Clinical psychologist shares self-care strategies that'll ease COVID-19 lockdown anxiety

As we bunker back down in our homes, don masks to queue at the supermarket and gather around the TV to tune into 1pm updates, you may be struggling with unwelcome feelings of déjà vu. 

The entire country was plunged back into a snap alert level 4 lockdown on Tuesday following Aotearoa's first cases of COVID-19 found in the community in months. 

Now all businesses are closed, except for essential services such as supermarkets, pharmacies, medical clinics and petrol stations.

As we all sigh 'here we go again', it can bring up unpleasant feelings familiar from lockdowns past.

Auckland clinical psychologist Dr Victoria Thompson told Newshub it's normal to have "that familiar drop in the stomach". 

Does this resonate with you? Email in confidence

"It's day one and my partner has already started growing out a moustache, so things are not rosy at my house either," she joked.

"But as well as extra facial hair, lockdown can also provide us with a lot of stress and anxiety." 

Dr Victoria Thompson.
Dr Victoria Thompson. Photo credit: Supplied.

Dr Thompson said as anxiety presents itself differently for everyone, it can be tough to identify exactly what you're feeling. 

"A few symptoms that are quite common with anxiety are feelings of hopelessness, unease, racing heart, butterflies in the stomach and sweaty palms," she explained. 

"People also commonly experience racing thoughts and negative thoughts about our ability to cope, like 'I can't get through another one of these' or 'this is going to last so much longer than they are saying'." 

One problem with anxiety, said Dr Thompson, is it "thrives in uncertainty". 

"It often makes us predict the worst, imagine catastrophes and tricks us into thinking if we worry about it enough then we are prepared for the worst when it inevitably happens. 

"This lockdown really provides a great place for anxiety to show up and settle in."

It's nothing new: The fight/flight/freeze response was developed with the cavemen and is still very much with us today.

"So, when we feel threatened by something such as a new lockdown or fears about the new variant, our body responds in the same way that it would a tiger," said Dr Thompson.

"For example, your heart races to pump blood to your muscles so you can run away. 

“In response to this, we need to let our bodies know there is no tiger and get out of fight or flight back into relaxed mode.”

Dr Thompson's top four self-care strategies for managing anxiety during lockdown:  

Slow it down

"Take five minutes to sit back in a chair, allow your body to calm and settle your breathing. Sometimes it is helpful to let your body know that it is safe, repeating to it 'I am safe' until you notice your anxiety symptoms settling."

Separate work and play

"Do things that bring you joy, and if you need to step away from the laptop for a bit just do it! Make sure you separate your workspace from your 'homespace' wherever possible and make the most of the lockdown to spend quality time with your kids or your partner." 

Nourish yourself 

"Be careful with starting health kicks at this time. Lockdowns have made our community much more vulnerable to eating disorders, as shown by the spiking rates in our eating disorder services. Make sure that you regularly nourish your body with foods that provide both nutrition and joy, and take time to do movement if you feel up to it, whether that be a ten-minute walk or a relaxing yin yoga class."

Talk it out

"Talk to people if you need additional support during this time, particularly if you are by yourself. Your difficulties are shared by many others and there is no shame in seeking out support. There is no denying the strain on mental health services at the moment but get in touch with the hotlines available to you, chat to others and see if they have managed to access help and speak to your GP about your options."