anxious right now, and how to cope with it

Anxious woman
It's a scary time right now, and it's ok to feel anxious. Photo credit: Getty.

If you're someone who struggles with anxiety, this probably isn't a great time for you.

Mass hysteria, panic-buying in supermarkets, doomsday-esque reports about the rise of the COVID-19 pandemic - it can all get overwhelming and more than a little bit scary.

Director at Active+ and clinical neuropsychologist Dr Corne Mackie has over a decade's experience in psychology.

She tells Newshub that it's not unexpected that people are feeling worried.

"Anxiety is a natural and adaptive human response to a threat, particularly if uncertainty surrounds the threat," she says.

"Sometimes worry and the fear of uncertainty leads to more anxiety than the event itself, particularly when we overestimate or underestimate our ability to cope."

This is the sort of thing that can often lead to Googling symptoms, or following the advice of those perhaps not-so-helpful Facebook pages and Instagram accounts.

"Examples of unhelpful behaviours include social isolation when not necessary, excessive monitoring of social media or news updates, panic-buying, or reassurance-seeking," says Dr Mackie.

"Anxiety can present with physical sensations or feelings of panic. It's not unusual to worry about health when overestimating or misinterpreting these unfamiliar physical sensations, like temporary and passing breathing difficulties that occur during panic."

Instead of festering in your own thoughts, here are some ways to cope when the anxiety all seems a bit much:

  • Take a walk. While we're supposed to be avoiding public spaces at the moment, the Ministry of Health site says it's fine to go for a walk, run or ride your bike, as long as you avoid people who aren't self-isolating
  • Limit the amount of media you consume. There's no harm in shutting your laptop or turning off the television for a while, if it all starts to get a bit overwhelming
  • Remember to breathe. When panic strikes, it can be easy to engage in shallow chest breathing, which isn't helping anyone. Breathe deeply from your belly, and try and keep your exhale a little longer than your inhale, to help calm your parasympathetic nervous system. There are apps that can help with this
  • Engage in routine. If you're self-isolating or working from home, a disruption to routine can make things feel strange, leading to anxiety. "While we all face uncertainty with this virus, we need to maintain perspective and engage in usual routines and life to keep psychologically well," says Dr Mackie. This means eating at the usual times, doing your washing, keeping up your exercise with at-home workouts, etc

A range of support services are available if anxiety persists or you need help, and information on anxiety management strategies are also available on the Active+ website (activeplus.co.nz).

Support is also available through New Zealand's recently launched national mental health and addictions helpline number.

You can text or call 1737 anytime, 24 hours a day to talk or text with a trained counsellor, or by contacting your GP.

Where to find help and support: