Coping with stress in the age of coro... - British Lung Foun...

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Coping with stress in the age of coronavirus


I’ve been on lockdown since Saturday and I’m generally quite a calm person. I live alone and suffer from COPD which has been quite well controlled since I was prescribed a new inhaler. I work and,TBH, have no real financial worries. I’m now off work for 12 weeks on full pay.

I’m nearly off my head with stress. My breathing is all wonkie and I feel as though I’m always five minutes away from a panic attack. This is not who I am and I don’t know how to deal with it. I’ve never felt so frightened and helpless. My children are falling ill around me and there is nothing I can do.

I’m just waiting for the government, in line with best Trumpian practice, to ask me to sacrifice myself on the altar of Some billionaires profit margin.


5 Replies

I feel for you, anxiety is a nightmare at times and will definitely affect your breathing. There are many good relaxation tips for dealing with it on you tube for example. Hopefully someone will be along to give you some direct references as I'm not sure how to do that.

I read your post about 20 minutes ago , and have been wondering how best to help.

I know anxiety and panic can be overwhelming, anxiety can affect breathing pattern, panicky breathing feeds’s possible to get into a vicious circle.

Can you gently , gently calm your breaths in as relaxed way as you can....nose breathing not big mouth breaths.

Try listening to calming , slow music . Look at relaxation exercises and calming music on you tube.

I practice gentle yoga, and find alternate nostril breathing calming....again on you tube. Try a bit of gentle standing or sitting stretches and movements.

Can you do a bit of walking around your house or garden release adrenaline.

Also distraction , maybe online jigsaw puzzles or crosswords.

Having time alone is difficult, I remember when one of my daughters was young and in and out of hospital, I coped when I was at work.....but the first day off that I had the stress hit me hard.

The BLF website has advice on anxiety, and also a helpline on 03000 030 555.

There is also a No Panic website with a helpline .

Just seen an item on BBC News on anxiety, and how ANXIETY UK helpline has been inundated with calls.

I will check out their website, as they mentioned a coping practice called APPLE......A for acknowledging that you are anxious, bit I didn’t catch the rest, I will have a look.

They also recommended keeping in touch with friends ...without meeting of course.

And thinking the phrase ‘ it’s going to be fine ‘

I enrol on free future learn courses...there are a lot to choose from and keep my mind occupied.

Cleaning surfaces , door knobs , floors gives me a feeling of some control, but I am getting fed up with that now. Going to do some gardening, I am just thankful I have a garden .

Take care, and keep in touch, there is usually someone on this site, often in the middle of the night.

I’ve had a lot of treatment over the years for a lot of issues, including fairly bad anxiety. I was always told that generally speaking, if you’re constantly trying to keep busy, that’s avoidance, not distraction, and detrimental because avoidance resolves nothing. However, I was coached that if you’ve changed absolutely everything about a situation you can, and the situation is acute, then distraction and keeping busy are not detrimental in the same way, although should be tempered with some other skills. These might not be at all relevant or helpful to you, but they have actually been vital to me through some really difficult and challenging times:

Radically accept the situation. People often confuse this with the idea that if you accept something negative or upsetting then you’re somehow ‘approving’ of what’s going on, but it’s not that. Suffering is long term and comes from fighting reality, whereas acceptance of reality reduces suffering to pain, and pain is manageable and will pass, eventually. Radical acceptance is about saying ‘it is what it is’ and meaning it. If you’re mentally saying it is what it is,’re still not actually accepting what’s going on. Acceptance is also not something you only do once: in some particularly difficult and challenging situations, we have to accept it over, and over, and over again. From personal experience, sometimes that can be every other minute with the really difficult things.

Self-soothe. This means regularly doing (healthy) things that make you feel better in some way. It doesn’t have to be anything major, indulgent or time-consuming: one of my self-soothes when I’m really stressing or struggling is a mug of hot blackcurrant squash because it evokes a happy sense memory from being a child. It could be preparing and eating a favourite meal. It could be a soak in the tub with music and/or candles etc. It could be an activity like reading or painting, watching a favourite film or tv show. It could be a hug, although I appreciate for many of us at the moment, that’s not an option. It really can be the tiniest thing, like spraying a favourite scent on your pillow and breathing it in at bedtime, but as long as it’s healthy and it makes you feel better, it will help. Often times we tell ourselves that we don’t have time to enjoy basic pleasures, or we prioritise someone else’s needs over our own. Now really is a time to make up for that, to some degree.

Do the basics. It’s amazing how many of us neglect some pretty basic functions, particularly when we’re stressed or struggling. There’s an acronym in a very effective psychiatric/psychological treatment model called PLEASE that’s designed to encourage physical balance. Patients are taught that to regulate mood more effectively and thus help reduce issues like anxiety, we should:

(treat) PhysicaL illness, promptly and appropriately. Take all prescribed medications as advised.

Eating. Eat regularly, even if you don’t want to, or don’t feel hungry, and eat healthily. Don’t binge on rubbish or comfort eat, or restrict food intake, and if you do have a slip, don’t beat yourself up over it, but ask what you’ll do differently next time you feel an urge to try and fix your feelings by over or undereating, or eating the ‘wrong’ things.

Avoid mood altering substances. If you’re drinking alcohol, using drugs inappropriately (prescription or otherwise), or large quantities of stimulant substances like caffeine and nicotine to try and manage your emotions, it’s actually going to make your ability to cope worse, and impact on the other parts of the acronym. It doesn’t even need to be to excess; you don’t have to be teetotal by any means, but alcohol does inherently limit our ability to deal properly with our emotions and relationships, in part because of the poor quality of sleep that comes after even one drink.

Sleep. Go to bed at a regular time, even if you don’t feel tired or don’t ‘want’ to go to bed (you’ll immediately recognise why the quotes are there if you’re stubborn and wilful like I am). Try and get up at roughly the same time each day. Good sleep hygiene is important e.g. not looking at your phone in bed, having an environment conducive to sleeping. If you can’t sleep, don’t automatically get up - resting in bed isn’t as good as sleeping in bed, but is the next best thing. Breathing exercises or other relaxing activities can be used to help with this. If you do have to get up because you’re ruminating and over-thinking, do something calming and unlikely to stimulate too much: don’t stick a horror movie on!

Exercise. Get the regular exercise you physically can, even if your health means that’s just a slow walk around the living room.

Distract, but acknowledge you’re distracting yourself from a problem or feeling. We’ve been in isolation for 11 days now and I’m not entirely sure we’re going to survive each other, never mind covid-19. Normally the advice is don’t distract to avoid, but in situations like this, there is little else we can do other than accept and distract, so I’ve made a list of the weird and wonderful jobs I rarely get round to, like descaling the shower head. I’m going to strim our small garden rather than mow it because it needs doing, and I need to keep busy. But I’m also doing other things, like offering commissions of oil paintings to friends and family because I like to art and it keeps my time occupied outside of looking after the small person. But if I’m actively doing something to distract because I feel stressed, it’s important that I acknowledge that’s what I’m doing. The reason distraction is a short term solution is because we can push feelings away for a time, but they will always return with a vengeance if not dealt with and the situation doesn’t change. The good news is that this situation *will* change in time.

Acknowledge your feelings, and that however you’re feeling is ok. No one has the right to criticise our emotions and emotional responses, least of all ourselves. Telling ourselves we’re being silly, or that we ‘should’ be reacting differently is downright mean: if you wouldn’t say that to someone else in the same situation, it’s not appropriate or helpful to think it about yourself. A very wise woman also once told me that shoulds are just big sticks we use to beat ourselves up with. Could you have done something differently? Maybe, but that doesn’t automatically mean you should have done.

Breathe. Beyond just breathing, specific techniques for anxiety are really simple, they work, and there are loads of places to learn them online. If you’re really ramping up to a full blown panic attack, sensation can be your best friend: hold something very cold in your fist like a bag of frozen peas. I started panicking in a park in winter once and deliberately grabbed onto a metal rail for the cold: your brain can’t focus on panic if it’s got a very strong competing physical sensation. You can also submerge your face in cold water. Another technique that works really well is ‘5 things’: when you start to panic or feel in anyway overwhelmed emotionally, mentally list 5 things you can see, 4 things you can hear, 3 things you can touch (or feel, like your clothes on your skin), 2 things you can smell, and one thing you can taste. Even if that’s just your own mouth (or bad breath first thing in the morning!). Again, the overwhelm recedes because the brain can’t concentrate on that stuff when focusing on sensory input.

There’s lots more, but those are the things I’ve found particularly helpful either to know or to do, and it is really about not doing things that make the situation worse. Making ‘good’ choices for ourselves. Part of the difficulty for me and my daughter with this is the uncertainty - as a species, we don’t deal with uncertainty or change very well at all, particularly when things are outside of our control, and this is all entirely outside of our control beyond choosing to stay in and do as we’re told for the duration. It’s horrible. But we will collectively get through this. You’re not alone in either your struggles or the situation, even if it may feel like it at times.

Hope you’ve got at least one helpful thing out of my ramble. Hang in there.

in reply to Charlie_G

Your information and suggestions have been really helpful, Charlie. Thanks so much for sharing 🙏 🌷 🌿

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