Feeling anxious about going back into COVID-19 lockdown? Psychologist offers methods to stay calm

"Here we go again!" 

That's the catch cry of many of us around New Zealand this week with new community cases of COVID-19 sending the country into various stages of lockdown: level 3 for Auckland and level 2 for the rest. 

With a brand new lockdown comes many of the familiar feelings which circulated almost a year ago - uncertainty, anxiety, unease. None of this is helped, of course, by the "doom scrolling" phenomenon many of us are so guilty of, trawling the internet for any and all information about the pandemic, and the extra-transmissible UK strain of COVID-19.

Auckland-based clinical psychologist Victoria Thompson says it's perfectly normal to be revisiting old anxieties, as with uncertainty comes "a tendency to catastrophize", sending our bodies into "fight or flight mode". 

"This is your body's natural reaction to anxiety and was designed to help us to survive," she explains. 

"Anxiety triggers a release in hormones, often resulting in physical sensations like a racing heart, sweaty palms and restlessness as well as cognitive symptoms such as overthinking and rapid thoughts. Basically, our bodies are ready to run away, but we can't, we're stuck in our houses."  

Victoria Thompson says feelings of anxiety are a normal part of your body's "fight or flight" response.
Victoria Thompson says feelings of anxiety are a normal part of your body's "fight or flight" response. Photo credit: Supplied.

Thompson says it's important to do things to calm the nervous system, like taking time to slow down your breathing to let the body know it's not in danger. 

She also says it's important to acknowledge your feelings, rather than constantly trying to distract yourself. 

"Life feels scary when we feel like we don't have control of it and we often try and eliminate this uncertain feeling - we might check the news all the time or over-work to distract ourselves from worrying," she explains.

"It's important in this period to try and remain present-focused, to try and take every day at a time rather than getting stuck in a cycle of speculation."

That means avoiding those round-and-round conversations with friends, family and flatmates about how lockdown will look this time.  

"Instead of trying to predict what will happen and how long this lockdown will last, try to focus on acknowledging and accepting the situation as it is," she says. 

"Aim to just notice anxiety when it comes up and let it just be there, rather than trying to push it away."

Thompson has put together some strategies Newshub readers can use if it all just seems like too much:

Don't try and do it all 

"We can have high expectations of ourselves and how we're expected to function in these periods, and all the things we're meant to achieve. But it's also important to be compassionate to yourself. It's the first day of lockdown, maybe don't try and do it all today. Instead, think about the non-negotiable things you have to accomplish today and the other things as an optional extra." 

Reconsider how you 'soothe' 

"We can also get tempted to turn to alcohol in these periods as a means to help to alleviate our stress. This might help in the short-term, but the long-term costs can be high. Instead, work out other behaviours that feel soothing. Perhaps it's a walk with your dog, a long bath or cooking a new recipe." 

Get in a little face time 

"Loneliness has also been an unfortunate side effect of the COVID-19 pandemic. When we're anxious we feel calmed by being around those that make us feel safe. So if you're on your own for this lockdown, make the most of technology and keep your social connections up. Try and get out of the house for a walk to give you a sense of space or spend quality time with yourself relaxing."