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How to keep your anxiety in perspective at this time

With life shifting rapidly, Liz Connor speaks to an expert about how to keep day-to-day worries in check

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Negative thoughts: an anxious woman

Negative thoughts: an anxious woman

Press Association Images

Negative thoughts: an anxious woman

The coronavirus lockdown has seen our lives change like never before, with supermarkets stripped bare, public gatherings banned and schools, pubs, and restaurants closed.

While we should all be taking hygiene practices, social distancing and government advice very seriously, it's important to safeguard your mental health by keeping your worries in perspective.

With the situation still unfolding, it's hard to not worry about what the future may hold, though.

We asked psychologist Dr Meg Arroll (healthspan.co.uk) to explain how we can stay strong amidst the uncertainty.

How can we deal with the fears and worry right now in these fearful times?

"First of all, acknowledge your fears and worries - trying to ignore, repress or displace your fears will only make them bubble up in other ways such as comfort eating, alcohol over-use and lack of self-care," says Arroll.

As well as affecting your mental well-being, Arroll says that these behaviours can result in poor sleep, fatigue and quite possibly a lowered immune system.

"Just as you'd help a child confront the monster under their bed, by acknowledging fears or concerns, you take away some of their influence over you," she says.

"Focus on controlling what you can - whilst you may not be able control the spread of this virus, you can follow recommended guidelines, monitor how much you check the news to moderate your anxiety and manage your response."

She adds that you should also try to challenge any unhelpful beliefs such as "catastrophising, personalising and 'all-or-nothing' thought patterns".

How can we build a strong mind?

Arroll says to be resilient is to be able to weather life's sometimes very harsh storms, but having a strong mind is not just about toughing it out.

"Research consistently shows that when we adopt a mental outlook that learns from our experiences and views them with curiosity, rather than self-criticism, we can build mental strength that can be carried over from one situation to another," she says. She calls this 'psychological immunity'.

"The idea is that we can understand emotional reliance as akin to viral immunity.

"Just like when our immune system builds up a defence to an infection, learning to see past misdemeanours as necessary to build-up psychological immunity, we can let go of negative feelings towards ourselves.

"By viewing negative events as 'emotional vaccines' which help us to develop coping strategies, it is possible to take something positive from difficult experiences and prepare ourselves for more significant life challenges."

In other words, by experiencing small hurts, we are then better prepared and more resilient.

"A strong mind is just the same as a strong immune system in that it means being able to cope well with life's demands," says Arroll.

Can we train our minds to be strong?

"It's important to recognise and challenge unhelpful thinking patterns and build a truly compassionate approach to ourselves.

"Often we are much more critical of ourselves than we'd ever be with others, so if you start to have these types of thought patterns, challenge each judgement by asking yourself if this was a friend how you'd view the situation," says Arroll.

This new approach takes time and patience - "just as you wouldn't go to the gym once and expect to maintain physical fitness, we must all 'train' our minds to be strong with practise," she adds.

Here are a few of Arroll's top tips for building a strong mind.

● Practise gratitude: do this by noting down three things you're grateful for every day.

● Explore and sit with the full range of human emotion: even those which are uncomfortable.

● Develop your own emotional first aid kit: which should include items that trigger all your senses, such as your favourite music, scents and comfy clothes for touch.

● Anchor new mental habits to pre-existing ones: try doing your gratitude practice every morning when you're brushing your teeth so that over time, your mind will be wired to see the good in every morning.

Belfast Telegraph